• French GrammarFrench Lessons

    The French Past Tense – The Most Used and Useful Verb Tense

    When we talk about actions which have happened or are repeated in a series but all in the past, then past tenses are used. Whether it’s writing or oral interaction, this tense drenches English language through and through. This is no different in French also. Here, there are different forms with their own set of skills. With the knowledge of each according to context, you can have the kind of native fluency you always wanted. 

    So, here is a guide for you to master the art of past tense in French. 

    The French Past Tense – The Most Used and Useful Verb Tense
    By Michelle
    27 November 2019
    , The French Past Tense – The Most Used and Useful Verb Tense

    French Grammar French Lessons

    The French Past Tense – The Most Used and Useful Verb Tense

When we talk about actions which have happened or are repeated in a series but all in the past, then past tenses are used. Whether it’s writing or oral interaction, this tense drenches English language through and through. This is no different in French also. Here, there are different forms with their own set of skills. With the knowledge of each according to context, you can have the kind of native fluency you always wanted. 

So, here is a guide for you to master the art of past tense in French. 

A Story of Two Frenemies

There was Prince Hamlet with his dilemma ‘to be or not to be’ and then there’s you with Le passé composé or L‘imparfait. This is the battle between perfect and imperfect tense.

L’imparfaitLe passé composé
DefinitionFor events which have finished, it could have been a succession of them as well.For events which have transparent beginning or end, instances that are happening around us, habits and what used to be.
ToneSince the narration of details is of things which have happened it’s ‘perfect’.Since the narration of details is unclear, it’s ‘imperfect’.
ExampleLe dimanche, je jouais au football avec mes amisUn dimanche, j’ai joué au football avec mes amis
Translation to EnglishOne Sunday, I played football with my friends.
This activity happened only on one Sunday i.e. specified Sunday, fixing beginning, end and time.
On Sundays, I used to play football with my friends.
This activity happened every Sunday i.e. unspecified Sunday, wavering start, finish and time.

Construction 1: Pass your French with Le passé composé

Being a compound verb tense implies that this has more than one part to its construction. Here is the basic formula:

Pronoun + auxiliary verb + infinitive + past participle ending = passé composé

The pronouns as we know are Je, Tu, Il/Elle, Nous, Vous, Ils/Elles. There are two auxiliary or ‘helping’ verbs, être and avoir. For the former, conjugation is based on either the presence of reflexive verbs or any verbs from the Dr. Mrs. Vandertramp mnemonic. These mostly revolve around some kind of movement. All these other verbs (which is quite a majority) conjugate with avoir. The infinitive is the raw form of the verb such as prendre (to take). Now, let’s look at the past participle endings.

Regular ‘-er’ VerbsRegular ‘-ir’ VerbsRegular ‘re’ Verbs
Drop the -er and add-
é
Drop the -ir and add-
i
Drop the -re and add-
u

Example:
Il est tombé de la table (He fell down from the table)
Elle a écrit à propos de l’incident (She wrote about the incident)

Construction 2: Excavating Your Imperfections with L’imparfait

There are no hassles of auxiliary verbs here. Take the nous form and drop the -ons, then add the imparfait endings. Voilà! Your conjugation is ready. All the regular verbs take the same form and irregular walk their own path but have a similar pattern.

PronounEndingsConjugation with Verb Venir
Je (I)aisJe venais (I came)
Tu (You)aisTu venais (You came)
Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)aitIl venait (He came)
Nous (We)ionsNous venions (We came)
Vous (You, Plural/Formal)iezVous veniez (You came)
Ils/Elles (They)aientElles venaient (They came)

Construction 3: Past Talk in Future with Le future antérieur

Confused? Let’s go through the formula and formation for more clarity.

Pronoun + simple future tense of avoir or être + past participle = future antérieur

PronounConjugation with Verb Déjeuner
Je (I)J’aurai déjeuné
(I will have lunch)
Tu (You)Tu auras déjeuné
(You will have lunch)
Il/Elle/On (He/She/One)Il aura déjeuné
(He will have lunch)
Nous (We)Nous aurons déjeuné
(We will have lunch)
Vous (You, Plural/Formal)Vous aurez déjeuné
(You will have lunch)
Ils/Elles (They)Elles auront déjeuné
(They will have lunch)

Construction 4: Recently Talking with Le passé recent

There are lot of things that could have happened during the day or maybe in the past hour or even minute but since they have passed, it makes them part of the past. This is an easy conjugation to learn.

Pronoun + present tense of verb ‘venir’ + de + infinitive of the verb

Example:
Il vient de revenir (He just returned)
Elles viennent de partir (They have just left)

Construction 5: Keep It Simple with Le passé simple

As this is mostly seen in literature, we won’t get into an in-depth analysis but it’s not difficult to form this tense. Take the infinitive of -er, -ir and -re, drop the infinitive endings and add the le passé simple endings.

Example:
Il choisit (He chooses…)

Now that you have drained down the chalice of past tense in French, it’s time to get working. We wouldn’t want to end up with imperfect sentences now, do we? If you still face difficulty, you can take the help of our French Tutors. See you next chapter!

Share this:
Please fill the required fields
x
X
×