French Language Tools

Back to INDEX

Pluperfect (plus-que-parfait)


The plus-que-parfait is a compound tense formed with the imperfect tense of the auxiliary (avoir or être, see Auxiliaries) and the past participle:

Il avait toujours voulu voyager en Afrique. (He had always wanted to travel in Africa.)
Elle était déjà partie quand Philippe est arrivé. (She had already left when Philippe arrived.)
J'ai acheté le roman que Corinne m'avait recommandé. (I bought the book that Corinne had recommended to me.)

(See Past participle agreement for rules on agreement.)


The term "plus-que-parfait" suggests "more in the past than the perfect." The tense is used to indicate actions which took place before another action in the past, which is usually (though not always) described in the perfect (passé composé). However, the plus-que-parfait is not always used when one action precedes another; for example, a list of actions in chronological order may well be put in the passé composé alone. Compare these two sentences:

1) Le réveil a sonné, je me suis levé, et j'ai pris mon déjeuner. (The alarm rang, I got up, and I had breakfast.)

Schematically, it looks like this:

2) Elle a appris à aimer le chien qui l'avait mordue. (She learned to love the dog that had bitten her.)


In both sentences certain actions precede others; however, only the second sentence seeks to emphasize the precedence of one action. The plus-que-parfait is used when the speaker needs to position one action with respect to another. Frequently its use will be signaled by adverbs (such as déjà) which can heighten the sense of opposition between actions:

Quand je suis rentré, j'avais déjà appris la mauvaise nouvelle. (When I got home, I had already heard the bad news.)
Les enfants ont mangé tous les gâteaux que leur père avait achetés. (The children ate all the cookies that their father had bought.)

Sometimes the action the plus-que-parfait precedes will not be explicit, but will be implied in the sentence:

Elle avait déjà pensé à cela. (She had already thought of that.)

The plus-que-parfait is also commonly used in si clauses, with the past conditional:

Je ne serais pas venue si j'avais su qu'il était malade. (I would not have come if I had known he was ill.)

See Si constructions for more information.

Note that Recent past constructions, when used in the imperfect, have the meaning of a pluperfect:

Il venait de déjeuner quand je suis arrivée. (He had just had lunch when I arrived.)

Related topics:

Back to INDEX