Introduction to the Imperfect

The imperfect is a past tense that has different applications than the passé composé. In certain circumstances, depending upon the meaning you wish to convey, you have the choice of using either the imperfect or the passé composé. Particular words, phrases, and expressions generally indicate which of these two tenses to use in a given circumstance.

The imperfect (or l'imparfait) expresses or describes continued, repeated, habitual actual or incomplete actions, situations, or events in the past. In other words, the imperfect describes what was going on at an indefinite time in the past or what used to happen:

  • Le ciel était bleu. (The sky was blue.)
  • L'enfant jouait. (The child was playing.)
  • Il chantait toujours. (He always used to sing.)

The imperfect is unlike the passé composé in that it does not use a helping (auxiliary) verb and only requires the addition of specific endings to the stem (forms to which endings are added) of the verb. Very few irregularities exist in the imperfect tense.