The imperfect is the tense of past description. It is used to describe
settings, repeated actions in the past, or actions which are so vague as
to elude any specific beginning or ending:
Expressions of emotion or of states of mind are frequently described in
Il faisait beau ce jour-là.
It was nice out that day.
Quand j'étais plus jeune, nous allions souvent à la mer.
When I was younger we often went to the coast.
While verbs describing mental and emotional states in the past are often
in the imparfait, they may be put in the passé
composé when one wishes to signal a change or a reaction:
Il n'était pas content du résultat. He
wasn't happy with the results.
Quand elle était petite, elle avait peur du noir. When
she was little, she was afraid of the dark.
Note that English uses three different forms to express the imperfect:
Quand le serpent lui est tombé sur la tête, il a eu peur.
When the snake fell on his head, he was frightened.)
When I was young I used to dance.
All of these are expressed by the imperfect in French:
I was dancing when he fell on the dancefloor.
When I was little, we would dance every
Quand j'étais jeune, je dansais.
Warning: do not confuse the imperfect with the conditional.
When "would" is used to describe a habitual action in the past, it
be written in the imperfect in French:
Je dansais quand il est tombé sur la piste de danse.
Quand j'étais petit, nous dansions tous les dimanches.
Note that recent
past constructions (venir de + infinitive), when used in the
imperfect, have the meaning of a pluperfect:
Quand Muriel était petite, elle faisait une sieste tous les jours.
When Muriel was little she would take a nap every
Il venait de déjeuner quand je suis arrivée. He
had just had lunch when I arrived.)
Language Main Page
Orbis Latinus Main
This page is part of Orbis
© Zdravko Batzarov