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 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.


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


Q&A Forum 20 questions, 44 answers

LizC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Nous allions

Seems to me that « were going every summer » and « used to go every summer » are pretty much the same thing. My translator for nous allions agreed. What’s the difference and how does one say « were going? » Merci !

Asked 1 month ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Yes, I would agree. Did you find an example where these two are translated differently?

JohnA1Kwiziq community member

The difference would appear to be in the English, not in the French. What was the context?

KenA2Kwiziq community member

Used to go  does not equate were going every summer.They are not the same

Nous allions

Seems to me that « were going every summer » and « used to go every summer » are pretty much the same thing. My translator for nous allions agreed. What’s the difference and how does one say « were going? » Merci !

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AnitaC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Use of the L’Imparfat

L’imparfait - what a minefield ! It’s not a question, but i’ve found that when it’s used to express habits or repeated actions more sense is made in the English when ‘would’ is used over ‘used to’ - which indeed you’ve noted in your lesson. This has helped me understand its use in French.

So a sentence like “Je lisais tous les jours” could be translated as “I would / used to read every day”

Asked 3 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Anita,

It is included as a note in the lesson...

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Often when you would use some constructions such as you mention in English, it does indeed point to the imparfait in French.

Use of the L’Imparfat

L’imparfait - what a minefield ! It’s not a question, but i’ve found that when it’s used to express habits or repeated actions more sense is made in the English when ‘would’ is used over ‘used to’ - which indeed you’ve noted in your lesson. This has helped me understand its use in French.

So a sentence like “Je lisais tous les jours” could be translated as “I would / used to read every day”

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JenniferC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

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

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

This cannot mean - you were studying each day?  If not, how would I write that? 

I thought that - Les oiseaux chantaient = The birds 'were' singing, not 'used to sing'...

Asked 6 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Jennifer,

The imparfait can translate both  meanings of 'used to' and 'were doing' so the only way you would know would be by the context.

'You were studying every day' ,would be -

Tu étudiais chaque jour

JenniferC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

that is what I thought Cécile, but your site gave the other answer - You 'used to' study each day for 'Tu étudiais chaque jour'.  I always it difficult to analyse the context in just a phrase in your tests...  But thank you for your response. 

JenniferC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

that is what I thought Cécile, but your site gave the other answer - You 'used to' study each day for 'Tu étudiais chaque jour'.  I always it difficult to analyse the context in just a phrase in your tests...  But thank you for your response. 

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

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

This cannot mean - you were studying each day?  If not, how would I write that? 

I thought that - Les oiseaux chantaient = The birds 'were' singing, not 'used to sing'...

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ScottA2Kwiziq community member

Continous or Repetitive action?

I notice that all of the examples here have cues in them to indicate repetitive action. What if the sentence does not contain such cues? Should it be interpreted as continuous action or repetitive action?

e.g. Je faisais du sport.

Without any cues would that mean “I was playing sports” or “I used to play sports” or is it equally ambiguous?

Asked 8 months ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

Without any other clue, its exact temporal interpretation would be left open. One would wait for the speaker to provide some context.

ScottA2Kwiziq community member

Thank you Chris

Continous or Repetitive action?

I notice that all of the examples here have cues in them to indicate repetitive action. What if the sentence does not contain such cues? Should it be interpreted as continuous action or repetitive action?

e.g. Je faisais du sport.

Without any cues would that mean “I was playing sports” or “I used to play sports” or is it equally ambiguous?

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LindaB2Kwiziq community member

What does 'vous veniez me voir chaque semaine'

I chose 'you used to come to see me every week'. 

it was marked incorrect and the correct answer was ' you used to come and see me every week'.

voir means to see and there is no 'et' in the sentence

Please explain why this is correct. I couldn't find an answer in my research.

thanks

Asked 8 months ago
AurélieKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Bonjour Linda !

I've had a look at the question you mentioned, and I'm a bit confused, as the answer "You used to come to see me every week." is not an option we offer, therefore can't possibly be the one you selected...

