Le plus-que-parfait : How perfect is it?
What is so perfect about the plus‐que‐parfait? Well in my opinion, this tense deserves to have the word parfait in its name because unlike the other 2 past tenses, it is easy to understand how and when to use it. It has a clear and logical explanation; it isn’t ambiguous like the passé composé and the imparfait. In addition, it is directly translatable as the past perfect in English (the equivalent of “had + the verb”). How perfect is this?
In a nutshell, the Plus‐que‐parfait is used to describe an event that took place before another event in the past. For example: “When I walked into the room, you had already prepared dinner.” This second part of the sentence, “you had already prepared dinner,” indicates that this action had been done before “I walked into the room,” and this would be translated with the plus‐que‐ parfait tense: tu avais déjà préparé le dîner. You will see the adverb déjà (already) quite often with this tense.
How does the formation of the plus‐que‐parfait work?
The conjugation of the Plus‐que‐parfait is a compound tense and, as with the passé composé, it calls for the same 2 auxiliary verbs avoir or être conjugated in the imparfait tense + the past participle of the main verb. This is the reason that most French teachers will start teaching the plus‐que‐parfait only after their students have gained a comfortable level in conjugating the passé composé tense with être or avoir and have acquired a clear understanding on how the pattern of these 2 auxiliary verbs works with the passé composé. If you feel comfortable in conjugating the passé composé by knowing which verbs take the auxiliary être or avoir (as you might know, most verbs take avoir) then the plus‐que‐parfait will be a piece of cake to conjugate!
Note: When you’re dealing with the auxiliary être, don’t forget to make the past participle agree with the subject of the verb. For example: ma mère était allée (agreement with the feminine subject).
Finally, you might have noticed that the placement of déjà is situated between the auxiliary verb and the main verb (like most adverbs).