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

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.


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.


Q&A

jennifer

Kwiziq community member

26 March 2019

3 replies

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'...

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

26 March 2019

26/03/19

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

jennifer

Kwiziq community member

26 March 2019

26/03/19

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. 

jennifer

Kwiziq community member

26 March 2019

26/03/19

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. 

Scott

Kwiziq community member

5 February 2019

2 replies

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?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

5 February 2019

5/02/19

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

Scott

Kwiziq community member

6 February 2019

6/02/19

Thank you Chris

Linda

Kwiziq community member

22 January 2019

8 replies

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

Chris

Kwiziq community member

23 January 2019

23/01/19

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

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

24 January 2019

24/01/19

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...

Linda

Kwiziq community member

24 January 2019

24/01/19

I did and they instructed me to go here

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

25 January 2019

25/01/19

Will flag it up Linda...

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

25 January 2019

25/01/19

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 !

Linda

Kwiziq community member

25 January 2019

25/01/19

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

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

25 January 2019

25/01/19

Bonjour Linda !

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

Linda

Kwiziq community member

25 January 2019

25/01/19

thanks sometimes I get too literal in my translations

Shrey

Kwiziq community member

21 December 2018

6 replies

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 

Shrey

Kwiziq community member

22 December 2018

22/12/18

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

Shrey

Kwiziq community member

22 December 2018

22/12/18

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.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

22 December 2018

22/12/18

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. 

Shrey

Kwiziq community member

22 December 2018

22/12/18

Merci would like Madame Cécile to expand a bit 

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

22 December 2018

22/12/18

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!

 

 

Shrey

Kwiziq community member

22 December 2018

22/12/18

Merci beaucoup Madame Cécile 

Really grateful for your help 

Ann

Kwiziq community member

3 November 2018

0 replies

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?

Judy

Kwiziq community member

2 September 2018

1 reply

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

Chris

Kwiziq community member

3 September 2018

3/09/18

Can you post the entire sentence as this has some bearing on the answer. 

David

Kwiziq community member

12 July 2018

1 reply

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 (https://french.kwiziq.com/my-languages/french/view/3132?rts=%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.

Alan

Kwiziq community member

12 July 2018

12/07/18

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".

 

Gio

Kwiziq community member

5 April 2018

1 reply

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? 

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

12 April 2018

12/04/18

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!

Dragana

Kwiziq community member

7 March 2018

1 reply

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

Chris

Kwiziq community member

7 March 2018

7/03/18

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).

stephen

Kwiziq community member

26 January 2018

1 reply

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

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

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

26 January 2018

26/01/18

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 !
Clever stuff underway!