French Grammar Guide for non-francophones

Imparfait (e.g.: je parlais)

An Overview of the Imperfect

The imperfect is used to describe a past action that took place over a certain time period. It describes a past "situation" rather than a past "event", for example, Quand j'étais petit, j'adorais les chevaux. In some cases, it is used to describe something that happened in the past, but no longer happens in the present, e.g.: L'année passée, je faisais des exercices tous les matins, mais cette année je suis trop occupé pour le faire ("Last year I would exercise every morning, but this year I am too busy to do it").

The main kinds of sentences that use the imperfect are:

a) repeated action in the past, e.g.: je nageais tous les mardis soirs ("I used to swim every Tuesday evening")

b) interrupted action in the past, e.g.: je prenais le déjeuner quand le téléphone a sonné ("I was eating breakfast when the phone rang")

c) description of a past situation or "scene", e.g.: Il faisait beau et les oiseux chantaient ("It was beautiful out and the birds were singing").

How to Form the Imperfect

The imperfect is formed by attaching an ending to a verb's root. The ending used is identical to the ending for the present conditional. This is illustrated in the following table:

imperfect Translation
je parlais
"I used to speak"/"I was speaking"
tu parlais
"you used speak"/"you were speaking"
il,elle, on parlait
"he, she, one used to speak"/"was speaking"
nous parlions
"we used to speak"/"we were speaking"
vous parliez "you used speak"/"you were speaking"
ils/elles parlaient
"they used speak"/"they were speaking"
Verb conjugation:
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