Describing and expressing opinions in L'Imparfait (imperfect tense)

Look at these examples in L'Imparfait:

Dans un coin de la pièce, une petite fille se tenait debout. Elle avait les yeux fermés.
In the corner of the room stood a little girl. She had her eyes shut.

Les clameurs de la foule en colère lui parvenaient à travers les rideaux.
The tumult of the angry crowd reached him through the curtains.

À 5 ans, j'avais les cheveux courts.
When I was 5, I had short hair.

Le soleil brillait sur la campagne, et les animaux couraient dans l'herbe verdoyante.
The sun shone on the countryside, and the animals ran in the green grass.

Il était une fois, un roi et une reine qui vivaient dans un château.
Once upon a time, a king and a queen lived in a castle.

J'étais heureux à cette époque.
I was happy at that time.

Note that L'Imparfait is also used for descriptions, i.e. to help visualise the setting or atmosphere in which an action took place, characters, locationtime frame ...

In a similar way, L'Imparfait is also used to express opinions about the past:

C'était super!
It was great!

Cela semblait trop beau pour être vrai.
It seemed too good to be true.

 
NOTE: When the verb être is used in a past context, it is usually in L'Imparfait and NOT Le Passé Composé, as it often appears in a descriptive context or to express an opinion.

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Le soleil brillait sur la campagne, et les animaux couraient dans l'herbe verdoyante.
The sun shone on the countryside, and the animals ran in the green grass.


À 5 ans, j'avais les cheveux courts.
When I was 5, I had short hair.


J'étais heureux à cette époque.
I was happy at that time.


Il était une fois, un roi et une reine qui vivaient dans un château.
Once upon a time, a king and a queen lived in a castle.


Cela semblait trop beau pour être vrai.
It seemed too good to be true.


Les clameurs de la foule en colère lui parvenaient à travers les rideaux.
The tumult of the angry crowd reached him through the curtains.


Dans un coin de la pièce, une petite fille se tenait debout. Elle avait les yeux fermés.
In the corner of the room stood a little girl. She had her eyes shut.


C'était super!
It was great!


Q&A Forum 14 questions, 34 answers

JoanA1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

In fill in the blank test 'Anniversaire de mariage' sentence 'Les invités sont arrivés vers dix-neuf-heures, et tout le monde a adoré les décorations'

I wonder why Le Passé Composé is used as 'adorer' is a state of mind. 

I try to modify the sentence: 'Les invités sont arrivés vers dix-neuf-heures, et tout le monde a adoré les décorations et était heureux '. Is l'imparfait used correctly?

Asked 2 weeks ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

The situation this sentence describes is the guests arrived and admired the decorations. It is portrayed as two point events in the past, one following the other. You could say:

J'admirais les décorations quand les invités sont arrivés. -- I was admiring the decorations when the guests arrived. Here it is one background action (me admiring) and one point event (the guests arriving) which happens while I do the admiring.

In fill in the blank test 'Anniversaire de mariage' sentence 'Les invités sont arrivés vers dix-neuf-heures, et tout le monde a adoré les décorations'

I wonder why Le Passé Composé is used as 'adorer' is a state of mind. 

I try to modify the sentence: 'Les invités sont arrivés vers dix-neuf-heures, et tout le monde a adoré les décorations et était heureux '. Is l'imparfait used correctly?

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JuneC1Kwiziq community member

why do I always make an error with the imparfait and the perfect tense?

Asked 2 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi June,

If you look at the Q&A attached to the relevant lessons, you will find some enlightenment but this topic is one of a trilogy we get most questions on.

So I can reassure you that you are not on your own. It has to become intuitive so can take a long time.

Take a look at this particular debate on just one example of Passé Composé vs Imparfait which you might find useful -

https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/questions/view/passe-compose-vs-imparfait?utm_source=blk&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=msg_636509

I hope this does not confuse you any further!

 

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Because, in this respect, you're just like everyone else. :)

why do I always make an error with the imparfait and the perfect tense?

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KarenA2Kwiziq community member

Examples of L'Imparfait which cause me problems.

À 5 ans, j'avais les cheveux courts.
When I was 5, I had short hair.

En 2004, j'avais de l'argent.
In 2004, I had money.

If I'm asked to translate 'I had', I instinctively reach for Le Passé Composé ('j'ai eu').

If I'm asked to translate « j'avais », I will say 'I used to have' rather than 'I had'.

