Created using FigmaCreated using Figma

Le Passé Composé is mostly used where English uses Simple Past

Look at those usages of the Passé Composé:

J'ai déjà mangé
I ate already (simple past), or I've eaten already (present perfect)

L'Angleterre a gagné la bataille de Trafalgar en 1805.
England won the battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

J'ai acheté un pull ce matin.
I bought a jumper this morning.

Notice that although the Passé Composé is structurally similar to the English present perfect form, e.g. j'ai mangé looks like "I have eaten", it is used in most cases where we say I ate.

Therefore, to say ''I played football yesterday.', you will use the French Passé Composé "J'ai joué au foot hier."

This can be very confusing for English speakers at first. 

The nuances we have in English between "I have eaten" and "I ate" don't really exist in French. They come instead from the context and the tone used.

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

L'Angleterre a gagné la bataille de Trafalgar en 1805.
England won the battle of Trafalgar in 1805.


Tu as fini ton travail avant 10 heures.
You finished your work before 10.


both are possible


J'ai déjà mangé
I ate already (simple past), or I've eaten already (present perfect)


generally


J'ai acheté un pull ce matin.
I bought a jumper this morning.


Micro kwiz: Le Passé Composé is mostly used where English uses Simple Past
Loading your Kwiz

Q&A

Peter

Kwiziq community member

3 April 2018

6 replies

Passé Composé

Question: What is the best way to say ''He waited for twenty minutes.''?

Correct Answer: Il a attendu pendant vingt minutes.

Wrong Answer: Il attendait pendant vingt minutes.

If the question was "He was waiting for twenty minutes.", would the correct answer then be "Il attendait pendant vingt minutes."?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

3 April 2018

3/04/18

Hi Peter,


actually, I don't think so. According to my understanding the translation of "He waited for 20 minutes" and "He was waiting for 20 minutes" would both be "Il a attendu pendant 20 minutes."


However, in the context there may be additional information available which would dictiate the use of the imperfect.


I used to wait 20 minutes. -- J'attendais pendant 20 minutes.
Here you use the imperfect because the sentence alludes to a general habit rather than a one-off kind of experience.


He was waiting for the bus when we met. -- Il attendait le bus quand nous nous sommes rencontrés.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

3 April 2018

3/04/18

Sorry....I got kicked out and couldn't finishe the post. So here goes:


He was waiting for the bus when we met. -- Il attendait le bus quand nous nous sommes rencontrés.
In this case you have to actions going on: one as a kind of background action (the waiting) and the other as the main focus (the meeting). The former is in the imperfect, the latter in the perfect.


-- Chris (not a native teacher).

Peter

Kwiziq community member

5 April 2018

5/04/18

Chris, thank you for the response.

If I look at lesson at https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/revision/grammar/l-imparfait-usage-expressing-continuing-action-in-the-past-imperfect-tense, the following examples are listed as proper use of Imparfait:

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

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

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.

In the above examples by kwiziq, the past continuous tense were translated using Imparfait. Your example "Il attendait le bus quand nous nous sommes rencontrés" makes sense because the 2 actions are linked.
However, it seems one can use both passé composé and imparfait when only 1 action (verb):

Nous attendions à la porte
vs
Nous avons attendu à la porte

I guess one will learn over time which one to use within which context?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

6 April 2018

6/04/18

Hi Peter, the imperfect version has a different connotation than its counterpart in passé composé. In English, this connotation isn't captured perfectly by a one single translation but rather by several. Which one of these captures the right flavor at any one specific instance is determined by context.


"Nous attendions à la porte." could mean:
We were waiting at the door.
We used to wait at the door.


"Nous avons attendu à la porte." however, is simply:
We waited at the door.


Using one or the other expresses different situations, so they aren't generally interchangeable.


-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Chris

Kwiziq community member

6 April 2018

6/04/18

Returning to your original question of how to translate "We were waiting at the door."


I guess I would lean toward the imparfait since the continuous form expresses a kind of duration or a background action. But, to me, this is less obvious than the two other pretty clear-cut examples in my previous post.


-- Chris (not a native teacher).

Peter

Kwiziq community member

7 April 2018

7/04/18

Thank you Chris, I appreciate your feedback!

Sheila

Kwiziq community member

8 June 2017

1 reply

I ate earlier, this morning, when I got up, etc, but I have already eaten, surely?

Nicholas

Kwiziq community member

9 June 2017

9/06/17

"What's with the burgers!, I told you I ate already!"

Sheila

Kwiziq community member

8 June 2017

2 replies

I don't believe you can say in English 'I ate already' ?

Nicholas

Kwiziq community member

9 June 2017

9/06/17

You can round here, but only after meals. ;)

Tim

Kwiziq community member

10 October 2017

10/10/17

My American colleagues say it, but not the British.
Clever stuff underway!