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 quiz yourself on passé composé versus imparfait
  • how to practice with flascards for passé composé versus imparfait
  • how and why you should use the courses of Language Atlas to learn French

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.

Quiz Yourself on Passé Composé verus Imparfait

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

You will see the sentences of the previous chapter.

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

It is up to you to give the correct answer.

Once you are done the correct answer will be shown.

You can redo the quiz as many times as you want!

How to Practice With Flashcards for This Lesson

Using flashcards is an absolute necessity when it comes to learning a language!

It is the best way to memorize what you learn, you can personalize your progression because it adapts to your actions, and all flashcards have audio to improve your hearing and pronunciation.

Please read our article on how to learn a new language for more information on flashcards and the best way to learn a new language.

There are two ways to practice with Flashcards for this lesson.

  1. Anki
  2. The Flashcards in our Courses

Anki is a free software with which you can create and practice flashcards.

After you have downloaded Anki, you can get our French A2 Anki Deck.

This Anki Deck contains 3,816 flashcards with which you can practice absolutely everything for French A2.

All the flashcards have text, images, explanations, and audio.

You can also use our courses that have flashcards integrated alongside lessons with audio, quizzes and much more!

However, I am sure you are wondering, what are your courses, and why should I take them?

The Courses of Language Atlas

Have you ever wondered what the best way is to learn a new language?

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It never really seemed to work for me.

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So I thought, “why not make something myself?“.

Using my experience and by doing research I created Language Atlas, a platform where people can learn French and Spanish in the most effective and efficient way.

I created free lessons and quizzes so that there would always be a easy and accessible way for people to learn or brush up on their language skills.

However, I also created courses that are much more comprehensive and in-depth.

These courses are easy to follow, clear, and allow you to become fluent in the most effective and efficient way.

The courses of Language Atlas have:

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