The Imperfect Tense: Grammar Explanation

 

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The Imperfect tense is an easy tense to learn.

To form the Imperfect we take the NOUS form of the PRESENT TENSE, and take off the –ONS to get the Imperfect stem.

 

To this stem we add the endings as follows:

 

je      ....................... ais

tu      ....................... ais

il      ....................... ait

nous   ....................... ions

vous   .......................  iez

ils     ....................... aient

 

EXCEPTION:  There are very few exceptions to this rule. The main one in ETRE, whose stem is ét. In addition, verbs like manger and ranger, which have an extra "e" in the nous form of the present tense, retain this in the imperfect to make the "g" sound soft  (Mon frère mangeait).  Similarly verbs like commencer, which have a "ç" in the nous form, retain this to make the "c" sound soft  (Je commençais).

All very easy – as long as you have a good working knowledge of the present tense!!

 

USES OF THE IMPERFECT TENSE

 

The Imperfect tense is used in the following cases:

 

v     Description in the past:  La maison était énorme et avait trois fenêtres.

 

v     Describing the weather at a time in the past:  Il faisait très beau.

 

v     Giving an opinion in the past, c'était + adjective: C'était magnifique.

 

v     Talking about something that used to happen regularly in the past: 

Nous allions en France chaque année.  On faisait du ski dans les Alpes.

 

v     Talking about how things used to be over a period of time in the past: Mon père avait une voiture rouge et ma mère travaillait à l'hôpital.

 

v     Making excuses:  Ce n'était pas de ma faute. Je voulais aider!

 

v   Saying what was happening, when something else happened; (one action (in the perfect tense) cuts across another on-going one (in the imperfect)  Je lisais le journal quand mon père est entré dans le salon.  Ma mère travaillait dans le jardin, quand le téléphone a sonné.

 

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