I think I understand why L'Imparfait is more appropriate in these examples:  they are both prefixed with a clause that limits the statement to a specific time in the past.  It just never seems obvious until I've given the wrong answer.  

Asked 3 months ago

Examples of L'Imparfait which cause me problems.

À 5 ans, j'avais les cheveux courts.
When I was 5, I had short hair.

En 2004, j'avais de l'argent.
In 2004, I had money.

If I'm asked to translate 'I had', I instinctively reach for Le Passé Composé ('j'ai eu').

If I'm asked to translate « j'avais », I will say 'I used to have' rather than 'I had'.

I think I understand why L'Imparfait is more appropriate in these examples:  they are both prefixed with a clause that limits the statement to a specific time in the past.  It just never seems obvious until I've given the wrong answer.  

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AaronC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

A quiz question about "il était une fois" is wrong; the answer has no "qui".

For one of the quiz questions on this unit, the required answer is "Il était une fois, un roi vivait dans son château."


If I understand the example in the lesson and these comments correctly, the answer should actually be "Il était une fois, un roi qui vivait dans son château."

Asked 4 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Aaron,

If it's a quiz error, please use the "Report it " button in your Correction Board as it will link directly to the said quiz and is easier to fix.

Many thanks

AaronC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Hi Cécile,

I'll do that, but the last time I used a "Report issue" button to report an incorrect quiz question, the person who responded said "I'm not a French expert; please post a question on the discussion board for the lesson." A bit of a catch-22. (However, I can't remember if I reported it from the quiz or the "Explain this" pop-up page or somewhere else.)

CécileKwiziq team member

Hi Aaron, 

If you come up against something similar in the future, please try the 'Report it' button in your correction board again as this is the procedure I have been given to follow.

Language questions come back to me anyway and there might have been a glitch in the system at that point...

Thanks 

A quiz question about "il était une fois" is wrong; the answer has no "qui".

For one of the quiz questions on this unit, the required answer is "Il était une fois, un roi vivait dans son château."


If I understand the example in the lesson and these comments correctly, the answer should actually be "Il était une fois, un roi qui vivait dans son château."

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JohnC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Question about "Il était une fois, un roi et une reine qui vivaient dans un château"

Is there a grammar lesson that explains the use and/or necessity of "qui" in this sentence? 

Merci.

Asked 6 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi John,

'Il était une fois' can be translated by -

Once upon a time there was/were ....

or 

'There once was/were ..........'

...a king and a queen who lived in a castle'

which might make more sense to you.

No grammatical rule, it is just the way stories (particularly children stories) start in French....

Hope this helps!

CécileKwiziq team member

Hi John,

'Qui'  is 'who' in this sentence, and very much necessary in French as in English.

Here is the Kwiziq lesson regarding this particular relative pronoun -

https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/revision/grammar/when-to-use-qui-to-say-who-which-or-that-relative-pronouns

Hope this helps!

 

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

That doesn't fully explain why you would use a relative pronoun here. You don't use one in the English translation:

Once upon a time, a king and a queen lived in a castle.

You could say: 

Once upon a time, there were a king and a queen who lived in a castle.

I think the point is that, although we're generally told that "Il était une fois"  means "once upon a time",  it's really "once upon a time there was".

"Il était une fois" = "il y avait une fois"

JohnC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Yes, Alan has nicely explained the reason for my question.

If the following French was written I could understand the use of "qui":

"Il était une fois, il y avait un roi et une reine qui vivaient dans un château"

But with no "il y avait," for the reason Alan explained the necessity of "qui" doesn't seem obvious.

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I think I also answered your question - or is it still unclear?

JohnC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Alan: Yes, I did understand. Thank you.

I was just trying to make a little more explicit how an English-language understanding gets represented in French in the hope that one of the French experts could provide an explicit grammar road map that shows how "once upon a time there was" (whatever the appropriate expression in French is") and "qui" are combined.

You and I have both pointed to "il y avait . . ." Obviously that's incorrect, but I would like to know the specific grammar grammar reason for what it's incorrect and why "Il était une fois" possibly incorporates the idea of "il y avait".

JohnC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Correction: You and I have both pointed to "il y avait . . ." Obviously that's incorrect, but I would like to know the specific grammar for why it's incorrect and why "Il était une fois" apparently incorporates the idea of "il y avait".

JohnC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Dear Cécile:

Thank you. Now I understand.

I also asked another question on or around the same day, 18 May, but have yet to receive a reply. 

