French regular verbs – past tense

French verbs

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Here are the basic forms of French regular verbs in the past tense, which include the perfect (or passé composé), pluperfect, imperfect and past historic (or passé simple). All verbs end in -er, -re or -ir, and there are different endings for each that are shown here in red.

Perfect (or passé composé)

The perfect tense is used in formal written French to say someone ‘has done’ something, but they sometimes use it in conversation and casual writing in the same way we use the simple past tense (or ‘preterite’), eg ‘j’ai donné’ might mean ‘I gave’ rather than ‘I have given’ – you just need to look at the context to help you decide which is the right translation.

Verbs ending in -er, eg donner (to give)

J’ai donné          (I have given or I gave)
Tu as donné          (You have given or you gave – informal)
Il/elle a donné          (He/she has given or he/she gave)
Nous avons donné          (We have given or we gave)
Vous avez donné          (You have given or you gave – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles ont donné          (They have given or they gave – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs ending in -re, eg vendre (to sell)

J’ai vendu          (I have sold or I sold)
Tu as vendu          (You have sold or you sold – informal)
Il/elle a vendu          (He/she has sold or he/she sold)
Nous avons vendu          (We have sold or we sold)
Vous avez vendu          (You have sold or you sold – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles ont vendu          (They have sold or they sold – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs ending in -ir, eg finir (to finish)

J’ai fini          (I have finished or I finished)
Tu as fini          (You have finished or you finished – informal)
Il/elle a fini          (He/she has finished or he/she finished)
Nous avons fini          (We have finished or we finished)
Vous avez fini          (You have finished or you finished – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles ont fini          (They have finished or they finished – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Pluperfect

The pluperfect tense is used to say someone ‘had done’ something. This is common in story-writing when an event is described that happened before that particular moment in the story, eg ‘j’avais donné’ means ‘I had given’.

Verbs ending in -er, eg donner (to give)

J’avais donné          (I had given)
Tu avais donné          (You had given – informal)
Il/elle avait donné          (He/she had given)
Nous avions donné          (We had given)
Vous aviez donné          (You had given – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles avaient donné         (They had given – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs ending in -re, eg vendre (to sell)

J’avais vendu          (I had sold)
Tu avais vendu          (You had sold – informal)
Il/elle avait vendu          (He/she had sold)
Nous avions vendu          (We had sold)
Vous aviez vendu          (You had sold – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles avaient vendu         (They had sold – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs ending in -ir, eg finir (to finish)

J’avais fini          (I had finished)
Tu avais fini          (You had finished – informal)
Il/elle avait fini          (He/she had finished)
Nous avions fini          (We had finished)
Vous aviez fini          (You had finished – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles avaient fini         (They had finished – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Imperfect

The imperfect tense is used to say someone ‘was doing’ or ‘used to do’ something, eg ‘je donnais’ means ‘I was giving’ or ‘I used to give’.

Verbs ending in -er, eg donner (to give)

Je donnais          (I was giving)
Tu donnais          (You were giving – informal)
Il/elle donnait          (He/she was giving)
Nous donnions          (We were giving)
Vous donniez          (You were giving – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donnaient          (They were giving – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs ending in -re, eg vendre (to sell)

Je vendais          (I was selling)
Tu vendais          (You were selling – informal)
Il/elle vendait          (He/she was selling)
Nous vendions          (We were selling)
Vous vendiez          (You were selling – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendaient          (They were selling – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs ending in -ir, eg finir (to finish)

Je finissais          (I was finishing)
Tu finissais          (You were finishing – informal)
Il/elle finissait          (He/she was finishing)
Nous finissions          (We were finishing)
Vous finissiez          (You were finishing – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finissaient          (They were finishing – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Past historic (or passé simple)

The past historic is the equivalent of the simple past tense (or preterite) in English and is used in novels and other formal writing to say someone ‘did’ something, eg ‘je donnai’ means ‘I gave’ or ‘I used to give’. It is never used in conversation, where it is replaced by the perfect tense.

Verbs ending in -er, eg donner (to give)

Je donnai          (I gave)
Tu donnas          (you gave – informal)
Il/elle donna          (he/she gave)
Nous donnâmes          (we gave)
Vous donnâtes          (you gave – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donnèrent          (they gave – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs ending in -re, eg vendre (to sell)

Je vendis          (I sold)
Tu vendis          (you sold – informal)
Il/elle vendit          (he/she sold)
Nous vendîmes          (we sold)
Vous vendîtes          (you sold – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendirent          (they sold – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

Verbs ending in -ir, eg finir (to finish)

Je finis          (I finished)
Tu finis          (you finished – informal)
Il/elle finit          (he/she finished)
Nous finîmes          (we finished)
Vous finîtes          (you finished – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finirent          (they finished – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

 

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