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How do you form the imparfait in French?

The imperfect tense is a past tense, but in which cases is it used and how often do French people use it?

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When to use it?

The imperfect tense is a past tense used to talk about descriptions. It definitely has a talent to describe things. Example: Henry was a tall, brilliant, and smart man -> Henry était un homme grand, brillant et intelligent.

In English, the Imperfect can also be represented by the Past Continuous. That to say to talk about a situation that was happening when another event interrupted it. For instance: She was playing on her computer when… -> Elle jouait sur son ordinateur quand

The Imperfect generally expresses a situation that happened in the past for an indefinite period of time, without any link with today. Eg. Michael was unhappy with his grades when he was at school -> Michael était mécontent de ses points quand il était a l’école.

Finally, the Imperfect can be used to express a past habit or something you were used to do. Eg. When I was young, I used to work in a office -> Quand j’étais jeune, je travaillais dans un bureau.

How to use it?

The Imperfect tense is easy to learn!

All conjugations except for the verb ‘être’ are formed in the same way!

You know how to conjugate verbs at the present form. So all you need to do to conjugate at the imperfect form is to take the first person of plural (-nous-) at the present form, to drop the “ons” at the end, and to replace it by the correct Imperfect ending.

Example: the verb “chanter” (to sing). The first person of plural in Present is “Nous chantons”. Drop the “ons”. Which gives “chant-” and add the correct ending which are shown below. The Imperfect form will therefore be: je chantais, tu chantais, il chantait, nous chantions, vous chantiez, ils chantaient.

Je -ais

Tu -ais

Il/Elle -ait

Nous -ions

Vous -iez

Ils/Elles -aient


  • We used to like -> Nous aimions
  • I danced a lot when I was young -> Je dansais beaucoup quand j’étais jeune.

The only exception is the verb ‘être’ that will be conjugated like this: j’étais, tu étais, il était, nous étions, vous étiez, ils étaient.

Seems a bit vague? Want to have more precise information about the use of tenses? Or just more information on French in general? Easy! Contact us at info@frenchlessons-australia.com.au