Past tenses

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Past tenses

For example:

J'ai visité meaning:

i) I visited ii) I have visited

The perfect tense is used to describe something that happened once (however long it lasted) and is now finished.

For example:

  • I went to Spain for my holidays (only happened once)
  • Queen Victoria reigned for 64 years (she only reigned once)

But not for something that takes place repeatedly.

For example:

When I was younger, I went to Spain for my holidays [- this happened more than once (= I used to go to Spain for my holidays) so this is Imperfect tense]

You have to change (conjugate) the verb ending. You need an auxiliary verb (the appropriate bit of avoir or être ) and the past participle.

Past tenses

The past participle is the same in the perfect tense for each person (je, tu, il... etc) but the auxiliary verb has to change. Any ne...pas/ne...rien etc goes either side of the auxiliary verb e.g. je n'ai pas fini.

But Ne... personne goes either side of both verbs e.g. je n'ai vu personne

Try this exercise: Type in the correct word, then click on the show answer button to show the conjugation of the perfect tense.

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Remember: these endings apply to all regular verbs.

Irregular verbs use the same auxiliary (either avoir or être) but have their own past participles. e.g. j'ai mis (METTRE to put) vous avez ouvert (OUVRIR - to open).

As well as regular and irregular verbs in the perfect tense, there are those verbs that take être.

There are only a few but you need to know:

  1. which verbs they are and,
  2. that the past participle has to agree with the subject.
i.e. add an 'e' if the subject is feminine and an 's' if it is both.

Probably the easiest way to remember it is 'MR. DAMP'S TAVERN' - the first letter of all those verbs involved.

Verb For Example
Monter je suis monté(e)
Retourner je suis retourné(e)
Descendre je suis descend(u)
Arriver je suis arrive(e)
Mourir je suis mort(e)
Partir je suis parti(e)
Sortir je suis sorti(e)
Tomber je suis tombé(e)
Aller je suis allé(e)
Venir je suis venu(e)
Entrer je suis entré(e)
Rester je suis resté(e)
Naître je suis né(e)

Don't forget the ending on the past participle so: mon frère est allé en France but ma s'ur est allée en France.

  • You only put endings on past participles that follow être.
  • All reflexive verbs take être

For example:

je me suis lavé(e)
tu t'es lavé(e)
il /on s'est lavé
elle s'est lavée
nous nous sommes lavé(e)s
vous vous êtes lavé(e)(s)
ils se sont lavés
elles se sont lavées

Type in the two missing parts in the sentences below using the infinitive in brackets:

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This is one tense 'back' from perfect, an equivalent of 'I had seen' or 'I had been thinking'.

It is formed with the imperfect tense of Avoir or être and past participle.

For example:

  • J'avais mangé = I had eaten
  • Il était descendu = He had gone down
  • Nous avions acheté = we had been buying

Exercise

  1. Il ... dans le jardin (TRAVAILLER)
  2. Nous ... à Paris (VOYAGER)
  3. Ils ... le film (VOIR)
  4. Vous ... le paquet? (RECEVOIR)
  5. J'... de bonne heure (ARRIVER)

Note: arriver takes être in the past.

Answers

  1. Il avait travailleé dans le jardin
  2. Nous avions voyagé à Paris
  3. Ils avaient vu le film
  4. Vous aviez reçu le pacquet?
  5. J'étais arrivé(e) de bonne heure

For example:

Je jouais meaning:

i) I was playing ii) I used to play

You cannot just use the verb keeping the er/ir/re ending. You have to change (conjugate) the verb ending.

The verb ending is the same as the conditional tense for er, ir and re verbs but changes depending on the person ( je, tu, il... etc). The endings are all the same as the imperfect tense endings but go after the last stem of the verb instead.

The regular imperfect tense is formed as follows: Start with the nous form of the present tense, remove (just) the 'ons' and then add the endings.

Try this exercise: Type in the correct word, then click on show answer button to show the conjugation of the imperfect tense.

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Remember: these endings apply to all regular verbs and are the same for er/ir and re verbs.

The rule also works for irregular verbs. As long as you know the 'nous' form of the present, you can do that verb in the imperfect.

Type in the missing part in the sentences below using the infinitive in brackets:

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