For other uses, see Imperfect (disambiguation).

The imperfect (abbreviated IMPERF) is a verb form, found in various languages, which combines past tense (reference to a past time) and imperfective aspect (reference to a continuing or repeated event or state). It can therefore have meanings similar to the English "was walking" or "used to walk." It contrasts with preterite forms, which refer to a single completed event in the past.

Traditionally, the imperfect of languages such as Latin and French is referred to as one of the tenses, although in fact it encodes aspectual information in addition to tense (time reference). It may be more precisely called past imperfective.[1]

When used in relation to English, "imperfect" refers to forms much more commonly called past progressive or past continuous (like was doing or were doing). These are combinations of past tense with specifically continuous or progressive aspect.

The term can take on specific conventional meanings in the grammars of particular languages. In German, Imperfekt was used to refer to the simply conjugated past tense (to contrast with the Perfekt or compound past form), but the term Präteritum (preterite) is now preferred, since the form does not carry any implication of imperfective aspect.

"Imperfect" comes from the Latin imperfectus "unfinished",[2] because the imperfect expresses an ongoing, uncompleted action. The equivalent Ancient Greek term was paratatikós "prolonged".[3]

Indo-European languages


Imperfect meanings in English are expressed in different ways depending on whether the event is continuous or habitual.

For a continuous action (one that was in progress at a particular time in the past), the past progressive (past continuous) form is used, as in "I was eating"; "They were running fast." However certain verbs that express state rather than action do not mark the progressive aspect (see Uses of English verb forms § Progressive); in these cases the simple past tense is used instead: "He was hungry"; "We knew what to do next."

Habitual (repeated) action in the past can be marked by used to, as in "I used to eat a lot", or by the auxiliary verb would, as in "Back then, I would eat early and would walk to school." (The auxiliary would also has other uses, such as expressing conditional mood.)[4] However, in many cases the habitual nature of the action does not need to be explicitly marked on the verb, and the simple past is used: "We always ate dinner at six o'clock."

Romance languages


Conjugation of the imperfect indicative:

  parāre docēre legere capere scīre esse
ego parābam docēbam legēbam capiēbam sciēbam eram
parābās docēbas legēbās capiēbās sciēbās erās
is parābat docēbat legēbat capiēbat sciēbat erat
nōs parābāmus docēbāmus legēbāmus capiēbāmus sciēbāmus erāmus
vōs parābātis docēbātis legēbātis capiēbātis sciēbātis erātis
parābant docēbant legēbant capiēbant sciēbant erant


In Romance languages, the imperfect is generally a past tense. Its uses include representing:

English equivalent French Spanish Italian Portuguese Romanian
to love aimer amar amare amar a iubi
to desire désirer desear desiderare desejar a dori
to want vouloir querer volere querer a vrea
to prefer préférer preferir preferire preferir a prefera
to hope espérer esperar sperare esperar a spera
to feel sentir sentir sentire sentir a simți
to regret/lament regretter lamentar rimpiangere lamentar a regreta
to be être ser/estar essere ser/estar a fi
to be able to pouvoir poder potere poder a putea
to be familiar with connaître conocer conoscere conhecer a cunoaște
to know (as a fact) savoir saber sapere saber a ști
to believe croire creer credere acreditar a crede
to think penser pensar pensare pensar a gândi
to imagine imaginer imaginar immaginare imaginar a imagina
to stand/stay rester quedar stare ficar/estar a sta

A common mistake of beginners learning a Romance language is putting too much emphasis on whether the time the action occurred is known. This generally does not affect how the imperfect is used. For example, the sentence "Someone ate all of my cookies." (when translated) is not a good candidate for the imperfect. Fundamentally, it is no different from the sentence "We ate all the cookies." Note this fails the repeatability requirement of the imperfect, as it is only known to have happened once. On the other hand, the sentence "I used to have fun in the 1960s." is a good candidate for the imperfect, even though its period is known. In short, knowing when an action occurred is not nearly as important as how long it occurred (or was and still is occurring).


To form the imperfect for French regular verbs, take the first person plural present tense, the "nous" (we) form, subtract the -ons suffix, and add the appropriate ending (the forms for être (we), whose "nous" form does not end in -ons, are irregular; they start with ét- but have the same endings):

je -ais
tu -ais
il -ait
nous -ions
vous -iez
ils -aient


  parler choisir vendre être commencer manger étudier
je parlais choisissais vendais étais commençais mangeais étudiais
tu parlais choisissais vendais étais commençais mangeais étudiais
il parlait choisissait vendait était commençait mangeait étudiait
nous parlions choisissions vendions étions commencions mangions étudiions
vous parliez choisissiez vendiez étiez commenciez mangiez étudiiez
ils parlaient choisissaient vendaient étaient commençaient mangeaient étudiaient


1. Habitual actions or states of being

2. Physical and emotional descriptions: time, weather, age, feelings

3. Actions or states of an unspecified duration

4. Background information in conjunction with the passé composé

5. Wishes or suggestions

6. Conditions in "si" clauses

7. The expressions être en train de and venir de in the past



Conjugation of the imperfect indicative:

  avere essere parlare credere finire dire opporre
io avevo ero parlavo credevo finivo dicevo opponevo
tu avevi eri parlavi credevi finivi dicevi opponevi
lui aveva era parlava credeva finiva diceva opponeva
noi avevamo eravamo parlavamo credevamo finivamo dicevamo opponevamo
voi avevate eravate parlavate credevate finivate dicevate opponevate
loro avevano erano parlavano credevano finivano dicevano opponevano