Unfortunately I don't see any website function to locate one's own questions so I cannot tell you where it is and I have forgotten myself.

Question about "Il était une fois, un roi et une reine qui vivaient dans un château"

Is there a grammar lesson that explains the use and/or necessity of "qui" in this sentence? 

Merci.

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ElaineA2Kwiziq community member

Use of "se tenir debut"

Please could someone explain the use of "se tenir debut" to mean "stood" in the first example? 

Thanks

Asked 9 months ago
CécileKwiziq team member

Hi Elaine,

The verb 'se tenir debout' , is 'to be standing', or 'to stand ( up)' so in the past tense it will be stood or was standing....

Use of "se tenir debut"

Please could someone explain the use of "se tenir debut" to mean "stood" in the first example? 

Thanks

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DonA2Kwiziq community member

The sound file for "Le soleil brillait sur la campagne, et les animaux couraient dans l'herbe verdoyante." is garbled in the last half.

Asked 9 months ago
AurélieKwiziq team member

Bonjour Don !

Thanks to you, this audio file has now been fixed :)

Merci beaucoup et à bientôt !

The sound file for "Le soleil brillait sur la campagne, et les animaux couraient dans l'herbe verdoyante." is garbled in the last half.

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AniruddhaB1Kwiziq community member

Confusion about usage of imparfait

If I am recalling something from the past, do I need to use PC or imparfait?

For eg: I got down from the train that day.

Je me suis descendu du train ca jour

OR

Je descendais du train ca jour?

Which one is correct?

Asked 10 months ago
SteveB2 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

The answer is "it depends".

We need to see the complete context to work out whether it is more appropriate to use the imparfait or PC.

If this was a sentence in a story where you were talking about something you habitually did every day (i.e., getting off the train), then the imperfect is appropriate.

If you are describing a specific one-off event (the main story line) then PC would be better.

Generally speaking, imparfait sets the scene, and PC describes the action.

I'm a non-native speaker and PC v imparfait is a continual battle I'm afraid!

Confusion about usage of imparfait

If I am recalling something from the past, do I need to use PC or imparfait?

For eg: I got down from the train that day.

Je me suis descendu du train ca jour

OR

Je descendais du train ca jour?

Which one is correct?

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MichelleC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Imperfect and Passé Composé in Mamie Gâteau lesson

Why is it "Elle a souri, et elle a dit qu'elle nous PARDONNAIT?"

Didn't she forgive them once and that's it? I'm assuming it's considering an "opinion" for some reason and that's why?

Also "Nous n'avons jamais oublié celle leçon?"

This is a one and done deal somehow? They are NOT forgetting rather than forgetting, so it's not a one and done deal. They still remember now. 

Asked 11 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

If I can just add - I believe a Reported Speech lesson is on the to-do list .

Just a little summary to help out here:

Présent ----> Imparfait 

Passé composé -----> Plus-que-parfait 

Imparfait ----> Imparfait

Futur ----> Conditionnel

Conditionnel ----> Conditionnel 

Est-ce que? -----> Si

Look at the following dialogue between three people, one hard of hearing- 

Annie : "Je suis allée en vacances au bord de la mer et quand j'étais là-bas , j'ai décidée que j'y retournerai tous les ans car le bord de mer me fait énormément de bien. Est-ce que vous aimeriez venir avec moi l'année prochaine ? 

Grand-mére ( un peu sourde)  : Qu'est ce qu'elle a dit ? 

Josyane : Annie a dit qu'elle était allée en vacances au bord de la mer et  que, quand elle était là-bas, elle avait décidée qu'elle y retournerait tous les ans car le bord de mer lui faisait énormément de bien et elle a demandé si on aimerait aller avec elle l'année prochaine .

Hope this helps!

 

AurélieKwiziq team member

Bonjour Michelle !

You're not the first one to wonder about these two cases :)Here's my answer as posted in the Q&A :"The first case is a case of reported speech in the past, where you need to use L'Imparfait in the second half:

"Elle a dit qu'elle nous pardonnait."

The second case is a past, defined statement/action that "after that", they never forgot, hence Le Passé Composé.Here "nous n'oubliions jamais" would imply more of a habit, or a personality trait = "we never used to forget".

I hope that's helpful!Bonne journée !"

MichelleC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

I'm glad I wasn't the only one, but sorry for asking what has already been asked. 

 If I were to say simply "She pardoned us" without "She said that..." Would it change to passé composé or still be Imperfect? 

