Pluperfect tense

The pluperfect tense is essentially the equivalent of English I had taken, he had arrived, they had wanted etc.

When is the pluperfect used?

The pluperfect in French is generally used in similar cases to where you would use I had eaten, they had arrived, etc. in English. (In English, these forms are sometimes called the past perfect.) In general, the pluperfect is used to refer to an extra "degree of pastness" compared to an ordinary past tense. For example, in the following sentence:

I had eaten when he arrived
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the pluperfect I had eaten refers to a point of time in the past, before a (later) time in the past when the action of he arrived occurred.

On the following pages, when we look at when to use the pluperfect tense in more detail, we'll see that things are slightly more complicated: the pluperfect can actually have a number of slightly different uses, and not all of these uses are identical in French vs English. But for now, we can think of the French pluperfect as being roughly equivalent to these cases in English where we'd use "had" plus a past participle (had taken, had arrived, etc).

How to form the pluperfect in French

Forming the pluperfect is fairly straightforward in French provided you know two things:

So, taking these:

The pluperfect tense is formed almost as for the perfect tense, but using the imperfect tense of avoir/être as appropriate.

In other words, it uses the imperfect tense of the so-called auxiliary verb (usually avoir, but sometimes être). Here are some examples of some French verbs in the perfect vs pluperfect tenses:

Perfect tensePluperfect tense
j'ai mangé
I ate, I have eaten
j'avais mangé
I had eaten
tu as regardé
you (have) looked at, watched
tu avais regardé
you had looked at/watched
il a attendu
he (has) waited
il avait attendu
he had waited
elle est arrivée
she (has) arrived
elle était arrivée
she had arrived

Next...

On the next pages, we look at:

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This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2014. All rights reserved.