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Simple Past or Compound Past?

So in the French conjugations for past tense there are 2 types. Simple Past, as in I went or you went. And Compound Past, as in I have gone or you have gone. In my French class we were studying Compound Past, but I'm curious to when I use what.

August 7, 2017



There are 3 main past tenses in French: imperfect (imparfait), simple past (passé simple) and compound past (passé composé).

  • The imperfect is used when an action was not finished or happened multiple times: it roughly corresponds to the english "was doing" "used to do":

Je mangeais quand il est arrivé - I was eating when he arrived

  • The compound past is used when an action was accomplished once: it corresponds to the english "did" "have done" (there is no real difference in French). It is formed using the verb's auxiliary (often avoir, sometimes être) conjugated in the present and followed by the past participle:

Hier, j'ai mangé au restaurant - Yesterday, I ate at a restaurant

  • The simple past is pretty much the same as the compound past, but it is very formal and only used in formal litterature. Duolingo doesn't teach it and your teacher probably doesn't as well, because you will very rarely encounter it:

Je mangeais quand il est arrivé - I was eating when he arrived (normal sentence, compound past)

Je mangeais quand il arriva - I was eating when he arrived (litterary sentence, simple past)


What a GREAT explanation relox84 .

However I wish to point out that Duolingo does teach compound past.

You can check out verbs-compound past here .

It is a bit later on in the tree.

To read another explanation of Compound Past, there is post :
Verbs: passé composé (compound past) for "avoir"

And another for :
Verbs: passé composé - être


Use the perfect to indicate that the event happened and now is over and done with ("I visited" or "I have visited"); use the imperfect to indicate that the event was habitually repeated ("I used to visit") or was happening in the background when another event occurred ("I was visiting when she arrived"). The imperfect is also used for states of mind ("I was happy") or states of being ("I was wealthy"). There are numerous idioms and even more past tenses, and it takes a while to keep them all straight.

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