The three possible answers are (with the correct one in green here):

You used to come and see me every week 
You come to see me every week 
You had come to see me every week

I hope that's helpful!
Bonne journée !

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Your answer seems just fine to me. Don't know why it was marked as incorrect.

CécileKwiziq team member

Hi Linda, 

If you use the ‘Report it’ button on your Correction Board it will link directly to the quiz you are referring to and it will make it easier for us to answer your question...

LindaB2Kwiziq community member

I did and they instructed me to go here

CécileKwiziq team member

Will flag it up Linda...

LindaB2Kwiziq community member

Why isn't 'you had come to see me every week' incorrect?

AurélieKwiziq team member

Bonjour Linda !

It is incorrect, the only correct option here is "You used to come and see me every week"

LindaB2Kwiziq community member

thanks sometimes I get too literal in my translations

What does 'vous veniez me voir chaque semaine'

I chose 'you used to come to see me every week'. 

it was marked incorrect and the correct answer was ' you used to come and see me every week'.

voir means to see and there is no 'et' in the sentence

Please explain why this is correct. I couldn't find an answer in my research.

thanks

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ShreyA1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Translation query

Bonjour Madame,

In the sentence from the lesson "Il jouait au football quand il était petit." Should the translation not be as-

"He used to play football when he was young."(in place of played)

Please explain the reason.

Merci d'avance 

Asked 9 months ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

Verbs of state, ones that describe a state of being or emotions, are most often in th imperfect than the perfect. Être is such a word, as it describes a state and not an action. 

CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Varsha,

In the example you quote, you cannot say, quand j'ai été petit and 'ça a été un match' for the reasons given by Chris above.

Verbs of state like, être, paraître, sembler, croire, penser describe duration which is conveyed by using the 'imparfait' in French and they are seldom in the 'passé composé'.

The imparfait is normally translated into English by,

something you did on a regular basis, you used to do, or  would do frequently at that period of time - when you were a child.

Hope this helps!

 

 

ShreyA1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Also why the verb "être" in this sentence is used in "Imparfait" ? Can't Passé Composé be used ?

ShreyA1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I have also observed a sentence like-

"C'était un match entre l'Angleterre et la France."

Why can't Passé Composé be used?

In the previous post too I had doubts with " Il était petit" which I still am unable to figure out even after re-reading the lessons.

Madame Cécile, aidez-moi s'il vous plaît.

ShreyA1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Merci would like Madame Cécile to expand a bit 

ShreyA1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Merci beaucoup Madame Cécile 

Really grateful for your help 

Translation query

Bonjour Madame,

In the sentence from the lesson "Il jouait au football quand il était petit." Should the translation not be as-

"He used to play football when he was young."(in place of played)

Please explain the reason.

Merci d'avance 

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AnnC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

This sentence in the writing challenges had me fooled: Mon meilleur ami Pierre, qui jusqu'à l'année dernière partageait un trois-pièce avec moi....

My thought was the jusqu'à means the action ended, and thus, I used the passé composé. I realized it had been a habit, but how does one know what to do when more than one rule applies?
Asked 11 months ago

This sentence in the writing challenges had me fooled: Mon meilleur ami Pierre, qui jusqu'à l'année dernière partageait un trois-pièce avec moi....

My thought was the jusqu'à means the action ended, and thus, I used the passé composé. I realized it had been a habit, but how does one know what to do when more than one rule applies?

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JudyC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

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

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
Can you post the entire sentence as this has some bearing on the answer. 

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

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DavidC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

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 (Avoir l'habitude de = To be in the habit of, to tend to%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.
Asked 1 year ago
AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

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".

 

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 (Avoir l'habitude de = To be in the habit of, to tend to%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.

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GioA2Kwiziq community member

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? 
Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

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!

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? 

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DraganaC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

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
Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

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).

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

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StephenC1Kwiziq community member

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

eg. [ J'avais l'habitude d'appartenir appartenir ] and [ j'appartenais ]
Asked 1 year ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
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 !

