you are using the two main past tenses in French, the first thing
to get sorted is which one is appropriate for what you need to
express. This is the easiest way to do it:
The Perfect Tense is used for single completed actions. English
examples would be 'I came', 'I saw', 'I kicked the door'.
The Imperfect is used for repeated actions, 'used to', was or
were doing something , and also for descriptions(such as the
weather - it was raining)
The Perfect is the harder one to learn. First of all, it is a
compound tense made up of two parts; an auxilliary verb and a
Most actions using the past tense will require 'avoir' (to have)
as the auxilliary verb. This is- j'ai tu as il a elle a nous
avons vous avez ils ont elles ont
to formulate a past participle (commonly called a PP) you will
need to know whether you are using an 'er', 'ir' or 're' verb.
Check in the dictionary if you don't know.
'er' verbs common examples are 'manger', 'porter', 'décider',
Take the infinitive (thats the bit shown above!). Chop off the
'er', and replace with 'é'.
So, je mange = I eat, j'ai mangé = I ate
je porte = I wear j'ai porté = I wore
j'aime = I like j'ai aimé = I liked
'ir' verbs such as 'finir' are less common than the first section.
This time chop off the 'ir' and replace with 'i'.
So, je finis = I finish j'ai fini = I finished
're' verbs -again these are less common than the top section.The
most frequently used ones are 'défendre' 'entendre' 'battre'
etc. To make a PP, chop off the 're' and replace with 'u'.
j'entends = I hear j'ai entendu = I heard.
Unfortunately, some of the most useful verbs are irregular! (Aren't
These still use 'avoir' by the way.
dire = to say j'ai dit = I said
faire = to do j'ai fait = I did
lire = to read j'ai lu = I read
boire = to drink j'ai bu = I drank
écrire = to write j'ai écrit = I wrote
ouvrir = to open j'ai ouvert = I opened
Ask a teacher or check in a proper grammar book for many more!
The other main area on the perfect tense is those verbs which
don't use 'avoir' but use être instead.
This means taking the relevant part of je suis tu es il est elle
est nous sommes vous êtes ils sont elles sont
and then taking the correct PP
These are generally verbs of movement.Remember them by MR VANS
TRAMPED one verb per letter.
Monter = climb PP = monté je suis monté = I climbed
Retourner = return PP = retourné je suis retourné
= I returned
Venir = come PP = venu je suis venu = I came
Arriver = arrive PP = arrivé je suis arrivé = I
Naître = be born PP = né je suis né = I was
Sortir = go out PP = sorti je suis sorti = I went out
Tomber = fall PP = tombé je suis tombé = I fell
Rester = stay PP = resté je suis resté = I stayed
Aller go PP = allé je suis allé = I went
Mourir = die PP = mort il est mort = he died
Partir = depart PP = parti le train est parti = the train has
Entrer = enter PP = entré je suis entré = I entered
Descendre = get off PP = descendu je suis descendu de l'avion
= I got off the plane
However, verbs which take this format have to have a PP which
shows masculine, feminine or plural!
Examples: ilest mort = he is dead elle est morte = she is dead
je suis allé = I went (when 'I' is a male), but je suis
allée when I is female!
S needs to go on the PP when there's more than one eg: nous sommes
arrivés for we arrived (there's more than one person.)
The Imperfect, you'll be glad to read, is far easier!
Take the 'nous' (we) part of the verb, chop off 'ons' and add
the following endings:
je = ais
tu = ais
il/elle = ait
nous = ions
vous = iez
ils/elles = aient
I was doing = je faisais
He was reading = il lisait
we were saying = nous disions
they were listening = ils écoutaient
The one irregular is 'was' or 'were' and this is 'étais'.
Best remember this as it's the most useful one! Remember that
when you're describing weather you always use 'faire', so 'it
was fine' would be 'il faisait beau'.