Difference Between Passé Composé and Imparfait

Main Difference – Passé Composé vs Imparfait

Passé Composé and Imparfait are the two past tenses in the French language. In this article, we hope to discuss the formation, usage and the difference between these two tenses. The main difference between Passé Composé and Imparfait is that Passé Composé is used to narrate a specific action in the past whereas Imparfait is used to describe past situations.

What is Passé Composé

Passe Composé is the most common French past tense. It can be used to talk about,

An action completed in the past

J’ai déjà mangé. – I’ve already eaten.

An action that was repeated a number of times in the past

J’ai visité Paris plusieurs fois.– I have been to Paris several times.

A series of actions completed in the past

Mardi, il a vu son père, a parlé au médicin et a trouvé un chien. – Tuesday, he saw his father, talked to his doctor and found a dog.

Passe Composé is not a simple tense, it is a compound conjugation. it is made with an auxiliary (avoir or être) and past participle of the main verb.

The verbs, Arriver, Partir, Descendre, Monter, Venir, Aller, Entrer, Sortir, Naître, Mourir, Tomber, Rester and Retourner and pronominal verbs are conjugated with être verb. All other verbs are conjugated with avoir.

Aimer (with Avoir as the Auxilary verb)

J’ ai aimé

Tu as aimé

Il/Elle/On a aimé

Nous avons aimé

Vous avez aimé

Ils/Elles ont aimé

Venir (with être as the Auxilary verb)

Je suis venu(e)

Tu es venu(e)

Il est venu

Elle est venue

Nous sommes venu(e)s

Vous venu(e)(s)

Ils venus

Elles venues

Difference Between Passé Compose and Imparfait

J’ai visité tour de Eiffel plusieurs fois. (I’ve been to the Eiffel tower several times.)

What is Imparfait

Imparfait is a descriptive past tense that is mostly used with incomplete actions. It can be used to talk about,

Habitual actions in the past

Quand j’étais petite, j’aimais beaucoup les gâteaux. – When I was little, I used to love cake.

Description of a situation/background in the past: time, weather, age, feelings

Il était midi et il faisait beau. – It was noon and the weather was nice.

Actions or states of an unspecified duration

Elle  espérait te voir avant ton départ. – She was hoping to talk to you before you left.

Unlike passé Composé conjugation, imparfait conjugation is very easy. First conjugate the verb to the present indicative nous form and drop the –ons ending. Then add the following endings according to the noun.

Person Endings Aimer Venir   être 
je -ais j’aimais je venais j’étais   
tu -ais tu aimais tu venais tu étais
il/elle/on -ait il/elle aimait il/elle venait il/elle était
nous -ions nous aimions nous venions nous étions
vous -iez vous aimiez vous veniez vous étiez
ils/elles -aient ils/elles aimaient ils/elles venaient ils/elles étaient
Main Difference - Passé Compose vs Imparfait

Quand il était petit, il aimait les sucettes. (When he was little, he used to love lollipops.)

Difference Between Passé Composé and Imparfait

Definition

Passé Composé is used to describe an action that has been already completed.

Imparfait is used to describe an incomplete action in the past.

Function

Passé Composé narrates specific events.

Imparfait describes past situations.

Actions

Passé Composé is used for a single action or a series of actions.

Imparfait is used for habitual actions.

Conjugation

Passé Composé is a compound tense; it consists of the auxiliary verb and the past participle of the main verb.

Imparfait is relatively easy to conjugate.Difference Between Passé Composé and Imparfait- infographic

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