French Notes

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The French imperfect (imparfait) is a descriptive past tense which indicates an ongoing state of being or a repeated or incomplete action. The beginning and end of the state of being or action are not indicated, and the imperfect is very often translated in English as "was" or "was ___-ing." The imperfect can indicate any of the following:

I. Habitual actions or states of being

   Quand j'étais petit, nous allions à la plage chaque semaine.    When I was young, we used to go to the beach every week.

   L'année dernière, je travaillais avec mon père.
   I worked with my father last year.

II. Physical and emotional descriptions: time, weather, age, feelings

   Il était midi et il faisait beau.
   It was noon and the weather was nice.

   Quand il avait 5 ans, il avait toujours faim.
   When he was five, he was always hungry.

III. Actions or states of an unspecified duration

   Je faisais la queue parce que j'avais besoin de billets.    I stood in line because I needed tickets.

   Il espérait te voir avant ton départ.
   He was hoping to see you before you left.

IV. Background information in conjunction with the passé composé

   J'étais au marché et j'ai acheté des pommes.
   I was at the market and I bought some apples.

   Il était à la banque quand il l'a trouvé.
   He was at the bank when he found it.

V. Wishes or suggestions

   Ah ! Si j'étais riche !
   Oh, if only I were rich!

   Si nous sortions ce soir ?
   How about going out tonight?

VI. Conditions in si clauses

   Si j'avais de l'argent, j'irais avec toi.
   If I had some money, I would go with you.

   S'il voulait venir, il trouverait le moyen.
   If he wanted to come, he would find a way.

VII. The expressions être en train de and venir de in the past

   J'étais en train de faire la vaisselle.
   I was (in the process of) doing the dishes.

   Il venait d'arriver.
   He had just arrived.

French has two verbs which can be translated by the English verb "to know": savoir andconnaître. This can be confusing to English speakers, but in fact there are distinct differences in meaning and usage for the two verbs.

Savoir has three possible meanings:

1) to know a fact

   Je sais qu'il l'a fait.
   I know he did it.

2) to know by heart

   Je sais cette nouvelle (par cœur).
   I know this short story (by heart).

3) to know how to do something (note that the word "how" is not translated into French)

   Savez-vous conduire ?
   Do you know how to drive?

   Je ne sais pas nager.
   I don't know how to swim.

In the passé composé, savoir means "to learn" or "to find out":

   J'ai su qu'il l'a fait.
   I found out that he did it.

Savoir is often followed by a subordinate clause.

   Je sais où il est.
   I know where he is.

   Il sait que nous serons à la fête.
   He knows we'll be at the party.

Connaître has two meanings:

1) to know a person

   Je connais Pierrette.
   I know Pierrette.

2) to be familiar with a person or thing

   Je connais bien Toulouse.
   I know / am familiar with Toulouse.

   Je connais cette nouvelle - je l'ai lue l'année dernière.    I know / am familiar with this short story - I read it last year.

In the passé composé, connaître means "to meet (for the first time) / become acquainted with":

   J'ai connu Pierrette à Lyon.
   I met Pierrette in Lyon.

Connaître always needs a direct object:

   Je connais son poème.
   I am familiar with his poem.

   Je connais bien ton père.
   I know your father well.

   Nous connaissons Paris.
   We know/are familiar with Paris.

   Il la connaît.
   He knows her.

Ignorer is a related verb which means "not to know" in the sense of "to be unaware of." Depending on the context, it can replace either ne pas savoir or ne pas connaître.

   J'ignore quand il arrivera.
   I don't know when he is arriving.

   Il ignore Ionesco.
   He's not aware of (doesn't...
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