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French Past Tenses - Passé composé vs Imperfect

Le Passé - Passé composé v Imparfait

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Once you understand the different uses of the imperfect and passé composé as explained on page 2, take a look at these passages to compare how these two French past tenses may be used.

Imperfect

Quand j'avais 15 ans, je voulais être psychiatre. Je m'intéressais à la psychologie parce que je connaissais beaucoup de gens très bizarres. Le week-end, j'allais à la bibliothèque et j'étudiais pendant toute la journée.

When I was 15, I wanted to be a psychiatrist. I was interested in psychology because I knew a lot of really weird people. On the weekends, I used to go to the library and study all day.


Passé composé

Un jour, je suis tombé malade et j'ai découvert les miracles de la médecine. J'ai fait la connaissance d'un médecin et j'ai commencé à étudier avec lui. Quand la faculté de médecine m'a accepté, je n'ai plus pensé à la psychologie.

One day, I got sick and discovered the wonders of medicine. I met a doctor and started studying with him. After the medical school accepted me, I didn't think about psychology any more.


Indicators
The following key words and phrases tend to be used with either the imperfect or the passé composé, so when you see any of them, you know which tense you need:

ImperfectPassé composé
chaque semaine, mois, année  every week, month, yearune semaine, un mois, un anone week, month, year
le week-endon the weekendsun week-endone weekend
le lundi, le mardi...on Mondays, on Tuesdays...  lundi, mardi...on Monday, on Tuesday
tous les joursevery dayun jourone day
le soirin the eveningsun soirone evening
toujoursalwayssoudainementsuddenly
normalementusuallytout à coup, tout d'un coup  all of a sudden
d'habitudeusually une fois, deux fois...once, twice...
en général, généralementin general, generallyenfinfinally
souventoftenfinalementin the end
parfois, quelquefoissometimesplusieurs foisseveral times
de temps en tempsfrom time to time
rarementrarely
autrefoisformerly
 
Notes:

Some French verbs are used primarily in the imperfect, while others have different meanings depending on which tense they are used in. Learn more about advanced past tenses.

There is a third tense, the passé simple, which technically translates to the English simple past tense, but is now used primarily in writing, as the literary equivalent of the passé composé.
 
Test: Passé composé vs Imperfect
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