Practice Imparfait And Passe Compose Essay

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The passé composé is used in French in answer the question 'What happened?' On the other hand, you will usually put a verb in the imparfait if it answers the question 'What was going on when something else happened?' Generally, the passé composé is used to relate events while the imparfait is used to describe what was going on in the past, states of being in the past, or past habits.

All this takes on special importance in narration of past actions, when both tenses often occur in the same story. Narrating a story entails both describing a setting (habitual actions, atmosphere, places and people) and recounting a plot or a series of events, actions, changes of feelings or thoughts. In general, all stories have a well delineated plot line of events, the foreground, and a background of supporting details and description. Some literary texts might subvert this rule but this is out of a conscious effort to surprise or unsettle their reader.

imparfait (set scene) passé composé (event)
Avant, Tammy habitait à Fort Worth ... et puis un jour, elle a déménagé.
Before, Tammy lived in Forth Worth ... and then, one day, she moved.


The following adverbs are commonly associated with each of the past tenses:

adverbs/imparfait adverbs/passé composé
tous les jours, tous les matins ...
every day, every morning
 un jour, un matin, un soir ...
one day, one morning, one evening
chaque jour, chaque matin, chaque mois ...
each day, each morning, each month
 soudain, brusquement, brutalement ...
suddenly, abruptly, brusquely
en général, généralement, d'habitude . . .
in general, usually
 tout d'un coup, tout à coup ...
all of a sudden, suddenly
autrefois, à l'époque ...
in the past, long ago, at the time
 tout de suite, immédiatement ...
right away, immediately
toujours, souvent ...
always, often
 d'abord, enfin ...
first of all, finally
rarement ...
rarely
 puis, ensuite ...
then, next


Usually, when verbs like être,avoir, pouvoir, vouloir, and savoir are in a past narration, they will be in the imparfait, since they most likely describe a past state of being or condition. However, when these verbs (and others like them) occur in the passé composé, they indicate a change of state or a change of condition. Compare these examples:

Tammy: Quand j'avais 15 ans, j'habitais à Fort Worth. Tammy: When I was 15, I used to live in Fort Worth.
Quand j'ai eu 18 ans, j'ai déménagé à Austin. When I turned 18, I moved to Austin.


The passé composé is also generally used for activities that lasted for a precise length of time, with a definite beginning and end. On the other hand, the imparfait is used for indefinite lengths of time. Look at these examples:

definite period of time:  
De 1997 à 1998,  
Pendant un an, Tex a été vendeur de T-shirts.
Entre dix-huit et dix-neuf ans,  
   
indefinite period of time:  
Avant,  
Quand il était enfant, Tex était dans un couvent de Lyon.
A cette époque-là,  


But ultimately it is the entire context that determines which of these two past tenses to use and not a given adverb. For example, in the sentences below, the same adverb, un jour, is used with the imperfect or the passé composé according to the context.

Un jour, Tex vendait des T-shirts à Paris quand il a été arrêté pour activité illégale. One day, Tex was selling T-shirts in Paris when he was arrested for illegal activity. (The imparfait sets the scene to be interrupted)
Un jour, les autorités françaises ont expulsé Tex. One day, the French authorities deported Tex. (Event)


In the following story, note how the narration opens with an extended description of Tex' early childhood in the imparfait, which serves as explanatory background to the plot-line events in the passé composé.

Quand Tex était tout petit, il habitait dans la banlieue de Houston avec sa famille. Ce petit tatou, curieux de nature, aimait toujours faire de longues promenades avec ses amis pour explorer les coins et recoins de la banlieue, surtout les autoroutes! When Tex was very small, he lived in the suburbs of Houston with his family. This little armadillo, curious by nature, always loved to take long walks with his friends to explore the nooks and crannies of the suburbs, above all the highways!
Un jour, pendant une promenade, il s'est perdu. Heureusement, après des heures et des heures, il a trouvé l'entrée de aéroport Bush International. Fasciné par le bruit et le mouvement, il s'est précipité vers les avions. Tandis qu'il examinait un avion de plus près, un homme l'a brusquement pris et il l'a jeté à l'intérieur avec les bagages. Huit heures plus tard, l'avion est arrivé à Paris, où Tex commencerait sa nouvelle vie française! One day, during a walk, he got lost. Fortunately, after hours and hours, he found the entrance to the Bush International Airport. Fascinated by all the noise and motion, he rushed to the planes. As he was examining a plane more closely, a man abruptly took him and threw him inside with the baggage. Eight hours later, the plane arrived in Paris, where Tex would start his new French life!
Tex a passé le reste de son enfance en France. En fait, il est devenu cent pour cent français. Quand il était adolescent, il se considérait comme un disciple de Sartre. Il ne connaissait rien au baseball et détestait tout ce qui était américain. Mais en 1998, tout d'un coup sa vie a changé quand il a découvert que ses parents étaient ... américains. Tex spent the rest of his childhood in France. In fact, he became one hundred per cent French. When he was an adolescent, he considered himself a disciple of Sartre. He knew nothing about baseball and he detested everything American. But in 1998, all of a sudden, his life changed when he discovered that his parents were ... American.
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The Imparfait vs. the Passé Composé I


In French, when speaking in the past tense, one must constantly choose between the imparfait and the passé composé.