Conjugation of the imperfect indicative:

  cânta(re) crede(re) plăcea (plăcere) dormi(re) fi(re)
eu cântam credeam plăceam dormeam eram
tu cântai credeai plăceai dormeai erai
el/ea cânta credea plăcea dormea era
noi cântam credeam plăceam dormeam eram
voi cântați credeați plăceați dormeați erați
ei cântau credeau plăceau dormeau erau



In Spanish, the imperfect can be called the imperfecto or the copretérito. Conjugation of the imperfect indicative:

  hablar comer insistir ir ser ver
yo hablaba comía insistía iba era veía
hablabas comías insistías ibas eras veías
él hablaba comía insistía iba era veía
nosotros hablábamos comíamos insistíamos íbamos éramos veíamos
vosotros hablabais comíais insistíais ibais erais veíais
ellos hablaban comían insistían iban eran veían


In Portuguese, the imperfect indicative, called "pretérito imperfeito", is quite similar to Spanish. However, it is important to remember that in the formal Portuguese (as spoken in Portugal and many former colonies in Africa), the pronouns "tu" and "vós" are often replaced respectively by "você" and "vocês", and then the verb is conjugated like the third person.

  cantar bater partir pôr
eu cantava batia partia punha
tu cantavas batias partias punhas
ele/ela/você cantava batia partia punha
nós cantávamos batíamos partíamos púnhamos
vós cantáveis batíeis partíeis púnheis
eles/elas/vocês cantavam batiam partiam punham


Similar to the closely related Portuguese, as well as to Spanish, but often called "copretérito" (from co-, same particle found in English "collaboration" and "coexistence", plus "pretérito", which is "past tense", in reference of it being a second past tense that exists along the regular one). Same as with them, in formal usage "ti" and "vós/vosoutros" change to "vostede" and "vostedes" and are followed by the third person. In verbs ended in -aer, -oer, -aír and -oír, the first and second person of the plural show the presence of a diaeresis.

  cantar bater partir pór moer
eu cantaba batía partía puña moía
ti cantabas batias partías puñas moías
el/ela/vostede cantaba batía partía puña moía
nós/nosoutros cantábamos batíamos partíamos puñamos moïamos
vós/vosoutros cantábades batíades partíades puñades moïades
eles/elas/vostedes cantaban batían partían puñan moía


Like all other past tenses, imperfect is conjugated regularly for all verbs. Formation: [preverb] + mi- + past stem + past ending

Conjugation of the imperfect indicative
  raftan (to go) kâr kardan (to work)
1st sg. miraftam kâr mikardam

Slavic languages

Most Slavic languages have lost the imperfect but it is preserved in Bulgarian and Macedonian. It is also officially retained in Serbian and Croatian but is considered old-fashioned and restricted to literature for poetic and stylistic reasons.


Turkish has separate tenses for past continuous and imperfect. To form the past continuous tense for Turkish verbs, after removing the infinitive suffix (-mek or -mak), take the present continuous tense suffix "-yor" without personal suffixes, and add the ending for the simple past plus the appropriate personal suffix

To form the negative of the past continuous tense, the negation suffix "-ma/-me", which becomes -mi, -mı, -mu, or -mü because of the closed auxiliary vowel and the vowel harmony, must be added before -yor.


  gelmek gitmek ağlamak beklemek toplamak söylemek satmak
ben gelmiyordum gitmiyordum ağlamıyordum beklemiyordum toplamıyordum söylemiyordum satmıyordum
sen gelmiyordun gitmiyordun ağlamıyordun beklemiyordun toplamıyordun söylemiyordun satmıyordun
o gelmiyordu gitmiyordu ağlamıyordu beklemiyordu toplamıyordu söylemiyordu satmıyordu
biz gelmiyorduk gitmiyorduk ağlamıyorduk beklemiyorduk toplamıyorduk söylemiyorduk satmıyorduk
siz gelmiyordunuz gitmiyordunuz ağlamıyordunuz beklemiyordunuz toplamıyordunuz söylemiyordunuz satmıyordunuz
onlar gelmiyorlardı gitmiyorlardı ağlamıyorlardı beklemiyorlardı toplamıyorlardı söylemiyorlardı satmıyorlardı

Semitic languages

Semitic languages, especially the ancient forms, do not make use of the imperfect (or perfect) tense with verbs. Instead, they use the imperfective and perfective aspects, respectively. Aspects are similar to tenses, but differ by requiring contextual comprehension in order to arrive at whether or not the verb indicates a completed or non-completed action.

Dravidian languages


In Malayalam (verbs are never conjugated for grammatical person, which is indicated by a pronoun), there are two indicative imperfects, corresponding exactly with English:

1 -ഉകയായിരുന്നു (ukayāyirunnu) endings (... was...), for example:
ഓടുകയായിരുന്നു (ōṭukayāyirunnu) ... was running
2 -ഉമായിരുന്നു (umāyirunnu) endings (... used to ...), for example:
ഓടുമായിരുന്നു (ōṭumāyirunnu) ... used to run

To make a verb in the imperfect negative, add അല്ല് (all) after the ഉകയ (ukaya) part of the ending for the "was doing" imperfect. For example, ഓടുകയല്ലായിരുന്നു (ōṭukayallāyirunnu) (...was not running). To do the same for the "used to do" imperfect, take off the ഉമ (uma) from the ending and add അത്തില്ല (attilla) instead. For example, ഓടത്തില്ലായിരുന്നു (ōṭattillāyirunnu) (...didn't use to run)


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