Past tenses in French

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Past tenses in French


  • When past tenses are there in French?
  • Recent past
  • Imperfect / past tense
  • Simple past
  • Compound past tense
  • Past participle

The past in French is a very important topic in French grammar or more precisely in French conjugation. In this article, we will recap the five main tenses of the past in French to which we can add the recent past. The past tenses are numerous in French. The main ones are: the past, the imperfect and the more than perfect. It is important to check them from time to time to get to know them well.

How many past tenses are there in French?

 There are five main past tenses in French to which we can add the recent past.

  • The recent past (pseudo-verbal tense)

(el pasado reciente (tiempo pseudo-verbal))

  • The past tense (first strong past tense)

(el tiempo pasado (primer tiempo fuerte del pasado))

  • The imperfect (second highlight of the past)

(lo imperfecto (segundo punto culminante del pasado))

  • The more than perfect (tense composed of the imperfect)

(lo más que perfecto (tiempo compuesto por lo imperfecto))

  • The simple past (time of the novel …)

(el pasado simple (tiempo de la novela…))

  • Past tense (simple past tense)

(el tiempo pasado (tiempo del tiempo pasado simple))

Recent past

The recent past is used to describe a situation that just happened. (Verb “come” in the present tense + infinitive of the verb to be conjugated).

  • Je viens de terminer mon repas (I just finished my meal).

Imperfect / past tense

The imperfect is used to describe general situations that are not necessarily limited (= delimited) in time. In fact, it is mainly used to describe the decoration and express a habitual action. (= that is repeated) in the past.

On the other hand, the past tense will be used to express a specific action and more limited in time. It is above all a complete action where the duration of the action is much more precise and defined. In general, it describes events that do not repeat themselves, that are not common.


  •  Quand Jean est sorti (passé), il était (impartialfait) beau

( When Jean came out (past tense), he was (imperfect) beautiful).

  • Quand j’étais petite, je regardais souvent la télévision (imparfaite) et hier j’ai vu (passé) une émission de mon enfance.

(When I was little, I often watched television (imperfect) and yesterday I saw (past tense) a program from my childhood).

More than perfect

 The more than perfect is the compound tense of the imperfect . It is used to mark an anteriority in comparison with other tenses in the past, particularly the imperfect or past tense.


  •  Il lisait a livre qu’il avait reçu pour son anniversaire. (Vous devez avoir reçu le livre avant de le lire, la préséance est vérifiée).

(He was reading a book that he received for his birthday. (He must have received the book before reading it, precedence is checked)).

  • J’ai préparé le plat que vous avez commandé.

(I prepared the dish you asked for).

Simple past

The simple past replaces the past tense in written literary language (novel, short story, fable…).

In fact, it creates a feeling of being out of tune with reality.

  • Au dernier commandement, toutes les voiles ont été abaissées et le navire a avancé de manière presque insensible… (On sent tout de suite qu’on est dans le cadre du roman).

(At the last command, all the sails were lowered and the ship advanced in an almost insensitive manner… (We immediately feel that we are in the framework of the novel)).

Note . It is possible to use the past simple orally when, for example, a story is told to children, a story …

Compound past tense

The past tense made up of most verbs is formed with the verb have. The auxiliary is used:

With the following 14 verbs:

  • naître / mourir, aller / come, monter / descendre, arriver / depart, entrer / sortir, apparaître, rester, revenir, tomber et leurs formes composées, par exemple: revenir, revenir, se lever, descendre, depart.

(born / die, go / come, rise / descend, arrive / leave, enter / leave, appear, stay, return, fall and their compound forms, for example: return, return, get up, descend, leave).


  • Je suis arrivé à la gare

(I arrived at the station.)

With pronominal verbs.


  • Je me suis trompé dans mon calcul.

(I was wrong in my calculation).


The past tense is the compound tense that corresponds to the simple past tense. It is used to mark an anteriority compared to the past simple.

  • Il est rentré à la maison après le départ de Paul. (Paul part avant et après “il” rentre à la maison ).

(He came home after Paul left. (Paul leaves before and after “he” comes home)).

If the verbs descend, ® enter, (re) ascend, reenter, return and exit are constructed with a COD, we use the auxiliary have. This often involves a change in meaning.


  • A quelle heure êtes-vous parti ce matin?

What time did you leave this morning? (without COD)

  • more: Avez-vous sorti les carottes du frigo hier soir? (sortir quoi? carottes → COD)

(but: Did you get the carrots out of the fridge last night? (take what? carrots → COD))

Past participle

 The past participle of regular verbs ending in -er / -ir / -re is easy to construct:

  • Infinitive in -er – Participle in -é


  • Amour – aimé

(to love – loved)

Infinitive in -ir – Participle in -i


  • finition – fin

(finish – finished)

Infinitive in -re – Participle in -u


  • vendre vendu

(to sell sales)

The past participle forms of irregular verbs can be memorized and checked against the list of irregular verbs.

And here we leave you the closest calls with which to obtain your official language degree.

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