Mastering the French Plus-que-parfait Tense: A Step-by-Step Guide


Bonjour à tous! Learning the different tenses is an essential part of mastering French, and today we will explore the Plus-que-parfait tense. Often referred to as the “past perfect” tense in English, the Plus-que-parfait allows us to convey actions that occurred prior to another past event. In this blog post, we will delve into its conjugation rules and provide you with useful examples to help you understand and use this tense correctly.

Conjugation of the Plus-que-parfait:

To form the Plus-que-parfait, we use the auxiliary verb “avoir” or “être” in the Imparfait tense, followed by the past participle of the main verb. Here’s a breakdown of the conjugation based on the regular formation with the auxiliary verb “avoir”:

  • J’avais eu (I had had)
  • Tu avais eu (You had had)
  • Il/elle/on avait eu (He/she/one had had)
  • Nous avions eu (We had had)
  • Vous aviez eu (You had had)
  • Ils/elles avaient eu (They had had)

Please note that when using the auxiliary verb “être” with certain verbs of movement, reflexive verbs, or intransitive verbs, the past participle agrees in gender and number with the subject.

Using the Plus-que-parfait:

  1. Actions Completed Before Another Past Event:
    The primary function of the Plus-que-parfait is to express an action that occurred in the past before another event. For instance:
    • “J’étais rentré chez moi quand j’ai réalisé que j’avais oublié mes clés.” (I had come home when I realized I had forgotten my keys.)
  2. Conditional Sentences:
    The Plus-que-parfait is also used in conditional sentences to express a hypothetical action in the past. For example:
    • “Si tu m’avais prévenu, je serais venu t’aider.” (If you had informed me, I would have come to help you.)
  3. Reported Speech and Thoughts:
    When reporting what someone said in the past, we often use the Plus-que-parfait to express the reported speech. Consider the following example:
    • “Elle m’a dit qu’elle avait déjà fini son travail.” (She told me that she had already finished her work.)

Irregular Verbs in the Plus-que-parfait:

While most verbs follow regular conjugation rules in the Plus-que-parfait tense, there are a few irregular verbs to be aware of. Here are some examples:

  • Avoir (to have)
  • J’avais eu (I had had)
  • Tu avais eu (You had had)
  • Il/elle/on avait eu (He/she/one had had)
  • Nous avions eu (We had had)
  • Vous aviez eu (You had had)
  • Ils/elles avaient eu (They had had)
  • Être (to be)
  • J’étais allé(e) (I had gone)
  • Tu étais allé(e) (You had gone)
  • Il/elle/on était allé(e) (He/she/one had gone)
  • Nous étions allé(e)s (We had gone)
  • Vous étiez allé(e)(s) (You had gone)
  • Ils/elles étaient allé(e)s (They had gone)


Voilà! You now have a firm grasp of the Plus-que-parfait tense and its conjugation. Remember to practice using it in various contexts to reinforce your understanding. The Plus-que-parfait will not only help you express actions that occurred in the past before another event but will also enable you to construct more complex and nuanced sentences. Bonne chance as you continue your French language journey, and n’oubliez pas de pratiquer régulièrement! (Don’t forget to practice regularly!) À bientôt!