I'm trying to learn French by myself (now reading Karl C. Sandburg's book French for Reading), and got confused in the three "past time" tenses: Past Definite (PD), Imperfect (I), and Past Indefinite (PI).

As the book says,

  1. PI could be translated into English Simple Past Tense (I spoke) or The Perfect Tense (I have spoken) , however, when to choose which is unclear;

  2. PD could only be translated into English Simple Past Tense (I spoke), however, the difference between PI and PD is unclear, so translating from English to French is my problem;

  3. The Imperfect (I) could be translated into English Simple Past Tense (I spoke), Past Continuous Time (I was speaking), or I used to spoke, and the usage is summarized as 3 cases -- a) past description or characterization , e.g. Sa maîtresse pas une personne agréable (Her mistress was not a pleasant person), Sa maison se trouvait entre un passage et une ruelle (Her house was situated/found between a passage way and an alley) ; b) customary or habitual past action, e.g. Elle se levait dès l'aube.(She would/used to get up at dawn.); c) action incomplete (in progress ) at a specified or implied moment in the past , e.g. Alors qu'il se promenaient , ils virent venir à eux des hommes armés. (While they were strolling, they saw some armed men coming toward them.) , -- but these seems overlapping with PD, what's the difference between them?

So I got confused , what's exactly the differences among them? Without figuring this out I could only read French and randomly translate them to a particular English tense; and vice versa.

  • 3
    Tenses don't usually correspond form one language to the other - neither in denomination nor in use. And specially so when you compare French to English or German which have far fewer tenses. This page will give you the names in French, these the basics - how form them, when to use them. On French Language searching by tags you will find info on the various tenses such as french.stackexchange.com/q/17031/358 or french.stackexchange.com/q/8337/358
    – None
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 5:27

1 Answer 1


Found this website that will help you better than I can

I have never heard of Passed Definite and Passed indefinite. In school I learned about Imparfait, Passé simple, Passé composé.

  • Thx but.... Anything in English?
    – athos
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 5:21

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