french grammar rules

French Grammar Rules: Conjugating Regular Verbs in the Imparfait

French grammar rulesThe French language uses several different verb forms to talk about events that occurred in the past. French tutor Carol Beth L. shares her guide to one of those forms, the imparfait…

So, perhaps you’ve learned how to use the passé composé to talk about events in the past tense. The passé composé is a good way to discuss single events that happened once or at a specific point in time.

J’ai passé deux ans en France. I spent two years in France.
Elle a fait ses devoirs hier. She did her homework yesterday.
Tu as mangé une banane. You ate a banana.

But what do you do about the following situations?

  1. Events or happenings that are happening when something else takes place.
    Ex: While she was doing her homework, her friend called on the telephone.
    Ex: While I was finishing my masters’ degree in France, Michael Jackson died.
    Ex: While you were eating a banana, you burst out laughing.
  2. Descriptions of events or situations that were repeated or that happened over a long period of time.
    Ex: When he was a middle-schooler, he swam every day.
    Ex: They visited Japan every year when he was young.
  3. Situations or states of being in the past.
    Ex: The door of the house was purple.
    Ex: Eloise was an intelligent girl.

These situations contain verbs for which the passé composé doesn’t quite fit. Instead, French grammar uses a verb form called the imparfait. For regular verbs, there is a quite regular pattern to form the imparfait. Remove the -er, -ir, and -re endings, and add the endings in bold:

aimer – finir – rendre

j’ aimais – je finissais – je rendais
tu aimais – tu finissais – tu rendais
il / elle / on aimait – il / elle / on finissait – il rendait
nous aimions – nous finissions – nous rendions
vous aimiez – vous finissiez – vous rendiez
ils / elles aimaient – ils / elles finissaient – ils rendaient

The endings used for the -er and -re forms are also pretty consistent across most irregular verbs, as long as you know the root that is used. For example, for être, the root for the imparfait is et-. So the imperfect for être would be:

j’ étais
tu étais
il / elle / on était
nous étions
vous étiez
ils / elles étaient.

Here are a few more useful irregular roots:

aller: all – to go
faire: fais – to do / to make
avoir: av – to have
connaître: connaiss – to be familiar with
savoir: sav – to know (fact or knowledge)

Let’s see how this would fit into the French equivalents of the sentences from the English examples I shared earlier:

  1. Pendant qu’elle faisait ses devoirs, son ami a appellé.
    Pendant que je finissais mon masters en France, Michael Jackson est mort.
    Pendant que tu mangeais une banane, tu a eu un éclat de rire.
  2. Pendant qu’il etait collegien, il nageait tous les jours.
    Ils visitaient le japon tous les années pendant qu’il était jeune.
  3. La porte de la maison était pourpre.
    Eloise était une fille intelligente.

Can you tell how to conjugate the imperfect verbs in context below?

    1. Pendant que nous _______________ (préparer) à manger, notre père est entré.
      While we were preparing something to eat, our father came in.
    2.  Mon ancien voisin _______________ (quitter) son apartement tous les jours à huit heures pile.
      My former neighbor left his apartment every day at eight o’clock sharp.
    3. J’ ______________ (être) une fille têtue.
      I was a stubborn girl.
    4. Au lycée, ils se ________________ (connaître) déjà.
      In high school they knew each other already.
    5. Au collège, vous ________________ (rendre) vos livres tous les mois.
      In college, you returned your books each month.

How do you think you did? Check your answers below:

  1. préparions
  2. quittait
  3. étais
  4. connaissaient
  5. rendiez

Keep practicing and checking yourself. Learning French requires repetition, and the more you use your French grammar, the more solid it will become!

For additional help studying French, sign up for lessons with a private tutor. Tutors are available to work with you in-person or online via Skype depending on your location. Find your French tutor today!


Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!





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