For the passive voice in the past (E.g. It was eaten), I've always used the imparfait:

Il était mangé

However, I've seen people say:

Il a été mangé.

Which one should be used when? My initial impression is that the first syntax is, "It was eaten", while the second is, "It has been eaten", but I don't know. Could you guys clarify when to use which one?

  • 1
    This is not a question about the passive but about the difference between between passé composé and imparfait and it has already been asked and answered. french.stackexchange.com/a/8903/358
    – None
    Feb 13, 2015 at 7:04
  • 2
    I'd like to warn against the notion that one tense in French correspond to a single tense in English. You have to consider the context and meaning and then chose the correct tense. Depending on the context, il était mangé can be rendered by "it was being eaten" or "it was eaten" and il a été mangé can be rendered by "it was eaten" or "it has been eaten". Feb 13, 2015 at 8:53

1 Answer 1


Indeed you've got the right translations, although I'm not sure that english uses the same time for the same context. What is certain is that you use the imparfait for an action which last in time whereas you use the other when it's punctual.

  • Your explanation of the diffrence between passé comoposé and imparfait is fair too simplified. This topic already has an answer here.
    – None
    Feb 13, 2015 at 9:16

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