He had vomited yesterday: the plus-que-parfait in French

The passé composé, imparfait, and plus-que-parfait contrasted. Picture source: http://loiseaudufle.blogspot.com/2012/09/le-passe-passe-compose-imparfait-plus.html, who put it together from images on the excellent Tex's French Grammar web site, at https://www.laits.utexas.edu/tex/.
The passé composé, imparfait, and plus-que-parfait contrasted. Picture source: http://loiseaudufle.blogspot.com/2012/09/le-passe-passe-compose-imparfait-plus.html, who put it together from images on the excellent Tex’s French Grammar web site, at https://www.laits.utexas.edu/tex/.

Let’s talk about the plus-que-parfait.  This is the French tense (technically, it’s an aspect, but I’ll try to leave the technical stuff out of this) that corresponds to things like I had vomited in English.  (More on vomiting below.)  In English, we call it the past perfect.  It’s what we call a compound tense (see this post for an introduction to compound tenses and what makes them interesting).

If you want to talk about any of the compound tenses with your French teacher, you’re going to need to be able to remember their names. I find it easier to do that if I understand why a tense is called what it’s called, so let’s look at the Wikipedia page on the plus-que-parfait:

The word derives from the Latin plus quam perfectum, “more than perfect” – the Latin perfect refers to something that occurred in the past, while the pluperfect refers to something that occurred “more” (further) in the past than the perfect.

To expand on that a bit: the perfect, in grammatical terms, is used (in English, at any rate) to refer to an action that is completed. For example, while the past tense (a number of past tenses and aspects, actually) in English could be expressed as I vomited, the perfect would be I have vomited. If we wanted to express that the vomiting had been completed even before some other action, then we would use the past perfect: I had vomited. For example: I had vomited twice already before my mother came in and found me with my head in the toilet. Why this is the past perfect: it’s a perfect–a completed action–that is in the past tense with respect to something else. We’ve got two past-tense verbs in that sentence: came, and found. Prior to those events that we’re talking about in the past tense, the vomiting had been completed–in other words, a perfect that occurred prior to–in other words, in the “past tense” with reference to–something else that was in the past itself.

So, on to how to form the plus-que-parfait in French. It’s a simple formula:

imperfect + past participle

We looked at the imperfect in a recent post, so no need to go into that any further right now.  The past participle could be any verb, but the imperfect is always going to be either avoir or être, according to the same rules by which you would select one or the other for the passé composé. So, here’s a straightforward example:

Screenshot 2016-01-02 12.20.33
Shit, someone just told me that I had vomited yesterday….  (A little coquille (typo) there: it should be on vient, not on viens.)
Screenshot 2016-01-02 11.55.28
But why has Lassana Bathily who had aided the hostages of the Hypercasher been the only hero “forgotten” by the Legion of Honor 2015?

A nice one, with two examples–one with avait, and one with était:

Screenshot 2016-01-02 12.09.59
El-Shaarawy left Monaco.  At the same time, no one had noticed that he had arrived….

Here’s one with negation (it’s always important to think about negation early when you’re trying to figure out a verbal system):

Screenshot 2016-01-02 12.01.13
The moral of the story of Chloe Florin, it’s that even your closest friends can betray you one day.  She hadn’t asked for anything!

More negation:

Screenshot 2016-01-02 12.06.15
Remember the time when Louis almost kissed Harry because he hadn’t seen the camera.

Here’s another one with the verb être as the imperfect verb (I know, it’s weird that the perfect is marked with a verb that we call “imperfect,” but that’s language for you–it’s never logical in the ways that one would think it should be):

Screenshot 2016-01-02 12.14.36
I dreamt that I met @AjoyfulSquirrel for real and that there was a play Aventures that we had gone to see.

…and, a last one with être to wrap up our introduction to the plus-que-parfait:

Screenshot 2016-01-02 12.16.04
He would have met fewer idiots if he had gone to school a little longer to learn to write :-)))))

Click here if you’d like to read more about the French plus-que-parfait.


4 thoughts on “He had vomited yesterday: the plus-que-parfait in French”

  1. Your grammar explanation is clear, but I nearly didn’t read the post because of the vomiting 😦 title. Despite the tweet, I’d have preferred the sentence on El-Shaarawy: we’d love it if he were to join the Roma football team 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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