What is the le plus-que-parfait?

Le plus-que-parfait corresponds to the past perfect tense in English. We use it to talk about an action or situation that took place before another past action. The plus-que-parfait is often used when telling stories and anecdotes to provide background information on situations that occurred prior to the main action of the story.

Learn everything you need to know about the plus-que-parfait tense in French grammar with our quick and easy examples, then test your knowledge in the exercises.


Lors du concours de talents, Louise a joué sans fautes un morceau difficile à la flûte.

Elle avait beaucoup travaillé avant de pouvoir jouer le morceau parfaitement.

When to use the plus-que-parfait in French

We use the plus-que-parfait to talk about an action that occurred before another action in the past. This tense is usually used together with another past tense (such as the imparfait, the passé composé or the passé simple) and establishes the order of events: the action expressed in the plus-que-parfait always occurred before the action expressed by the other past tenses.

Example: Elle avait beaucoup travaillé avant de pouvoir jouer le morceau parfaitement.

How to conjugate the plus-que-parfait in French

To conjugate the plus-que-parfait we use the imperfect forms of avoir and être as auxiliary verbs, followed by the participe passé (past participle) of the main verb.

Person avoir Participle être Participle
1st person singular (I) j’avais acheté






j’étais allé


allé / allée




2nd person singular (you) tu avais tu étais
3rd person singular (he/she/it) il/elle/on avait il/elle/on était
1st person plural (we) nous avions nous étions
2nd person plural (you) vous aviez vous étiez
3rd person plural (they) ils/elles avaient ils/elles étaient

Avoir or être

Most verbs construct the plus-que-parfait using avoir, however être is used as the auxiliary verb in the following cases:

  • with 14 verbs of motion and staying still: naître/mourir, aller/venir, monter/descendre, arriver/partir, entrer/sortir, apparaître, rester, retourner, tomber, revenir, rentrer, remonter, redescendre, repartir.
    J’étais parti en vacances en Bretagne.
  • for reflexive verbs (pronominal)
    Je m’étais brossé les dents


We use avoir when descendre, rentrer, entrer, monter, remonter, retourner and sortir are followed by a direct object. In this case, the meaning of the verb often changes.

Exemple : J’ai sorti les poubelles

SAHIB Al Rifath

Founder of French with Rifath

All author posts

Privacy Preference Center