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The pluperfect tense - Easy Learning Grammar French

What is the pluperfect tense?
The pluperfect is a verb tense which describes something that had happened or had been true at a point in the past, for example, I’d forgotten to finish my homework.

1 Using the pluperfect tense

  • You can often recognize a pluperfect tense in English by a form like I had arrived, you’d fallen.
Elle avait essayé des dizaines de pulls.She had tried on dozens of jumpers.
Nous avions déjà commencé à manger quand il est arrivé.We’d already started eating when he arrived.
J’étais arrivée la première.I had arrived first.
Mes parents s’étaient couchés tôt.My parents had gone to bed early.

2 Forming the pluperfect tense

  • Like the perfect tense, the pluperfect tense in French has two parts to it:
  • the imperfect tense of the verb avoir (meaning to have) or être (meaning to be)
  • the past participle
  • If a verb takes avoir in the perfect tense, then it will take avoir in the pluperfect too. If a verb takes être in the perfect, then it will take être in the pluperfect too.

3 Verbs taking avoir

  • Here are the pluperfect tense forms of donner (meaning to give) in full.
PronounavoirPast participleMeaning
j’avaisdonnéI had given
tuavaisdonnéyou had given
il
elle
on
avaitdonnéhe/she/it/one had given
nousavionsdonnéwe had given
vousaviezdonnéyou had given
ils
elles
avaientdonnéthey had given
  • The pluperfect tense of -ir verbs like finir (meaning to finish) is formed in the same way, except for the past participle: j’avais fini, tu avais fini and so on.
  • The pluperfect tense of -re verbs like attendre (meaning to wait) is formed in the same way, except for the past participle: j’avais attendu, tu avais attendu and so on.

4 Verbs taking être

  • Here are the pluperfect tense forms of tomber (meaning to fall) in full. When a verb takes être in the pluperfect tense, the past participle always agrees with the subject of the verb; that is, the endings change in the feminine and plural forms.
PronounêtrePast participleMeaning
j’étaistombé (masculine)
tombée (feminine)
I had fallen
tuétaistombé (masculine)
tombée (feminine)
you had fallen
ilétaittombéhe/it had fallen
elleétaittombéeshe/it had fallen
onétaittombé (singular)
tombés (masculine plural)
tombées (feminine plural)
one had fallen
we had fallen
nousétionstombés (masculine)
tombées (feminine)
we had fallen
vousétieztombé (masculine singular)
tombée (feminine singular)
tombés (masculine plural)
tombées (feminine plural)
you had fallen
ilsétaienttombésthey had fallen
ellesétaienttombéesthey had fallen
  • The pluperfect tense of -ir verbs like partir (meaning to leave, to go) is formed in the same way, except for the past participle: j’étais parti(e), tu étais parti(e) and so on.
  • The pluperfect tense of -re verbs like descendre (meaning to come down, to go down, to get off) is formed in the same way, except for the past participle: j’étais descendu(e), tu étais descendu(e) and so on.
TipWhen on means we, the past participle can agree with the subject of the sentence, but it is optional.
On était tombées.We had fallen. (feminine)

5 Reflexive verbs in the pluperfect tense

  • Reflexive verbs in the pluperfect tense are formed in the same way as in the perfect tense, but with the imperfect tense of the verb être (see The imperfect tense).

6 Irregular verbs in the pluperfect tense

  • Irregular past participles are the same as for the perfect tense (see The perfect tense).
Key points
  • The pluperfect tense describes things that had happened or were true at a point in the past before something else happened.
  • It is formed with the imperfect tense of avoir or être and the past participle.
  • The rules for agreement of the past participle are the same as for the perfect tense.

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