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How to say what used to happen


Louis Lumière était un inventeur génial
Les frères Lumière vivaient ici


To describe how something was or used to be like, French verbs have a particular set of verb endings:

je vivais tu vivais il/elle/on vivait
I/you/he/she/one used to live
nous vivions vous viviez ils/elles vivaient
We/you/they used to live

By the way, when spoken, ais, ais, ait, aient all sound the same.


This is called the imperfect tense, imparfait in French, because it doesn't refer to a single completed action but something that happened over a long period, or used to happen regularly.


To make the imparfait of a verb, you start with the 'nous' form of the present tense, then replace the -ons with the endings listed above.


To say "I used to work" you start from travaillons (the nous ending of travailler) and swap the -ons for -ais, which gives you je travaillais.


Similarly, finir => nous finiss-ons => je finiss-ais


Être is the only verb that doesn't follow this rule. Its imperfect is j'étais, on était, vous étiez etc.


C'était très intéressant.
It was very interesting.

To talk about the year when something happened, you start with the thousands, then add the hundreds and the tens to it: 1895 is Mille huit cent quatre-vingt quinze.

Les premiers films duraient 55 secondes.
The first films lasted 55 seconds.



Il portait des moustaches.
He had a moustache.

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