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

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

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OlofA2Kwiziq community member

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..."
Asked 1 year ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
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 !

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..."

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ViC1Kwiziq community member

"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 ?
Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

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!

 

 

"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 ?

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IreneB2Kwiziq community member

when do you use the passé compose

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer
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).
RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
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://french.kwiziq.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 )
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
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).

when do you use the passé compose

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IreneB2Kwiziq community member

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

Asked 1 year ago
RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
Bonsoir Irene, Here is a link to the lesson that covers the use and differences of le passé composé and l'imparfait: Using Le Passé Composé on its own or with L'Imparfait 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 )

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

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DzoanB1Kwiziq community member

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.
Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
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://french.kwiziq.com/revision/glossary/verb-tense-mood/french-present-subjunctive I hope it helps! À bientôt !

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.

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DipikaA2Kwiziq community member

An imparfait can be conjugated with a past,condtitonnel and what all tenses

Asked 3 years ago
PrateekB1Kwiziq community member
imparfait is a conjugation tense in indicatif and subjonctif. In conditionnel there are only two tense, namely present and passe (sorry for accents). The subjontif imparfait is rarely used in speech. It is a tense for literature and formally written documents like history texts and all.
PrateekB1Kwiziq community member
imparfait is a conjugation tense in indicatif and subjonctif. In conditionnel there are only two tense, namely present and passe (sorry for accents). The subjontif imparfait is rarely used in speech. It is a tense for literature and formally written documents like history texts and all.

An imparfait can be conjugated with a past,condtitonnel and what all tenses

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AlmutC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Terminology of tenses

I am not a native speaker of English and the terms I learnt for verb tenses in the past are "Present Perfect", "Past Tense" and "Past Perfect" (plus the continuous equivalents). Now you say "in English we use the Simple Past followed by the Imperfect" and I wonder what these verb forms are meant to be, especially since in your example "He played football when he was small" both verbs (to play and to be) seem to stand in the same tense, namely the one I was taught to call "Past Tense".
Asked 3 years ago
GruffKwiziq team member
Hi Almut, "Past tense" is a generic term for any of the past tenses, depending on how it's used in context. The Simple Past is a synonym for the Preterite ("I played football"). The Past Perfect is a compound tense ("I had played football"). The Present Perfect is similar ("I have played football). I hope that help! Gruff
AlmutC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Thank you Gruff, That answers half my question. :-) The other half is: what is "Imperfect"? (And how is it different from "Simple Past"?) Thank you!

Terminology of tenses

I am not a native speaker of English and the terms I learnt for verb tenses in the past are "Present Perfect", "Past Tense" and "Past Perfect" (plus the continuous equivalents). Now you say "in English we use the Simple Past followed by the Imperfect" and I wonder what these verb forms are meant to be, especially since in your example "He played football when he was small" both verbs (to play and to be) seem to stand in the same tense, namely the one I was taught to call "Past Tense".

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OliviaB1Kwiziq community member

What's the difference between "tous les jours" and "chaque jour"? Do they both mean every day?

Asked 3 years ago
LauraKwiziq team member
Bonjour Olivia, Tous les jours means "every day," and chaque jour means "each day." So the meanings are very similar, but not quite the same, just as in English.
NigelA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Bonjour Laura, your explanation fits with what I thought I knew, but the lisais and etudias examples above use the two different French forms "tous les" and "chaque" applying to the same English form "every". Is that just a bit of looseness in the examples, or are their more nuances of which we should be aware?
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Nigel ! I understand your point. The fact is "chaque" and "tous les" are completely interchangeable in French when it comes to express the notion of "every". However, to be absolutely precise, "chaque" is indeed the grammatical equivalent of "each", and "tous les" of "every". I've now updated the examples to reflect this in a more specific way :) I hope that's helpful! À bientôt !
NigelA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Aurelie, merci!! That's very helpful. Bien cordialement.

What's the difference between "tous les jours" and "chaque jour"? Do they both mean every day?

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