L'imparfait - The Imperfect tense
Hello there, bonjour!
Following up on the lesson on Passé Composé, I'd like to introduce the Imperfect. The both of them are past tenses and they usually work together. They are different in terms that they have very different values, and therefore serve different purposes. They can't replace one another without affecting the meaning of a sentence.
To sum up the values of Passé Composé: typically used to talk about a one-time action, which is now over. This tense serves for action, isolated event, and most importantly, things that are now over with.
Hier, j'ai mangé un sandwich. Je me suis réveillé-e à huit heures. J'ai pris le bus.
= Yesterday I ate a sandwich, I woke up at 8 am. I took the bus.
Values of Imperfect:
The imperfect covers the areas that the Compound Past can't cover: description, narration and habits in the past. It is normal to find both in one sentence, usually the Imperfect will describe a setting or action that was happening when it was interruption by an action (in the compound past).
For these reasons, the Imperfect can be translated differently depending on the case:
Typically, a description in the past would require a simple past.
Ex: The man was tall. = L'homme était grand.
La maison sentait bon. = The house smelt good.
Les voisins étaient gentils. = The neighbors were kind.
Oftentimes, the imperfect will be translated into the Continuous Past. Simply because narration implies an action was taking place when it was interrupted by and event.
Ex: Je marchais dans la rue, quand j'ai vu un vieil ami.
= I was walking in the street when I saw an old friend.
Nous mangions quand le téléphone à sonner. = We were eating when the phone rang.
Thomas parlait quand son frère l'a interrompu. = Thomas was talking when his brother interrupted him.
3) Facts in the past:
When referring to a past event that isn't taking place anymore, the simple past would be best used.
Ex: People worked a lot. = Les gens travaillaient beaucoup.
Les Français payaient en franc. = French paid in francs.
4) Old habits:
More common than #3, to insist on the repetitive character of an action now over, we can use the modal "would" or translate using "used to"
Ex: We would celebrate birthdays with all the family. = Nous célébrions les anniversaires avec toute la famille.
Les enfants mangeaint avant les adultes. = Children would eat before adults.
Je me levais à sept heures tous les matins. = I would get up at seven every morning.
5) Supposition - Introduce the conditional:
When introducing the conditional mode and making a hypothesis the imperfect tense is a necessity.
Ex: If I won the lottery, I would buy a bigger house. = Si je gagnais à la loterie, j'achèterais une maison plus grande.
S'il faisait beau, nous irions nous promener. = If (the weather) was nice, we would go on a walk.
Si j'avais un enfant, je lui apprendrais l'Italien. = If I had a child, I would teach him Italian.
One important case where French uses the Imperfect (a past tense) outside of an past event would be to make a casual remark and diminish its impact (and certainly not sounding too pressing.)
Ex: I was thinking about something = Je pensais à quelque chose.
Je voulais savoir si tu es libre ce soir. = I wanted to know if you are / were free tonight.
Now that we have covered when to use the Imperfect, here's a quick review of its conjugation. Actually, this tense is one with the easiest conjugation and irregularities. Everyone conforms!
Take the infinitive form:
"chanter" (verb from the first group, regular)
Remove the ending (mark of infinitive) -er: = chant-
+ -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, i-ez, aient
- Je chantais
- Tu chantais
- Il, elle, on chantait
- Nous chantions
- Vous chantiez
- Ils, elles chantaient
There is a little twist with verbs from the 2nd group, such as "finir" where the endings are in fact:
-issais, -issais, -issait, -issions, -issiez, issaient
- Je finissais
- Tu finissais
- Il, elle, on finissait,
- Nous finissions
- Vous finissiez
- Ils, elles finissaient
And for irregular verbs, there isn't much change, since they keep the same rooth throughout the conjugation:
Faire: Je faisais, tu faisais, il faisait, nous faisions, vous faisiez, ils faisaient
=> "fai" is here pronounced like "feu"
Prendre: Je prenais, tu prenais, il prenait, nous prenions, vous preniez, ils prenaient
Boire: Je buvais, tu buvais, il buvait, nous buvions, vous buviez, ils buvaient
Voir: Je voyais, tu voyais, il voyait, nous voyions, vous voyiez, ils voyaient
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