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Passé composé vs. imparfait de l'indicatif

I am a little unclear on when to use the past tense as opposed to the imperfect tense. I have a quiz that I'm supposed to decide which to use on each problem and I want to be certain.

November 15, 2017



Imperfect is used for descriptions and ongoing actions. (Stuff like "The room was beautiful" would use the imperfect of etre in French).

Past tense is used for lists of activities and activities that took place over a specific time. ("I went to the store, made dinner, and went to bed" or "I went to Germany last year" would use this tense in French).

It gets trickier when you have them in the same sentence. An English sentence like "I was making dinner when she came downstairs" would have "was making dinner" in imparfait and "came downstairs" in passe compose in French because "making dinner" is ongoing while the "coming downstairs" happens/interrupts.


This site ( https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/passe-compose-vs-imparfait/ ) has a pretty comprehensive breakdown of all the circumstances--I just outlined the gist above.


Ok thank you that helped a lot!

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