French Grammar Guide for non-francophones

Plus-que-parfait (e.g.: j'avais parlé)

An Overview of the Plus-que-parfait

The plus-que-parfait is used to describe a past action that precedes another past action. In grammar the words "parfait" and "perfect" simply mean "past". So, the term plus-que-parfait simply means "further back in the past (than some other past action)". English uses this as well, for example, "When I arrived he had already finished eating".

How to form the plus-que-parfait

The plus-que-parfait is formed by using the imperfect of avoir, followed by the past participle. This is illustrated in the following table:

plus-que-parfait Translation
j'avais parlé "I had spoken"
tu avais parlé "you had spoken"
il,elle, on avait parlé "he, she, one had spoken"
nous avions parlé "we had spoken"
vous aviez parlé "you had spoken"
ils/elles avaient parlé "they had spoken"

Given the meaning of the plus-que-parfait, it is not uncommon to finding is used alongside the word déjà ("already"), e.g.: Quand il est arrivé, j'avais déjà réglé le problème.

Another common structure is the use of the past conditional verb used after an instance of the plus-que-parfait, e.g.: Si je l'avais su, je ne l'aurais pas fait.

Note that the auxiliary used for the plus-que-parfait is that same as for the passé composé. Most verbs take avoir, but a small number take être, e.g.: J'étais parti, il était allé (see here for the verbs that take être versus avoir).

Verb conjugation:
 
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