Difference Between Imparfait and Passe Compose

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: September 07, 2023


Difference Between Imparfait and Passe Compose

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Learning a language such as French is always going to be on the to-do list for a lot of us. Recently, it has become one of the most preferred languages. The satisfaction received from learning this language is unexplainable, but it also brings along the tedious amount of grammar. Past tenses can turn out to be a great example of this, i.e., Imparfait vs. Passe Compose.

Both L’imparfait and Passe Compose are clubbed together under the same umbrella of ‘past tense’; however, they are used in diverse contexts and hold different meanings. Both play a great role in being proficient, but only if the difference between them is understood.

Imparfait vs. Passe Compose

It is essential that one clearly understands the main differences between Imparfait and Passe Compose in order to be proficient in French Grammar, as they both come under the same roof of past tenses but have varied functions.

Imparfait, or the imperfect tense, is the past tense in the French language that primarily considers those actions that are ongoing, incomplete, or have a recurring nature, like a habit. While talking about things that have happened in the past, Imparfait comes in handy. It sets a picture of the event in an individual’s mind as to what would have happened.

Passe Compose is also a past tense in the French language; however, it focuses on the actions that have been completed in the past itself. It portrays the characteristics of a simple past tense and present perfect simultaneously. While talking about the outcome of a past action, Passe Compose comes in handy. It is useful when it comes to highlighting the completed actions.

Difference between Imparfait and Passe Compose in Tabular Form

Parameters of comparisonImparfaitPasse Compose
UsageUsed for actions that are in process or which have not ended fully in the past. Their endpoint is blurred.Used for those actions that have been concluded at a particular point in the past. These events have an endpoint.
ApplicationHelps in describing the scenario behind the actions.Describes the main actions that took place in the past
FormationImparfait endings are like ‘ -ais, -ait, -aient, -ions and -iez’Passe Compose endings are like ‘ -i, -é, -ir,-re,-u’
ConjugationFormed using the present tense form of the verb.Formed using the past participle of the main verb and auxiliary verb.

What is Imparfait?

Imparfait refers to something that’s imperfect when talked about in the English language. However, this word has a Latin influence which means ‘unfinished’, which is exactly what we’ll talk about ahead.

L’imparfait brings out the characteristics of past continuous tense and adds the ‘+ing’ to the end of the verb. Imparfait is a prominent component of French grammar. It is a past tense that includes those actions, scenarios, habits, etc., that were ongoing at a time in the past; these actions do not necessarily have an endpoint or time frame. Making use of Imparfait actually gives an overview of the background that is being described at one point in time.

Going into the specific details of a past event is not something that this past tense covers.   For example, it will talk about the weather, the infrastructure, etc., of the event that is being narrated.

There are certain types of verb endings, such as ‘ -ais, -ait, -aient, -ions, and -iez’, commonly referred to as the Imparfait ending. By using these, the sentence formed conveys the exact picture that is to be portrayed from the past. One needs to make use of these endings frequently.

Usage of Imparfait

This past tense holds great usage when it comes to telling a story. With its property to describe the background behind an event, an actual picture can be painted in the listener's mind.

Since emotions and mood play the most crucial role while narrating a story or describing an event, Imparfait also takes in mind that the intensity of the entire setting is conveyed in a crystal clear manner.

Stories narrated with the correct application of Imparfait can surely create an atmosphere that will make the listener engrossed.

  1. The way continuous actions are brought to light by this tense, so are recurring actions, commonly known as habits. Imparfait, by making use of the suffixes, conveys the habitual events of the past. Phrases like ‘Used to’ and ‘Would’ convey the habitual actions that took place.
  2. While describing situations in the past, one may feel the urge to insert the speech to make the listener understand the context in a better way. Imparfait tense can help out by putting forward the indirect speeches that took place in the past in an effortless manner.

Formation and rules

Grammatical components can only be of some use if they have the correct conjugation.

The main essence of making use of Imparfait correctly is the ‘Imparfait endings.’

We have talked about these suffixes above as well, and mainly these are ‘ -ais, -ait, -aient, -ions, and -iez’ .(exceptions excluded)

These endings are carefully used with certain pronouns in the French language like as follows:



Of course, whenever it comes to the application of grammar, exceptions play a significant role, especially in the French language.

There are various exceptions that exist that need to be addressed while making use of Imparfait tense.

  1. The irregular stem is considered in Imparfait whenever irregular verbs are concerned. However, the exception exists, i.e. using ‘être’, which means “to be”. In this case, the stem used in Imparfait is ét-.
  2. Minimal change in spelling can be observed for verbs ending in ‘-ger’. (for the nous pronoun)
  3. A few verbs like ‘faire’ can be found that consist of both Imparfait ending as well as an irregular stem, as discussed above.

