Understand (and master) the imparfait in 5 minutes

Published by Judith Lefebvre on

Understand the imparfait in French in 5 minutes

I really like the imparfait de l’indicatif because I think it’s one of the simplest verb tenses. It doesn’t matter whether the verb is in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd group, all the endings are the same.

Before understanding when to use the imparfait, let’s look at how to conjugate it.

How to form the imparfait

To form the imparfait de l’indicatif with any verb, remove the ending of the verb (er, ir, oir, re, etc.) and add the following ending, depending on which person you want to conjugate the verb to.


Je → ais
Tu → ais
Il/Elle → ait
Nous → ions
Vous → iez
Ils/Elles → aient


J’aimaisJe finissaisJe partaisJe voulais
Tu aimaisTu finissaisTu partaisTu voulais
Il/elle aimaisIl/elle finissaisIl/elle partaisIl/elle voulait
Nous aimionsNous finissionsNous partionsNous voulions
Vous aimiezVous finissiezVous partiezVous vouliez
Ils/elles aimaientIls/elles finissaientIls/elles partaientIls/elles voulaient

Of course, there will be irregular verbs, but they will still respect these endings.

When to use the imparfait

Generally speaking, the imparfait de l’indicatif is used to talk about the past, but a past that’s hard to pin down to a specific moment in time. With the imparfait, we don’t know exactly when the action began and when it ended. Sometimes, we don’t even know if it’s still happening in the present.

Description of the past

The imparfait is ideal for describing situations, people, landscapes and so on. In a description, it’s difficult to know whether it’s a generality or whether the action is taking place every minute of the period mentioned.

  • La semaine dernière, il faisait froid. (Last week, it was cold.)
  • Quand j’étais jeune, je croyais au Père Noël. (When I was young, I believed in Santa Claus.)

Talking about a habit, a routine

The imparfait de l’indicatif is used to talk about something that happened several times in the past, to the point where it became a habit, a routine.

  • Pendant les vacances, nous allions souvent à la plage. (During the vacations, we often went to the beach.)
  • Elle étudiait le français tous les jours. (She studied French every day.)

Talking about an action interrupted by another

You can use the imparfait in combination with the passé composé to talk about an action that took place in the past and was interrupted by a new action. The action in progress will be in the imparfait and the action that occurs will be in the passé composé.

  • Je mangeais quand le téléphone a sonné. (I was eating when the phone rang.)
  • Il patinait quand il s’est cassé la jambe. (He was skating when he broke his leg.)

Describing a fictional present

With the help of the “conditionnel présent”, we can use the “imparfait” to make assumptions and/or talk about a fictitious present.

  • Si j’avais de l’argent, je te rembourserais. (If I had money, I would pay you back.)
  • Si nous avions plus de temps libre, nous voyagerions plus souvent. (If we had more free time, we would travel more often.)

That’s it! That’s all there is to it!
I told you it was an easy verb tense!

Your challenge: practicing the imparfait

Here are some sentences in which you must conjugate the verb in brackets in the imparfait de l’indicatif. Please note: there are some irregular verbs!

As usual, you’ll find the answers on our Facebook page.

And if you need help understanding these sentences, here’s their translation on DeepL.

  1. Nous _______ (être) les meilleurs amis du monde.
  2. Il ____ (aller) à l’école à pied tous les jours.
  3. Elle _____ (prendre) toujours le train pour se rendre au travail.
  4. Enfant, je _____ (vouloir) devenir astronaute.
  5. Vous ____ (dire) toujours la vérité.
  6. Pendant les fins de semaine, nous ____ (faire) souvent des randonnées.
  7. Ils ______ (finir) leurs devoirs avant le repas.
  8. Elle ________ (choisir) toujours le chemin le plus court.
  9. Elles _____ (aimer) lire des romans le soir.
  10. Quand elle ____ (être) petite, elle venait chez nous pour jouer.
  11. Nous ______ (devoir) étudier tous les jours pour réussir nos examens.
  12. Pendant le voyage, nous _____ (trouver) toujours de bons restaurants.
  13. Tu ____ (donner) souvent des conseils à tes amis.
  14. Nous ______ (manger) en famille le dimanche.
  15. Il _____ (attendre) toujours l’autobus à la même heure.
  16. Ils _____ (passer) des heures à discuter ensemble.
  17. Tu ____ (arriver) souvent en retard à l’école.
  18. Elles _____ (boire) souvent du thé le soir.

Going a step further

In a previous challenge, I told you about the Government of Canada’s language portal. Well, it offers an exercise on the imparfait de l’indicatif, for those who want to do a little more than just this challenge: https://www.noslangues-ourlanguages.gc.ca/fr/quiz/jeu-quiz-conjuguer-verbe-imparfait-fra

Have you downloaded your free guidebook package?

Free ebook 20 most used verbs in French

You can now download a free learning package on the 20 most commonly used verbs in French, conjugated in the present tense. This set includes an ebook with all the verbs and a sentence for each person (je, tu, il, elle, nous, vous, ils, elles), an Excel file to add all the concepts from the ebook to your flashcards application and a video where you can hear me pronounce these verbs and sentences. And it’s free! Download it now!

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Categories: ChallengesVerbs


Robert Horn · 19 January 2024 at 15h00

Is finir an exception? I ask because the rule is to remove the ending (ir) and add (ais), but the result is finissais. So that would mean we remove “ir” to get fin. Then we add “issais,” not just “ais,” right?

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