Difference between passe compose and imparfait


Difference between passé composé and imparfait

There are common subjects that students tend to confuse when learning French. If you are at beginner level French, one of this might be the use of the past tenses passé composé and imparfait.

In this article, we will explain the common rules that will help clarify the differences between passé composé and imparfait.

If you are a more visual person, we’ve included an explainer video from our YouTube series “Coup de pouce”, where one of our French as a Second Language teachers explains with examples and in an easy and clear way the main differences.

General rule: Understand the intention

Before knowing which grammatical tense to use, you must understand the intention of the actions inside the sentence. What do we want to say? What do we wish to express?


We tend the use the imparfait when we describe a scene, the context or the circumstances of the situation or our observations. We also use the imparfait to speak about a formal habit, that has now ended.  


We use the passe compose to speak about important actions, changes, and punctual (short) events.

Combining both past tenses

It is possible to use both the imparfait and passe compose to describe a situation. If you want to have more concrete examples, watch our video:

Follow our Youtube channel and Series  “Le Coup de pouce” for more practical explanations on the common mistakes and difficulties you may have when learning French!

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