Talking about things that just happened or that are going to happen are both fairly easy topics in French and do not require you to learn new verb tenses. These forms are usually taught right after you learn present tense so that you can begin referencing future and past actions as well as current ones without learning other tenses yet.
In practice, the immediate past is really only useful in describing certain circumstances, but the immediate future is very useful for describing future events without using the separate future tense (which we explain in future lessons).
The Immediate Future
The immediate future construction is different from the future tense. For example, we would need to use the separate future tense to translate sentences such as, “I will do something” or “She will decide” into French. However, we can describe what is going to happen using the immediate future construction.
What is “going” to happen is constructed in French exactly the same way as it is in English. It even uses the same verb for “to go” – aller.
The construction for immediate future is the subject + its present tense conjugation of aller + the infinitive form of the verb (which is just “to” + the verb).
He is going to learn → Il va apprendre
We are going to leave → Nous allons partir
In many instances it would be more correct to use the future tense, but this way will still convey the message to French speakers, and it is a good stepping stone to learning the future tense.
The Immediate Past
The immediate past construction in French describes something that just happened. It’s how you describe to your friend what she just missed while she was out of the room for a minute, or an action that was just completed.
Discussing the immediate past uses a different construction in French than it does in English, using the verb venir (“to come”) + de (“from”). In context though, the pattern kind of makes sense in French – you are “coming from” something (the immediate past) using venir, and then “going to” something (the immediate future), using aller.
I just ate → Je viens de manger
They just studied → On vient d‘étudier
If you think of these sentences in their literal translation, you can see where the form make at least a little sense: “I come from eating”; “We come from studying”. It might help you when learning the immediate past to do this direct translation mentally, and then apply the more accurate English translation to better understand the sentence.
Immediate past in imparfait
The immediate past can also be used with venir in the imparfait form, not just the present tense. Why would we need to describe the immediate past in the past? It’s a similar construction to plus-que-parfait: something has just happened before something else happened in the past.
The immediate past in the past is constructed the exact same way as it was in the present tense, except it uses the imparfait conjugation of venir.
I had just eaten → Je venais de manger
You had just fallen → Vous veniez de tomber
In either the present tense or imperfect past tense, the immediate past should be used for just that: things that have just happened. It does not have the same flexibility that the immediate future construction does, and it cannot be substituted for a general past tense in most circumstances (at least not without confusing other French speakers).
On the other hand, you can probably get away without ever using the immediate past yourself if you’re having a hard time applying it. Just recognize it when you see or hear it from others and move on to other topics. You will likely reach the point where something will “click” and you can speak about things “just” happening with little difficulty.