Le plus-que-parfait (pluperfect)

Introduction

The plus-que-parfait corresponds to the past perfect in English. We use it to express actions that took place before a certain point in the past.

We always use the plus-que-parfait when we are telling a story set in the past and then look further back at an action that took place earlier.

Beispiel

Lors du concours de talents, Louise a joué sans fautes un morceau difficile à la flûte.

Elle avait beaucoup travaillé avant de pouvoir jouer le morceau parfaitement.

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Usage

  • Action before a certain point in the past
    Example:
    Elle avait beaucoup travaillé avant de pouvoir jouer le morceau parfaitement.She had practised for a long time before she could play the piece so perfectly.

Construction

We need the imparfait forms of être/avoir and the past participle (participe passé).

personavoirêtre
1st person singular j’avais

aimé

fini

vendu

j’étais

parti

partie

partis

parties

2nd person singular tu avais tu étais
3rd person singular il/elle/on avait il/elle/on était
1st person plural nous avions nous étions
2nd person plural vous aviez vous étiez
3dr person plural ils/elles avaient ils/elles étaient

In negative sentences, the past participle comes after the second part of the negation.

Example:
J’avais rigolé. → Je n’avais pas rigolé.I had laughed.→ I had not laughed.
J’étais parti.→ Je n’étais pas parti. I had left.→ I had not left.

For reflexive verbs, we put the reflexive pronoun and the auxiliary verb between the two parts of the negation.

Example:
Je ne m’étais pas trompé dans mon calcul.I had not miscalculated.

Avoir or être

Most verbs construct the plus-que-parfait using avoir. The auxiliary verb être is used instead:

  • for 14 verbs of motion and of staying still: naître/mourir, aller/venir, monter/descendre, arriver/partir, entrer/sortir,apparaître, rester, retourner, tomber and e.g. their derivative forms: revenir, rentrer, remonter, redescendre, repartir.
    Example:
    J’étais parti(e) en vacances en Bretagne.I had gone to Brittany on holiday.
  • for reflexive verbs
    Example:
    Je m’étais trompé(e) dans mon calcul.I had miscalculated.

Info

We use avoir when descendre, (r)entrer, (re)monter, rentrer, retourner and sortir are followed by a direct object. In this case, the meaning of the verb often changes.

Example:
À quelle heure étais-tu sorti ce matin-là ? What time had you left that morning?
but: Avais-tu sorti les carottes du frigo hier soir ? Had you taken the carrots out of the fridge yesterday evening?

Participe passé

For the regular er/ir/re-verbs, the participe passé is simple to construct:

  • If the infinitive ends in er, the participle ends in é
    Example:
    aimer – aimé
  • If the infinitive ends in ir, the participle ends in i
    Example:
    finir – fini
  • If the infinitive ends in re, the participle ends in u
    Example:
    vendre – vendu

For the irregular verbs, we need to look up the participle forms in the list of irregular verbs or learn the correct forms by heart.

Agreement of the participe passé

For certain verbs, we need to make the participe passé agree in gender and number.

  • For verbs constructed with être, the participle agrees in gender and number with the subject.
    Example:
    Il était allé à l’école de musique.He had gone to music school.
    Elle était allée à l’école de musique.She had gone to music school.
    Ils étaient allés à l’école de musique.They had gone to music school.
    Elles étaient allées à l’école de musique.They (only women) had gone to music school.
  • For verbs that are constructed using avoir, the participle agrees in gender and number with a direct object coming before the verb; otherwise it is invariable. If a pronoun is being used as a direct object, the pronoun comes before the verb, and the participe passé agrees in gender and number with this object.
    Example:
    Elle avait acheté un tambour. → Elle l’avait acheté.She had bought a drum.
    Elle avait acheté une flûte. → Elle l’avait achetée.She had bought a flute.
    Elle avait rencontré d’autres artistes. → Elle les avait rencontrés.She had met other artists.
    Son père avait acheté des places ce concert. → Son père les avait achetées.His father had bought concert tickets.
  • The participe passé of reflexive verbs generally agrees with the subject.
    Example:
    Elle s’était lavée.She had washed herself.

    The subject (elle) and the direct object (s’= reflexive pronoun) are the same person, so the participle agrees with the subject.

    But the participe passé does not agree with the subject if the verb is followed by a direct object which is different from the subject.

    Example:
    Elle s’était lavé les mains.She had washed her hands.

    When using the verb se rendre compte, the participe passé does also not agree with the subject. This is because compte acts as a direct object.

    Example:
    Elle s’était rendu compte de son erreur. She had realised her mistake.

    The participe passé does not agree with the subject of the follwing verbs: se téléphoner, se parler, se mentir, se plaire (complaire/déplaire), se sourire, se rire, se nuire, se succéder, se suffire, se ressembler, s’en vouloir. This is because the reflexive pronoun is an indirect object. It is used in the sense of “each other” for these verbs.

    Example:
    Marie et Laurent s’étaient téléphoné.Marie and Laurent had spoken on the telephone. (téléphoner à)