The Imperfect Tense

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

The imperfect tense is one of the tenses used to talk about the past.

When to use the imperfect tense:

-To describe what things were like.

Example: Il faisait beau. It was nice weather.

-To describe how people felt.

Example: Elle était contente. She was happy

-To talk about what used to happen or what you used to do.

Example: Je faisais de la natation tous les jours. I used to go swimming everyday.

-To say what was happening when something else took place.

Example: Je regardais la télé. I was watching TV.

Note that the second part of this sentence would be in the perfect tense.

How to structure the imperfect tense:

To structure the imperfect tense, you need to use the same stem of the verb as for the present tense and add the imperfect tense endings.

Step 1: take the "nous" form of the verb in the present tense.

we do = (nous) faisons.

Step 2: take off the -ons to get the stem.


Step 3: add the correct ending

il faisait = he did/ he used to do/ he was doing


ÊTRE is the only irregular verb in the imperfect tense. The stem for être is: ét-

Example: Quand j'étais jeune - When I was young

Below is the full conjugation of être in the imperfect tense:

Spelling changes with -ER verbs:

Just like in the present tense, there are some spelling irregularities in the imperfect tense, in particular with verbs ending in -cer (e.g. commencer) and in -ger (e.g. manger).

For verbs in -cer: For pronunciation purposes, the letter c become ç before an a or an o.


Je commençais toujours la journée avec une promenade dans le parc.

I always used to start the day with a walk in the park.

For verbs in -ger: For pronunciation purposes, the letter g become ge before an a or an o.


Tu mangeais beaucoup de pizzas.

You used to eat a lot of pizzas.

Note however that unlike the present tense, the imperfect tense does not have spelling irregularities with verbs en -eter.

Example: acheter (to buy). j'achète (I buy), j'achetais (I used to buy)

Reflexive verbs in the imperfect tense:

Reflexive verbs are conjugated in the same way as ordinary verbs with the addition of the reflexive pronouns, which comes before the verb.

See the conjugation of se relaxer below:

Note that the reflexive pronouns me, te and se become m', t' and s' when the next word starts with a vowel, the letter h or y.

Negative sentences with the imperfect tense:

The negation is structure the same for imperfect tense as it is for the present tense.

ne and pas go around the verb.

Example: Nous ne savions pas. We did not know.

Note that for reflexive verbs, ne goes before the reflexive pronoun.

Example: Elle ne s'entendait pas avec ses parents. She did not get on with her parents.


For French A Level students with any exam board:

This workbook is excellent to practise all the grammar you need to know in the first year of your A-level course.

For French GCSE students with any exam board:

The handbook on the left gives you easy to understand descriptions and rules for all the grammar aspects you need to know at GCSE level. The workbook on the right contains a series of activities to help you practise these aspects. Answers are provided at the back so you can check your work.

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