When to use the pluperfect tense in French

On the previous page, we looked at how to form the pluperfect tense and said that roughly speaking, it is the equivalent of forms such as he had eaten in English. So for example, the following sentence mimics the equivalent English sentence fairly closely:

j'avais déjà mangé quand elle est arrivée
I'd already eaten when she arrived
Il était quinze heures. Le train était arrivé.
It was 3pm. The train had arrived.
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Given this similarity, if you are an English speaker then in most cases, you will probably not have difficulty deciding when to use the pluperfect in French. (On the other hand, you will still have to decide on when to use the imperfect and when to use the perfect, for example.)

However, for more advanced learners in particular, there are a few complications to be aware of:

  • the French pluperfect is still "partially imperfect": this means there are some cases where English would use had eaten etc, but where the pluperfect isn't used in French;
  • there are some cases where French more strictly uses the pluperfect— where English could use an ordinary past tense— to mark a point prior to an implied (but not mentioned) point in the past.

We'll examine these points in more detail on the next page.

 French grammar index
 French-English dictionary
 English-French dictionary

This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2017. All rights reserved.