Expressing habits or repeated actions in L'Imparfait (imperfect tense)

Look at these uses of L'Imparfait:

Je lisais tous les jours.
I used to read every day.

Tu étudiais chaque jour.
You used to study each day.

Il jouait au football quand il était petit.
He played football when he was small.

Tous les étés, nous allions dans le sud de la France.
Every summer, we would go to the South of France.

Ma mère me berçait dans ses bras jusqu'à ce que je m'endorme.
My mother used to rock me in her arms until I fell asleep.

Note that one of the uses of L'Imparfait is to express actions that repeated in the past, or past habits (e.g. would go every summer, I used to play, ...).

Note that in English you can use used to or would, but you can also use the Simple Past (i.e. I played) to express habits and repeated actions.

 

Other uses for L'Imparfait:

Expressing continuing action in L'Imparfait (imperfect tense)
Describing and expressing opinions in L'Imparfait (imperfect tense)

See also how to combine L'Imparfait and Le Passé Composé: Using Le Passé Composé on its own or with L'Imparfait

And to see how to conjugate in L'Imparfait: Conjugate regular verbs in L'Imparfait (imperfect tense) and Conjugate être in L'Imparfait (imperfect tense)

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Nous allions à la plage le matin.
We used to go to the beach in the morning.


Nous mangions des bonbons quand nous avions dix ans.
We ate sweets when we were ten years old.


Ma mère me berçait dans ses bras jusqu'à ce que je m'endorme.
My mother used to rock me in her arms until I fell asleep.


Il jouait au football quand il était petit.
He played football when he was small.


Tous les étés, nous allions dans le sud de la France.
Every summer, we would go to the South of France.


Je lisais tous les jours.
I used to read every day.


Ils chantaient toute la journée.
They used to sing all day.


Tu étudiais chaque jour.
You used to study each day.


Vous étiez très méchants quand vous étiez enfants.
You used to be so naughty when you were children.


Q&A

Judy

Kwiziq community member

2 September 2018

1 reply

In the sentence ‘when we arrived in the changing rooms’ the verb ‘arrived’ is conjugated in the imperfait and not passé ci

Chris

Kwiziq community member

3 September 2018

3/09/18

Can you post the entire sentence as this has some bearing on the answer. 

David

Kwiziq community member

12 July 2018

1 reply

Tu m’accompagnais à l'école tous les matins

In the quiz I was marked wrong for selecting "You were accompanying me to school every mornming" for the translation of this sentence. It wanted "You used to accompany me to school every morning". Yet in another lesson (https://french.kwiziq.com/my-languages/french/view/3132?rts=%252Fsearch%253Fs%253Dhabitude) you associate "used to" with "avoir d'habitude". To me (and Google Translate) that makes "You used to accompany me to school every morning" an inappropriate translation here. The other one, although less common than the obvious" You accompanied me to school every morning" seems the more appropriate choice.

Alan

Kwiziq community member

12 July 2018

12/07/18

I think you should trust the translations on this site more than Google Translate, but still, if you ask Google to translate "You used to accompany me to school every morning" into French, it does give "Tu m'accompagnais à l'école tous les matins".


 

Gio

Kwiziq community member

5 April 2018

1 reply

Hi, I have a question about this sentence "Ma mère me berçait dans ses bras jusqu'à ce que je m'endorme."

would it not be "...que je me suis endormé" as it is in the past? 

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

12 April 2018

12/04/18

Hi Gio,


In this sentence 'je m'endorme' is in the present subjunctive because 'jusqu'à ce que' is always followed by a subjunctive.


Hope this helps!

Dragana

Kwiziq community member

7 March 2018

1 reply

I have a lot of problems posting my full quesions -

"Ma mère me berçait dans ses bras jusqu'à ce que je m'endorme."- is je m'endorme subjonctive and why ses bras and not les bras since we know that the "bras belongs" to the mum

Chris

Kwiziq community member

7 March 2018

7/03/18

Hi Dragana,


yes, there is a problem with being able to post full questions. A lot of people suffer from it. I did bring it to the attention of the kwiziq team. If you want, why not send them a mail (under Tools > Help & Support).


Yes, "je m'endorme" is subjunctive; "je m'endors" would be indicative.


About your second question: you could also say "les bras" but in this case "ses bras" just stresses the fact that they belong to the mother since there is more than one person involved.


-- Chris (not a native speaker).

stephen

Kwiziq community member

26 January 2018

1 reply

I cannot see the difference between the "imperfect tense" and "avoir l'habitude"

eg. [ J'avais l'habitude d'appartenir appartenir ] and [ j'appartenais ]

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

26 January 2018

26/01/18

Bonjour Stephen !

The difference is one of emphasis.
L'Imparfait can carry the notion of something that *used to* happen, as opposed to Le Passé Composé, but "avoir l'habitude de" (literally "to have the habit of") insists on the notion of a repeated action in the past, something that happened as a habit.
In the example you used, saying "J'avais l'habitude d'appartenir" sounds really weird, because "avoir l'habitude" you wouldn't really "belong" repeatedly, as a habit :)
Here you will use L'Imparfait : J'appartenais, as it's more of an action that used to *be* in the past.

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !

Olof

Kwiziq community member

22 January 2018

1 reply

What has this to do with imparfait?

