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Learn More About the French Tenses

When communicating in the French language, it is important to use the right tense, as doing so helps to denote whether the events or actions being described are occurring in the past, present or future. However, there are multiple different tenses for each of these three basic time frames, so getting to grips with them can be a little tricky.

In total, there are actually around 20 different tenses and moods in French, but some of them are almost never used. So, to help you out, we have outlined the main French tenses below, complete with explanations of when you should use them, and examples of them being used.

French Tenses

 Name  Past,  Present,  or  Future  When to use this French tense  Examples of use
 Present / Le  présent  Present  Le présent corresponds almost exactly with the present tense in English. It can be used to describe actions taking place in the present, as well as facts or conditions that presently exist. With that said, it can also be used to refer to an agreed-upon future action,  as long as the future time is specified.
  • La voiture est rouge
  • Je parle français
 Present perfect /  Le passé composé  Past and  present  Similar to the present perfect tense in English, le passé composé is a tense used to describe past actions that have been completed.  However, it can be considered both a past and present tense, because it emphasizes the result and allows time adjuncts referring to the present.
  • La semaine dernière nous sommes allés au musée
  • Hier, je mangeais un sandwich
 Recent past / Le  passé récent  Past  As the name suggests, le passé récent is the tense you use when describing an action or event in the recent past. More specifically, it  is to be used when discussing actions that have taken place shortly before the moment of speaking.
  • Je viens juste de manger le déjeuner
  • Tu viens de louper le bus
 Past historic / Le  passé simple  Past  Le passé simple primarily appears in writing, rather than in conversation. It is generally used to describe an action that took place in  the past, has been completed and only happened once, although it can also be used when a new action interrupts an already  occurring past action.
  • Le mois dernier, je suis allé à Londres
  • Pendant que je courais, je trébuché
 Imperfect /  L’imparfait  Past  L’imparfait is the continuous past tense, which means it is used to place focus on the progression of a past event. It can also be used  to describe past actions that used to occur regularly, or to describe states of mind.
  • Quand je suis sorti ce matin, le temps était beau
  • Qu’il buvait tous les jours
 Past perfect / Le  plus-que-parfait  Past  Also known as the Pluperfect, le plus-que-parfait is used to describe events that took place before a certain point in the past. For  instance, you might use it if you are telling a story set in the past, but want to refer to something that happened even earlier.
  • Nous étions déjà partis avant que notre repas soit arrivée
  • J’avais mal à l’estomac parce que j’avais trop mangé
 Future / Le futur  simple  Future  Le futur simple can be considered the French language equivalent of the future tense in English. It is mostly used to express an  intention for the future, but may also be used to make suppositions about the future as well.
  • Je parlerai avec lui
  • Il vous aidera sans doute
 Near future / Le  futur composé  Future  Le futur composé is used when referring to something that is going to happen shortly. It can also be used to describe an intended or  planned action for the near future, as long as there is already an intention to carry out that action.
  • Je vais aller à la boutique
  • Je vais regarder la télévision ce soir
 Future anterior / Le  futur antérieur  Future  Corresponding with the future perfect tense in English, le futur antérieur is used when talking about an action that you assume will be  completed by the time of speaking, or when making an assumption about something you expect will have happened by a specified  time in the future.
  • Nous serons déjà partis quand vous arriverez
  • Elle sera partie avant la fin du concert