Created using FigmaCreated using FigmaCreated using FigmaCreated using Figma

Expressing continuing action in L'Imparfait (imperfect tense)

Look at these sentences using L'Imparfait:

J'allais au marché...
I was going to the market...

Tu parlais de Jean, ce matin.
You were talking this morning about John.

Elle courait quand le bus est arrivé.
She was running when the bus arrived.

Nous pensions aller à la plage
We were thinking of going to the beach.

Vous étiez là ce matin.
You (pl) were there this morning.

 

Note that L'Imparfait is also the tense to express continuing actions in the past, or actions seen in their progression, with no clear beginning or end.

This usage is similar to the Past Continuous (or Past Progressive) in English (i.e. I was doing, he was sleeping).
See also Être en train de : expressing ongoing actions in the past.

 

Other uses for L'Imparfait:

Expressing habits or repeated actions in L'Imparfait (imperfect tense)
Describing and expressing opinions in L'Imparfait (imperfect tense)

See also how to combine L'Imparfait and Le Passé Composé: Using Le Passé Composé on its own or with L'Imparfait

And to see how to conjugate in L'Imparfait: Conjugate regular verbs in L'Imparfait (imperfect tense) and Conjugate être in L'Imparfait (imperfect tense)

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

J'allais au marché...
I was going to the market...


Ils mangeaient du lapin cet après-midi
They were eating rabbit this afternoon


Vous étiez là ce matin.
You (pl) were there this morning.


Nous pensions aller à la plage
We were thinking of going to the beach.


Elle courait quand le bus est arrivé.
She was running when the bus arrived.


Tu parlais de Jean, ce matin.
You were talking this morning about John.



Q&A

Donald

Kwiziq community member

16 January 2018

1 reply

Henri faisait une sieste quand son patron est entré.

Puis-je également écrire Henri était en train de faire une sieste quand son patron est entré? Est-ce que c'est possible d'écrire cette phrase comme je l'ai fais? Peut-être ça veut-dire quelque chose d'autre. Je ne sais pas.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

17 January 2018

17/01/18

The sentence "Henri était en train de faire une sieste....." is perfectly OK. And, to my ears, has the same meaning as "Henri faisait une sieste....", except that maybe the first version stresses the contemporality even more.

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

James

Kwiziq community member

30 July 2017

3 replies

Why use indicative passe simple? (sorry can`t insert an accent).

Elle courait quand le bus arriva. Arriva to my knowledge is not spoken, therefore would this be the format in a written report?

Ron

Kwiziq community member

9 August 2017

9/08/17

Bonjour James,
While all of us that are native English speakers are striving to learn French, it appears to me that the lesson goal is the imparfait and not the passé simple. Elle courait quand le bus arriva.
She was running when the bus arrived. To that end, I do think you have a valid point; why use the passé simple for the clause. It seems that a more appropriate phrasing would be:
Elle courait quand le bus est arrivé, or Quand le bus sera arrivé, elle courait.
Je suis d'accord que cette leçon est un peu ambiguë.
Peut-être la leçon serait modifié.
J'espère que cela vous aidera.
Bonne chance !

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

9 August 2017

9/08/17

Bonjour James !

Elle courait quand le bus arriva.

You are correct if assuming that this is more of a written sentence than a colloquially spoken one. The use of Le Passé Simple here makes it look as part of a written story, and indeed in everyday speech, you'd use Le Passé Composé:
Elle courait quand le bus est arrivé.

(Though Quand le bus sera arrivé, elle courait. makes no sense here -> When the bus has arrived, she was running.)

I also agree that using Le Passé Simple here is confusing, and I therefore changed the example to the second option :)

Merci et à bientôt !

James

Kwiziq community member

10 August 2017

10/08/17

Merci Aurelie,
I have just got my head around using the future tense with `Quand`.
Quand tu viendras, tu verras la nouvelle cuisine.
When you come, you will see the new kitchen.
Notice how in French you use the Le Futur in both parts of the sentence, including after quand, whereas in English you use the Present tense after when.
The lesson we are discussing is, of course, using the imperfect tense in a continuous action.
It could be an easy trap to fall into, using the future instead of the imperfect.
A bientot.





MM

Kwiziq community member

28 November 2016

1 reply

Why not passé composé or plus que parfait?

OK. Alors j'ai toujours des problems avec l'imparfait. Pourquoi est-ce qu'on ne doit pas utilise le passé composé avec : "Tu parlais de Jean, ce matin." "Ce matin" n'est pas une temps spécifique? L'autre example que me pose des problems c'est "Elle courait quand le bus arriva." Ça n'est pas un example d'une action interrompu? Alors il faudra utiliser le plus que parfait, non?

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

28 November 2016

28/11/16

Bonjour MM !

1) "Tu parlais de Jean ce matin." In this case, "ce matin" is setting the action as happening *this* specific morning, and the use of Imparfait here insists on the length of the action of talking: "you were talking about Jean".
You could here use Le Passé Composé "Tu as parlé de Jean ce matin", but in this case, the talking is mentioned as one brief past action, which was probably followed by other actions: "you talked about Jean this morning."

2) "Elle courait quand le bus arriva." This is a typical "interrupted action" case, in the sense of her action of running is superseded by the sudden arrival of a bus. If you like, the second action takes the foreground to the second one which is like a background action.

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !

yellamaraju

Kwiziq community member

13 July 2016

2 replies

"right past tense"

It was asked in a question to use "faire" in right past tense. When it was left unanswered, it was suggested to use imperfect tense as per 'quick lesson'. Does "right past tense" mean "imperfect tense"? This terminology was not used in the earlier lessons on imperfect tense. Please clarify.

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

14 July 2016

14/07/16

Bonjour yellamaraju !

No, the "right tense" here means the right tense in this context, which was to express a continuing action in the past. In this context, the "right past tense" to use in French is always L'Imparfait.

I hope that clarifies it for you,
à bientôt !

yellamaraju

Kwiziq community member

14 July 2016

14/07/16

Bonjour Aurélie
Thanks for the clarification
Let me take a look at that...