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

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!


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.


Q&A

David

Kwiziq community member

7 August 2018

0 replies

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.

Andy

Kwiziq community member

23 December 2016

3 replies

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!

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

27 December 2016

27/12/16

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 !

Andy

Kwiziq community member

27 December 2016

27/12/16

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!

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

28 December 2016

28/12/16

I'm glad it was helpful!

Bonnes Fêtes et à bientôt !

Jennifer

Kwiziq community member

28 August 2016

5 replies

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.

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

14 September 2016

14/09/16

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!

Lanny

Kwiziq community member

30 January 2018

30/01/18

With the king it was, "avait vécu". Why not, "vivait", there or, "se sont habillés", here?

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

1 February 2018

1/02/18

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 !

Lanny

Kwiziq community member

21 March 2018

21/03/18

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 !

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

23 March 2018

23/03/18

Ok, that makes more sense :)


Thanks for your reply !


Bonne journée !

Jennifer

Kwiziq community member

5 August 2016

2 replies

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.

Laura

Kwiziq language super star

5 August 2016

5/08/16

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 ..."

Jennifer

Kwiziq community member

5 August 2016

5/08/16

Bonjour Laura,

Merci bien. Un ah ha moment

Jennifer

Joakim

Kwiziq community member

2 April 2016

1 reply

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?

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

4 April 2016

4/04/16

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. 

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