In French, there are three primary types of past tense conjugations.
The passé composé (also known as passé simple). This is the most basic past tense and the one that most beginners learn first. It uses a present tense helping verb and a past participle. In French, some verbs are conjugated with an être helping verb, but most are conjugated with an avoir helping verb.
Example: “I did that”
The imparfait (imperfect) tense. This past tense is for actions that occurred over a period of time in the past.
Example: “I was doing that”
The plus-que parfait tense. Plus-que parfait is used when you are using the past tense, and you need to reference another action that occurred even before that pas action. It’s a kind of “past past tense”.
Example: “I had done that”
There are also two types of verb tenses, or moods, in French, which you can think of as running “parallel” to each other.
- The “main” French verb tense (in the green arrow, above) is the “indicative” tense. This tense describes events that have happened or will happen, with a sense of certainty.
- The alternative verb mood is the “subjunctive” (in the blue arrow, above). This mood describes events that might occur, should occur, could occur, etc.
- While the passé past tense form of the subjunctive is common, the plus-que parfait and imperfect tenses are only rarely seen, and you will probably never need to use them yourself.