"Et tout là-haut le vent,Qui siffle dans les branches... And all above the wind, Which whistles in the branches..."

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

29 January 2018

29/01/18

Bonjour Olof !

Indeed, this example has nothing to do with l'Imparfait :)
Thanks to you, it's now been transferred to an appropriate lesson!

Merci et bonne journée !

Vi

Kwiziq community member

17 January 2018

1 reply

"Tu joues de la trompette ---> Tu en joues"

Mais je crois que cette exemple n'est pas correcte: "Tu joues de la trompette ---> Tu en joues". Il vaut mieux "Tu joues à la trompette ---> Tu y joues", n'est-ce pas ?

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

12 April 2018

12/04/18

Hi Vi,


With music instruments we use 'Jouer de',


Tu joues de la guitare, de l'accordéon, du piano...


so because of the 'de' it will be 'tu en joues'.


With sport , we use 'Jouer à',


je joue au rugby, je joue au tennisje joue à la marelle ( hopscotchje joue aux échecs ( chess


and because of the 'à' it will be 'j'y joue' .


Hope this helps!


 


 

Irene

Kwiziq community member

12 November 2017

3 replies

when do you use the passé compose

Ron

Kwiziq community member

13 November 2017

13/11/17

Bonsoir Irene,
Le passé composé is the conversational past tense (this is the most common use of it). There are other nuances but I will not present those on this response. You will run across them as you go along.
This link is from the Progress with Lawless French Library and it explains the passé composé in detail along with examples:
https://kwiziq.learnfrenchwithalexa.com/my-languages/french/glossary/44
There is a whole page of links to lessons on the passé composé. I do suggest that you get a good basic understanding of le passé composé and l'imparfait before attempting any other levels.
But as noted previously, the most common use of le passé composé is in conversation in discussing the past, i.e. j'ai mangé --> I ate, I have eaten, etc.
Once you have this mastered, several of the other past tenses fall into place a lot easier.
J'espère que ma réponse vous aiderait.
Bonne chance et bonne continuation dans vos études en français, la langue de Molière et qui a été utilisée par le monde français depuis l’époque d’Hugues Capet

Ron (un locuteur non natif )

Chris

Kwiziq community member

15 November 2017

15/11/17

When to use the passé composé and when to use the imparfait is a source of a lot of confusion since French uses the tenses differently from English.

I always think about this in terms of describing a theater performance. The imparfait is used to describe what the stage and the scene looks like whereas the passé composé describes the action itself taking place on the stage. For example:

Il pleuvait et il faisait sombre dehors. Le voisin promenait son chien. Juste à ce moment-là une voiture est passé devant chez moi.

It was raining and dark outside. The neighbour was walking his dog. -- Description of the "setting", hence imparfait.
Juste à ce moment-là une voiture est passé devant chez moi. -- Description of the "action", hence passé composé.

There are several other uses of the imparfait (e.g. in conditional sentences with "si" and reported speech, etc.) but these are less confusing because they follow a strict grammatical rule.

I hope that helps to clarify the issue a bit.

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Chris

Kwiziq community member

15 November 2017

15/11/17

To expand on this a bit:

If you are describing something in the past that is merely a description of something which happened usually or over some period of time, this also qualifies as "backdrop" and requires the imparfait.

For example:

Quand j'étais enfant,  je jouais souvent avec ma balle préferée. -- As a child I often played with my favorite ball.

This is a description of something which took place habitually and therefore one uses the imparfait.

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Irene

Kwiziq community member

12 November 2017

1 reply

what is the difference between the imperfect tense and the passé compose

Ron

Kwiziq community member

13 November 2017

13/11/17

Bonsoir Irene,
Here is a link to the lesson that covers the use and differences of le passé composé and l'imparfait:
https://kwiziq.learnfrenchwithalexa.com/my-languages/french/view/5013
Here are a couple of links from the French Department at UT Austin that I have found quite useful at times with topics that I have found somewhat difficult:
http://www.laits.utexas.edu/tex/pdf/tap6.pdf
http://www.laits.utexas.edu/tex/pdf/tap2.pdf

J'espère que ma réponse vous aiderait.
Bonne chance et bonne continuation dans vos études en français, la langue de Molière et qui a été utilisée par le monde français depuis l’époque d’Hugues Capet

Ron (un locuteur non natif )

Dzoan

Kwiziq community member

22 February 2017

1 reply

m'endorme

Ma mère me berçait dans ses bras jusqu'à ce que je m'endorme. This sentence confuses me. What tense is m'endorme? Is that present tense? Why is it present tense here? Shouldn't it be l'imparfait as well? Merci.

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

10 March 2017

10/03/17

Bonjour Dzoan !

This is indeed a complicated case, which shouldn't probably feature in an A2 lesson.
But as it's here, I'm going to explain it :)

The second part of the sentence is introduced by the expression "jusqu'à ce que" (= until does ) which is always followed by Le Subjonctif (Subjunctive mood).
"S'endormir" here is conjugated in Le Subjonctif Présent, hence the confusing ending.

Here is the glossary article link about Le Subjonctif:
https://kwiziq.learnfrenchwithalexa.com/revision/glossary/verb-tense-mood/french-present-subjunctive

I hope it helps!
À bientôt !
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