The second one...it's harder to wrap my head around it. If it had been "We forgot" I would have used the Passé Composé. Am I right to assume that, that in those cases the negation is treated the same way as the positive form? If you say "Nous avons oublié" if there wasn't a negation you'd automatically say "Nous n'avons oublié" when it's put in the negative? Does this make any sense or am I WAY off? 

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

It would really be great if there were lessons on reported speach on kwiziq. I do believe this topic has been neglected in the past. It often comes up in everday situations and when reading, e.g., newspapers.

MichelleC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

I just realized that I asked a very stupid question. You said in the SECOND part, duh. I'd really appreciate a lesson on Reported speech, hopefully before my subscription runs out. For now, I'll take notes on this, try to practice it offline and hope that it becomes a little clearer as I hopefully encounter it in my reading and listening. I don't read newspapers or watch the news, unfortunately. I'd love to be able to see it in lessons and fill in exercises as that really really helps. Especially since I am able to ask and receive great answers when I really don't understand why I made a mistake. No textbook can do that and while a teacher can, the cost in considerably higher than a subscription. 

Most of this is very similar to English (Future becomes Conditional, Present becomes Past). But I have to wrap my mind around the Plus-que-parfait usage too, as in English, I'd honestly use the simple past (She went, she decided) here. It would probably be more correct to use the Past Perfect, but most or at least many, English speakers do not in conversation with reported speech. Of course, French is not English. 

Imperfect and Passé Composé in Mamie Gâteau lesson

Why is it "Elle a souri, et elle a dit qu'elle nous PARDONNAIT?"

Didn't she forgive them once and that's it? I'm assuming it's considering an "opinion" for some reason and that's why?

Also "Nous n'avons jamais oublié celle leçon?"

This is a one and done deal somehow? They are NOT forgetting rather than forgetting, so it's not a one and done deal. They still remember now. 

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DavidC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Is choice of imparfait or passé composé always black and white?

Is there only one correct choice for each sitaution or might different speakers view the situation differently and make different choices?

I find that I often get this sort of exercises wrong (for example in the "Un ville magique" test where I got 13/15 on my first attempt) but on looking again at the text and rereading the lessons I cannot convince myself that the alternative choice was better.

For example:

1. "L'endroit qui m'a enchanté au-dessus de tout, c'était le chateau de l'imperatrice Sissi". I had wrongly answered "m'enchantait" since Magalie being enchanted seems to me to be an ongoing state, not having a beginning and end.

2. "Je ne voulait pas plus repartir". I had wrongly answered "n'ai plus voulu" since the state of not wanting to leave would have ended when she actually did leave.

Asked 1 year ago
JimC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

It is very tricky I do agree.

L'endroit qui m'a enchanté ..... expresses that at the time, you were delighted / awed by that chateau. You may retain fond memories of that experience but the emotion / feeling of that sight was at that short instant. This why the perfect tense is appropriate.

In the case of vouloir this verb is almost always, in my understanding: in the imparfait as a verb expressing a mental state. The desire / wanting is not short lived but an ongoing state of mind.

Hope that helps.

Alan

Is choice of imparfait or passé composé always black and white?

Is there only one correct choice for each sitaution or might different speakers view the situation differently and make different choices?

I find that I often get this sort of exercises wrong (for example in the "Un ville magique" test where I got 13/15 on my first attempt) but on looking again at the text and rereading the lessons I cannot convince myself that the alternative choice was better.

For example:

1. "L'endroit qui m'a enchanté au-dessus de tout, c'était le chateau de l'imperatrice Sissi". I had wrongly answered "m'enchantait" since Magalie being enchanted seems to me to be an ongoing state, not having a beginning and end.

2. "Je ne voulait pas plus repartir". I had wrongly answered "n'ai plus voulu" since the state of not wanting to leave would have ended when she actually did leave.

