Passé Composé versus Imparfait: the Ultimate Guide in 2020

passé composé versus imparfait

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In this French grammar lesson we will learn about passé composé versus imparfait: how to know which one you should use and when.

In this lesson you will learn about:

  • passé composé versus imparfait: when to use which one
  • which words are commonly associated with the passé composé and the imparfait
  • how the passé composé and the imparfait are used in sentences
  • how you can immediately test your knowledge on passé composé versus imparfait
  • how you can download the Anki files for passé composé versus imparfait

Please refer to the French A2 Curriculum to get a better overview of French grammar if you are curious about how passé composé versus imparfait fits in French A2 grammar.

Please also read the lessons on when to use the passé composé and the imparfait. It will make this lesson much easier to understand.

By the end of the lesson you will know all about when to use the passé composé and when to use the imparfait.

Table of Contents

Passé Composé versus Imparfait: when to use which one

A very easy way to think about passé composé versus imparfait is in the following manner.

The passé composé represents completed actions with a clear beginning and end.

The imparfait represents incompleted actions with no clear beginning and end.

This is generally true when dealing with these two tenses.

Please keep this in mind as we are going to contrast and compare the two tenses.

Completed versus Incompleted Actions

The Passé Composé describes what has already happend, something that is completed.

The Imparfait describes what was happening, it is not clear if it has already ended.

Je suis arrivé tôt au travail.

I arrived at work early.

J’ai fini mon rapport.

I finished my report.

J’étais au travail.

I was at work.

J’écrivais mon rapport.

I was writing my report.

New versus Ongoing Actions

The Passé Composé describes a change in a state of being and/or feeling.

The Imparfait describes an ongoing state of being and/or feeling

Soudain, j’ai détesté le travail.

Suddenly I hated the work.

J’avais toujours peur de lui

I was always afraid of him

J’aimais le travail.

I liked the work.

Je n’ai plus eu peur de lui.

I was no longer afraid of him.

Counted versus Uncounted

The Passé Composé specifically describes how often something has happend.

The Imparfait describes what happened on an ongoing basis, or an indefinite amount of times.

J’ai travaillé mardi.

I worked on Tuesday.

J’ai oublié mon mot de passe 3 fois.

I forgot my password 3 times.

Je travaillais le mardi.

I used to work on Tuesdays.

J’oubliais toujours mon mot de passe.

I was always forgetting my password.

(Cutting) Event + Context

The Passé Composé can cut through a an ongoing action [context].

The Imparfait can provide the context of a situation/action.

Ma mère m’a appelé quand

My mother called me when…

Il a laissé tomber son téléphone

He dropped his phone…

je faisais mes devoirs.

I was doing my homework.

pendant qu’il courait.

when he was running.

Common words associated with the Passé Composé and the Imparfait

The following words/phrases are commonly linked with the Passé Composé.

The following words/phrases are commonly linked with the Imparfait.

d’abord, enfin …

first of all, finally

puis, ensuite …

then, next

soudain, brusquement,

suddenly, abruptly,

tout d’un coup, tout à coup …

all of a sudden, suddenly

tout de suite, immédiatement …

right away, immediately

un jour, un matin, un soir …

one day, one morning, one evening

autrefois, à l’époque 

in the past, long ago, at the time

chaque jour, chaque matin, chaque mois …

each day, each morning, each month

en général, généralement, d’habitude . . .

in general, usually

rarement …

rarely

toujours, souvent …

always, often

Example Sentences for Passé Composé versus Imparfait

The final section of this lesson on passé composé versus imparfait is about seeing them in action.

This is valuable because you can improve your understanding of passé composé versus imparfait through examples.

Je suis arrivé tôt au travail.

I arrived at work early.

J’étais au travail.

I was at work.

J’ai fini mon rapport.

I finished my report.

J’écrivais mon rapport.

I was writing my report.

Soudain, j’ai détesté le travail.

Suddenly I hated the work.

J’aimais le travail.

I liked the work.

J’avais toujours peur de lui.

I was always afraid of him.

Je n’ai plus eu peur de lui.

I was no longer afraid of him.

J’ai travaillé mardi.

I worked on Tuesday.

Je travaillais le mardi.

I used to work on Tuesdays.

J’ai oublié mon mot de passe 3 fois.

I forgot my password 3 times.

J’oubliais toujours mon mot de passe.

I was always forgetting my password.

Ma mère m’a appelé quand je faisais mes devoirs.

My mother called me when I was doing my homework.

Il a laissé tomber son téléphone pendant qu’il courait.

He dropped his phone when he was running.

Test Your Knowledge on Passé Composé verus Imparfait

It’s not enough just to read the lesson on this subject.

You should test your knowledge to see if you really understood everything, and to be able to repeat the material.

It is also for this reason that it is recommended to download the Anki Decks and do them.

At the end of every lesson you can do a small test.

You will see the sentences of the previous chapter. It is up to you to give the correct answer.

You will either need to fill in the blanks, choose the correct multiple choice option, or both.

Once you are done the correct answer will be shown.

You can redo the test as many times as you want. There’s no limit to it!

Anki File for Passé Composé versus Imparfait

It is important to do the Anki excercises for this lesson, so that you can remember what you just studied.

By downloading the Anki File for French A2 you can practice every French A2 lesson that is on Language Atlas.

At this moment the Anki File for this lesson doesn’t exist yet. However, in due time this will be available on Language Atlas.

If you don’t know why you should use Anki, or don’t know how to use Anki or merge Anki files please click here.

Anki can be downloaded from here.

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