Grammar: Leaving Cert French: Understanding the Plus-Que-Parfait

The “plus-que-parfait” is one of the easiest French tenses around. However, some books explain it in a frustratingly difficult fashion. These often unnecessarily difficult explanations combined with the fancy name means that the tense is often met with an unjustified sense of terror.

Basically, the “plus-que-parfait” is the way in which we say we had done something in French- “I had eaten”, “We had given”, “She had arrived.”

The “plus-que-parfait” is an excellent addition to a diary entry and will likely increase your language marks.

Remember: To say “I had” in French we use “avoir” in imparfait tense. We use “être” in imparfait tense for the verbs that use “être” in past tense. See below for this. More about this here if you’re confused about these verbs!

Below are “être” and “avoir” in imparfait tense. I have omitted the “tu” and the “vous” as you will not be using these in written work.

ÊTRE                      AVOIR

J’étais                      J’avais

Il/ On était          Il/ On avait

Nous étions        Nous avions

Ils étaient            Ils avaient

Just as we would in English, we place the verb in past tense after the “I had” (which is listed above).

Example: J’avais mangé: I had eaten

Nous avions choisi: We had chosen.

J’avais été: I had been (The “été” is “être” in passé composé)

Il avait bu: He had drank

Super facile! 🙂

If the verb is on the “être” list for past tense (again, learn more about this here), we use this with “être” in the imparfait tense (listed above).

J’étais venu: I had came (Venir is on the “être list” for past tense, so we therefore use it with “être” in imparfait form).

Il était allé: He had went

Nous étions arrivés: We had arrived (Remember: use agreement with “être” in past tense).

Et voila! You can test yourself here.


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