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AndyC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Je n’ai jamais aimé le goût de la viande

Hello. In your week 26 A2 writing test the above line is given as a correct translation of 'I've never liked the taste of meat.' As this lesson shows I believe there may be an error here. In this context the verb describes an ongoing state of affairs, without a set start and without a set finish, (if indeed this state does end.) Unless I'm mistaken I believe this would be better expressed in the imparfait. I'd love some clarification here if possible. Thanks!
Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Andy ! If you used L'Imparfait here - "Je n'aimais jamais le goût de la viande." - it would be like saying "I was never liking the taste of meat" or "I never used to like the taste of meat.". Remember that the English Present Perfect is translated in French either by Le Passé Composé or by Le Présent. I hope that's helpful! Bonnes Fêtes et à bientôt !
AndyC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Hi Aurélie, thanks for your kind response. Thanks to your explanation I can now clearly see how my belief that the phrase would be better expressed in the imparfait was very wrong. I had of course completely forgotten that the English Present Perfect may be translated by either Le Passé Composé or by Le Présent. I did find this one very tricky though, thanks for providing further illumination!
AurélieKwiziq team member
I'm glad it was helpful! Bonnes Fêtes et à bientôt !

Je n’ai jamais aimé le goût de la viande

Hello. In your week 26 A2 writing test the above line is given as a correct translation of 'I've never liked the taste of meat.' As this lesson shows I believe there may be an error here. In this context the verb describes an ongoing state of affairs, without a set start and without a set finish, (if indeed this state does end.) Unless I'm mistaken I believe this would be better expressed in the imparfait. I'd love some clarification here if possible. Thanks!

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JenniferC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Choosing a tense

I am wondering about the once upon a time a king lived in a castle. Can this be more than one tense. If it is a story concerning a king who lived in the castle, then it is imperfect. What if it is about kings in general once upon a time a king lived in a castle, now he lives in a council house. Does the tense still have to be imperfect, or could it be that that situation is completely changed and it could be past historic. A bit confused.
Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Jennifer ! I like your example ;) Here the issue is the use of "Il était une fois" which is setting a time duration in which a story is taking place. Therefore, what's going to come straight after is going to be a description or setting of a situation of some kind, and this calls for L'Imparfait in French. I hope that's helpful!
LannyC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
With the king it was, "avait vécu". Why not, "vivait", there or, "se sont habillés", here?
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Lanny ! I don't quite follow what you're referring to here, but I'd be happy to answer your question if you could provide me with more context :) À bientôt !
LannyC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

First, sorry for the confusion.  I'm always mixing up, "to reside" (habiter) and, "to get dressed" (se habiller) which couldn't have helped my sentence above at all!  (Once upon a time, a king dressed his castle. :)

Second, I *thought* that I had used, "vivait", and the question had corrected me with, "avait vécu", but I have come across the question on another quiz and see that I was wrong about that.

Merci !

AurélieKwiziq team member

Ok, that makes more sense :)

Thanks for your reply !

Bonne journée !

Choosing a tense

I am wondering about the once upon a time a king lived in a castle. Can this be more than one tense. If it is a story concerning a king who lived in the castle, then it is imperfect. What if it is about kings in general once upon a time a king lived in a castle, now he lives in a council house. Does the tense still have to be imperfect, or could it be that that situation is completely changed and it could be past historic. A bit confused.

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JenniferC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Devait

I have an extract from a book i am reading. In this extract does devait mean must have. Can you explain Lorsqu’il a su que c’est au tabagisme ininterrompu de sa mère que Camille devait le handicap de sa petite taille, Armand a été troublé.
Asked 3 years ago
LauraKwiziq team member
Bonjour Jennifer, No, devoir has another meaning "to owe" which is in play here: " ... that Camille owed the handicap ..." More idiomatically, you might turn the whole sentence around and say "Camille's handicap was due to ..."
JenniferC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Bonjour Laura, Merci bien. Un ah ha moment Jennifer

Devait

I have an extract from a book i am reading. In this extract does devait mean must have. Can you explain Lorsqu’il a su que c’est au tabagisme ininterrompu de sa mère que Camille devait le handicap de sa petite taille, Armand a été troublé.

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JoakimC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Confused

In another exercise, we were supposed to translate 'I got bored' to 'Je me suis ennuyé'. Isn't that also a state of being that should use l'imparfait?
Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member

Bonjour Joakim,

In French, you will use the same verb to express "to be bored" and "to get bored": s'ennuyer.

In the past tense you will be using either L'Imparfait or Le Passé Composé, to express slightly different nuances, as follows:
- Je me suis ennuyé  means "I was/got bored" at the time, but this action/state is finished, over now.

- Je m'ennuyais expresses more a state in progress, like "I was being/getting bored", or a habit, a repetitive action like "I used to be bored".

I hope that's helpful. 

Confused

In another exercise, we were supposed to translate 'I got bored' to 'Je me suis ennuyé'. Isn't that also a state of being that should use l'imparfait?

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Clever stuff underway!