In this exercise we will focus on the formation and the use of the imparfait versus the passé composé.

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Grammatical Notes


Ex. #1 - Vocab.?


Ex. #2 - Vocab.?


Ex. #3 - Vocab.?


Ex. #4 - Vocab.?


Ex. #5 - Vocab.?


Ex. #6 - Vocab.?


Ex. #7 - Vocab.?


Ex. #8 - Vocab.?


Ex. #9 - Vocab.?


Ex. #10 - Vocab.?


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Correct!


Proper choice of tense for a description or customary action in the past.


The imparfait is generally used for descriptions of circumstances, situation, background, mental and physical states, or for habitual or repeated actions.

Back to Ex. 1

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense for a description or customary action in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 1

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense for a description or customary action in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?


Improper choice of auxilary with a reflexive verb.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 1

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense for refering to a completed action in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 2

Correct!


Proper choice of auxilary with an intransitive verb.


In the passé composé, intransitive verbs (i.e. those that can not take a direct object) must be conjugated with être (eg: aller, venir, rester, etc...).

Back to Ex. 2

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of auxilary with an intransitive verb.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 2

Correct!


Proper choice of tense to describe a state of mind in the past.


Be aware: the imparfait is most often used to describe states of mind ( penser, savoir, vouloir etc...) in the past, as these tend to last over time.

Back to Ex. 3

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense to describe a state of mind in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 3

Not a valid choice.


Improper formation of the imparfait.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 3

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense for a description or customary action in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 4

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense for a description or customary action in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?


Improper choice of auxilary with an intransitive verb.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 4

Correct!


Proper choice of tense for a description or customary action in the past.


The imparfait is generally used for descriptions of circumstances, situation, background, mental and physical states, or for habitual or repeated actions.

Back to Ex. 4

Correct!


Proper choice of tense for refering to a completed action in the past.


The passé composé is used for actions or series of actions in the past that are completed or sudden, with precise beginnings and ends.


Proper choice of auxilary with a transitive verb.


In the passé composé, transitive verbs (i.e. those that can take a direct object) must be conjugated with avoir (eg: donner, lire, manger, etc...)

Back to Ex. 5

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense for refering to a completed action in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?


Improper choice of auxilary with a transitive verb.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 5

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense for refering to a completed action in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?


Improper choice of auxilary with a transitive verb.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 5

Correct!


Proper choice of tense for refering to a completed action in the past.


The passé composé is used for actions or series of actions in the past that are completed or sudden, with precise beginnings and ends.


Proper choice of auxilary with a transitive verb.


In the passé composé, transitive verbs (i.e. those that can take a direct object) must be conjugated with avoir (eg: donner, lire, manger, etc...)

Back to Ex. 5

Correct!


Proper choice of tense for refering to a completed action in the past.


The passé composé is used for actions or series of actions in the past that are completed or sudden, with precise beginnings and ends.


Proper choice of auxilary with a normally intransitive verb that is used transitively.


Be aware: some intransitive verbs are sometimes used transitively. In these cases they are conjugated with avoir (eg: J'ai monté la valise.)

Back to Ex. 6

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of auxilary with a normally intransitive verb that is used transitively.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 6

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense for refering to a completed action in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 6

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense for refering to a completed action in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 7

Correct!


Proper choice of tense for refering to a completed action in the past.


The passé composé is used for actions or series of actions in the past that are completed or sudden, with precise beginnings and ends.


Proper choice of auxilary with a reflexive verb.


Be aware: reflexive verbs are conjugated with être (eg: se laver, s'habiller etc...).

Back to Ex. 7

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of auxilary with a reflexive verb.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 7

Correct!


Proper choice of tense for a description or customary action in the past.


The imparfait is generally used for descriptions of circumstances, situation, background, mental and physical states, or for habitual or repeated actions.

Back to Ex. 8

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense for a description or customary action in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 8

Not a valid choice.


Improper formation of the imparfait.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 8

Correct!