What is Passe Compose?

Passe compose is another vital past tense of the French language. This as well has a certain Latin influence during its formation, but it gradually seeped deeper into the French language.

When used in French, one may identify its properties similar to that of simple past tense or the present perfect tense of the English language.

Passe compose plays a significant role when it comes to discussing specific events that took place at one point in time. The actions that make use of Passe Compose usually have an endpoint. It does not talk about the general scenario of an event. This past tense pays attention to the outcome of the action being talked about.

One may get confused as to why passe compose is used instead of passe simple, which is also a past tense in the French language. Passe simply brings out the characteristics of past definite tense, which is applied in cases of historical writings or literary pieces of the past. It can be of help when considered in a formal manner


This tense, as discussed above, is for completed, specific actions or events in the past, which are more defined. These actions are much more detailed and include time frames, too.

Whenever it comes to narrating a story, we need the balance between Passe Compose and Imparfait. While Imparfait sets up the situation, Passe Compose talks about the events. It specifies the activities and time of the actions to give in to the detailing.

Comes in to be handy when one has to put the events in a particular sequence. It helps move the plot forward due to its property to show the transition.

  1. Apart from being a great tool in storytelling, this past tense can frame questions as well as negative remarks by using the helping verb and the subject pronoun.
  2. Many a time, historical events have to be discussed; in these particular places, Passe Compose would be a good fit, as it can include facts as well as specifications. Also, these events do not always have to be of some great historical value; whenever one conveys their own past achievements or something that they have done, they can very well make use of this tense.
  3. Of course, when one has to share some news or article that they have read while explaining, it is always better to be specific. Passe Compose can be of use in such cases as well.

There are n number of usages of these grammatical workings that one can observe on a daily basis; all that is required is to keep the mind open to identify them.


For the correct formation of this tense, an auxiliary verb and past participle of the verb are required.

To be a bit more specific, mainly, either of the auxiliary verbs of avoir (to have) or être (to be) in present form is used along with the past participle of the main verb.


Rules for past participles

While using the past participles, certain playing around has to be done with the ending to use the tense correctly. (Exceptions excluded)

  1. For the group of verbs consisting of ‘-ir’ in the end, replacing it with ‘-i’ gives the correct formation.
  2. Similarly, for the group of verbs consisting of ‘-er’ in the end, replacing it with ‘-é’ gives the right formation.
  3. The third group that consists of the ‘-re’ ending, replacing it with ‘-u’ is the correct formation.

However, along with these three rules, irregular past participles come in handy if memorized separately.

Main differences between Imparfait and Passe Compose in Points

  • Both of these are essential past tenses in the French language. However, they are used in their own particular ways.
  • Imparfait focuses on actions, activities, events, situations, etc., that have happened in the past but those not have a definite endpoint.  Passe Compose focuses on actions and events that have happened at one point in the past and have an endpoint.
  • Imparfait tense sets the situation/scenario; it creates the intensity of the entire scene. Passe compose brings a more specific perspective to the event. It brings out the exact events that have taken place.
  • Habitual activities, i.e., activities recurring in nature, are also included when we talk about Imparfait by making use of ‘used to’ or ‘would’. Passe Compose, however, does not address continuous actions.
  • Passe Compose is used in the formation of questions and negative sentences by making sure of the correct formation. Imparfait does not address this section, as it is more general than specific.
  • Imparfait has certain endings like ‘ -ais, -ait, -aient, -ions, and -iez’, utilized according to the subject pronouns. Passe compose, on the other hand, also caters to changing endings but only for specific verb groups.
  • The auxiliary verb of avoir and être is used along with the past participle of the main verb for passe compose. For Imparfait, ‘+ing’ is added towards the end of the verb for correct implementation.
  • Imparfait is much more suitable for expressing emotions, especially while telling a story. Passe Compose can show transition smoothly when used simultaneously for the narration of an event.


Now, to sum up, both Imparfait as well as Passe Compose hold an important role in French Grammar. Both of these past tenses have been in use since old French in their own set ways and have eventually developed to be in modern French as well. The lines that differentiate them are very thin but hold great importance. On one hand, Imparfait is inclusive of all those continuous and recurring past actions that lack an endpoint; on the other hand, Passe Compose is inclusive of one-time, specific actions that have a defined endpoint. Imparfait can be really helpful for providing the background scenario and the details of it, whereas passe compose can provide precise information of the event in that background. The right mix of both of these can bring out amazing pieces.


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"Difference Between Imparfait and Passe Compose." Diffzy.com, 2024. Mon. 10 Jun. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-imparfait-and-passe-compose>.

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