Proper choice of tense to describe a state of mind in the past.


Be aware: the imparfait is most often used to describe states of mind ( penser, savoir, vouloir etc...) in the past, as these tend to last over time.

Back to Ex. 9

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense to describe a state of mind in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 9

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense for a description or customary action in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 9

Correct!


Proper choice of tense for a description or customary action in the past.


The imparfait is generally used for descriptions of circumstances, situation, background, mental and physical states, or for habitual or repeated actions.

Back to Ex. 9

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of tense for refering to a completed action in the past.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 10

Correct!


Proper choice of tense for refering to a completed action in the past.


The passé composé is used for actions or series of actions in the past that are completed or sudden, with precise beginnings and ends.

Back to Ex. 10

Not a valid choice.


Improper choice of auxilary with an intransitive verb.


Try again.

Explanations?

Back to Ex. 10

Grammatical notes for the exercises in this page.


In French, when speaking in the past tense, one must constantly choose between the imparfait and the passé composé.

In this exercise we will focus on the formation and the use of the imparfait versus the passé composé.

The items covered are:


1)- The formation of the imparfait.


The imparfait is formed on the root of the nous form of the present. The -ons is dropped and the endings of the imparfait are added (-ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient).

Ex. 3Ex. 8


2)- The formation of the passé composé.


The passé composé is composed of the auxilary être or avoir conjugated in the present followed by the present participle of the verb in question.


3)- The choice of tense for a description or customary action in the past.


The imparfait is generally used for descriptions of circumstances, situation, background, mental and physical states, or for habitual or repeated actions.

Ex. 1Ex. 4Ex. 8Ex. 9


4)- The choice of tense to describe a state of mind in the past.


Be aware: the imparfait is most often used to describe states of mind ( penser, savoir, vouloir etc...) in the past, as these tend to last over time.

Ex. 3Ex. 9


5)- The choice of tense for refering to a completed action in the past.


The passé composé is used for actions or series of actions in the past that are completed or sudden, with precise beginnings and ends.

Ex. 2Ex. 5Ex. 6Ex. 7Ex. 10


6)- The choice of auxilary with a transitive verb.


In the passé composé, transitive verbs (i.e. those that can take a direct object) must be conjugated with avoir (eg: donner, lire, manger, etc...)

Ex. 5


7)- The choice of auxilary with an intransitive verb.


In the passé composé, intransitive verbs (i.e. those that can not take a direct object) must be conjugated with être (eg: aller, venir, rester, etc...).

Ex. 2Ex. 4Ex. 10


8)- The choice of auxilary with a reflexive verb.


Be aware: reflexive verbs are conjugated with être (eg: se laver, s'habiller etc...).

Ex. 1Ex. 7


9)- The choice of auxilary with a normally intransitive verb that is used transitively.


Be aware: some intransitive verbs are sometimes used transitively. In these cases they are conjugated with avoir (eg: J'ai monté la valise.)

Ex. 6

Back to Ex. 1

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Vocabulary for Ex. #1 - Back to Exercise?

  • quand: when
  • être enfant: to be a child
  • se coucher: to go to bed
  • de bonne heure: early

Vocabulary for Ex. #2 - Back to Exercise?

  • Hier soir: last night
  • le frère: brother
  • arriver: to come/arrive
  • chez moi: to/at my house

Vocabulary for Ex. #3 - Back to Exercise?

  • l'amie: friend (female)
  • vouloir: to want
  • se marier: to marry
  • avec: with
  • beau: good-looking, handsome
  • un jeune homme: a young man

Vocabulary for Ex. #4 - Back to Exercise?

  • l'hiver: winter, in winter
  • la neige: snow
  • tomber: to fall
  • les flocons: snowflakes
  • léger: light
  • la montagne: the mountain

Vocabulary for Ex. #5 - Back to Exercise?

  • Dès que: as soon as
  • voir: to see
  • courir: to run
  • vers moi: towards me

Vocabulary for Ex. #6 - Back to Exercise?

  • félicitations: congratulations
  • passer l'examen: to pass the exam

Vocabulary for Ex. #7 - Back to Exercise?

  • le matin: morning, in the morning
  • s'habiller à toute vitesse: very fast, at full speed

Vocabulary for Ex. #8 - Back to Exercise?

  • téléphoner: to phone, to call
  • tous les jours: every day
  • mais: but
  • maintenant: now
  • c'est fini: its finished/over

Vocabulary for Ex. #9 - Back to Exercise?

  • vouloir: to want
  • voir: to see
  • mais: but
  • savoir: to know
  • être occupé: to be busy

Vocabulary for Ex. #10 - Back to Exercise?

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