The Imperfect and Perfect Tense: Examples
September 2, 2019
April 7, 2021
The imperfect and perfect tense are both used to express past events, but they are far from the same thing. Find out more about when to use the imperfect and perfect tense through the following examples.
You could also look at this overview of the imperfect, perfect and plusquamperfect tenses.
- Imperfect: Asuin Suomessa kaksi vuotta.
Translation: “I lived in Finland for two years.”
Explanation: This action started and ended in the past. I lived in Finland for a period of two years but, right now, I don’t live there anymore. It’s completely done right now.
- Perfect: Olen asunut Suomessa kaksi vuotta.
Translation: “I’ve lived in Finland for two years.”
Explanation: At the moment of speaking, I am still living in Finland. The action started in the past but is continuing at the time of speaking and into the future.
- Imperfect: Mozart syntyi vuonna 1756.
Translation: “Mozart was born in the year 1756.”
Explanation: Mozart is no longer alive. His death happened in the past and could be part of a narrative about his life, but has no relevancy to the current moment.
- Perfect: Isä on syntynyt vuonna 1960.
Translation: “Dad was born in the year 1960.”
Explanation: Dad is still alive. His birth has relevancy because it tells us how old he is right now.
- Imperfect: Luin tämän kirjan.
Translation: “I read this book.”
Explanation: This action happened in the past and was completed all the way. We could add information about the specific point in time when this happened. It’s not mentioned now, but the imperfect tense implies that such knowledge is readily available.
- Perfect: Olen lukenut tämän kirjan.
Translation: “I’ve read this book.”
Explanation: Just like the imperfect sentence, this action happened in the past and has been completed all the way. This is indicated by the object in the genitive case. However, unlike the imperfect sentence, the action has relevancy at the point of speaking now. Perhaps someone was suggesting we read this book. We might also not be sure when we’ve read it, we just know we did at some point.
- Imperfect: Luin tätä kirjaa eilen.
Translation: “I read (some of) this book yesterday.”
Explanation: This action happened in the past. It was not completed because the object appears in the partitive case. However, because of the tense, this sentence means that we are done reading the book. We’re not going to continue anymore.
- Perfect: Olen lukenut tätä kirjaa.
Translation: I’ve read (some of) this book.
Explanation: This action happened in the past. The partitive object shows us that we haven’t read the whole book. We may or may not continue reading the book, but the action is in some way relevant to the present day (perhaps someone wants to know if we started/finished reading it yet).
- Imperfect: Liisa osti uuden puvun.
Translation: “Liisa bought a new suit.”
Explanation: This action happened in the past. The genitive object shows us that the action was completed. We’re just sharing information about the action Liisa performed. Perhaps we’re describing Liisa’s day. Perhaps we were present to see her buy it.
- Perfect: Liisa on ostanut uuden puvun.
Translation: “Liisa has bought a new suit.”
Explanation: This action happened in the past. The action was completed, but it happened without us seeing it. This sentence conveys the meaning that we’ve noticed Liisa’s new suit and inferred that she must have bought it recently. The action has relevancy in the present day.
- Imperfect: Söitkö jo aamupalaa?
Translation: “Did you eat breakfast already?”
Explanation: Someone is enquiring whether you ate already. Perhaps it’s your mother making sure that you don’t skip breakfast. The deed of eating has no real relevancy to the present moment and a simple “yes” or “no” is enough as an answer.
- Perfect: Oletko jo syönyt aamupalaa?
Translation: “Have you eaten breakfast already?”
Explanation: Someone is enquiring whether you ate breakfast yet. This is a question that kind of carries the weight of a follow-up question already. If you answer negatively, the person enquiring might suggest that you eat breakfast together with them. The action has relevancy in the present moment.
- Imperfect: Kävitkö Thaimaassa?
Translation: “Did you visit Thailand?”
Explanation: The person asking could have previously talked with us about our plans to go to Thailand and are now following up on whether we really did go. The act has no relevancy to the present, but they are equiring if it has happened in the past. The speaker has a specific time frame in mind, even if it is not mentioned in the question.
- Perfect: Oletko käynyt Thaimaassa?
Translation: “Have you visited Thailand?”
Explanation: The person asking could have two reasons for doing so. First, they could just be enquiring if a visit to Thailand is something we have experienced. In asking so, they are leaving the option open for us to do so in the future. Second, this could also be a question following an observation. Perhaps the asker saw our brand new backpack that says “THAILAND” in big bright letters on it. They are now enquiring if a visit has happened in their absense.
- Imperfect: Anna auttoi äitiä paljon.
Translation: “Anna helped mother a lot.”
Explanation: There are two main interpretations to this situation. First, we could be talking about a specific time frame (e.g. a specific event) during which Anna helped mother a lot. This event is now in the past. Second, the time frame might also be over due to the fact that either Anna or mother died. That way, the event is most certainly in the past and will not be repeated.
- Perfect: Anna on auttanut äitiä paljon.
Translation: “Anna has helped mother a lot.”
Explanation: Anna is a helpful person. This could be interpreted as an ongoing event: Anna has helped mother a lot and will continue to help mother past the present day as well. Alternatively, it could also mean that the Anna is done giving assistance to mother, but the help is still relevant to the moment of talking. Mother moved, Anna helped a lot, the move is over, but mother is not done being grateful.
- Imperfect: Olin samassa työpaikassa 13 vuotta.
Translation: “I was at the same work place for 13 years.”
Explanation: I have since retired or moved on to a different place of work. This action is completely done.
- Perfect: Olen ollut samassa työpaikassa jo 13 vuotta.
Translation: “I’ve been at the same work place for 13 years already.”
Explanation: I started working for the company 13 years ago and plan on continuing to do so.
- Imperfect: Olin Pariisissa.
Translation: “I was in Paris.”
Explanation: While we can’t see it from the sentence, there is a specific time frame implied. Perhaps the question was “Where were you in August?” In any case, you are no longer in Paris and the event doesn’t have any consequences at the present day.
- Perfect: Olen ollut Pariisissa.
Translation: “I’ve been in Paris”
Explanation: You could be talking about your past life experiences: you’ve been to Paris, you’ve seen Big Ben, and you’ve ridden an elephant. This tense could also be used to express relevance of your visit at the current moment. Maybe your friend is thinking of going to Paris and you have some tips for them. You want to mention your visit but the exact time frame of it is unimportant for the context.
There we go! Ten examples of the imperfect and perfect tense, aimed to give you a little bit better of an image of these two past tenses. You can read more about the imperfect and perfect tense and how they compare to the plusquamperfect in this article.
What does imperfect sentence in example4 mean? Does it exhibit that i don’t like this book so i won’t read it anymore? Looking forward to your reply.Thanks！
The sentence doesn’t give any information about why I only read part of the book. Maybe I don’t like it anymore, maybe I lost it or had to return it to the library, or maybe I ran out of time that day and will continue another day. The verb doesn’t tell us the reason.
OK, that’s great! I think now I prefer to save my points but I may use them at some point in the future.
“Olin Pariisissa” “Olen ollut Pariisissa” . these both sentence means that you are no longer in Paris right. but the one that is in perfect sentence express relevancy in the present context. right?
Correct 🙂 “Relevancy” can be hard to pin down, but that’s the base rule.
the subtle difference between these two sentences is just so fascinating. thanks for the reply.
In English, Perfect means past tense, i.e. action started and ended in the past. Imperfect means action started in the past, but are still going on at the point of talking. But in Finnish, the idea is the same but the “name” of the tense is reversed.
You’re right! I’m not sure which historic Finnish language nerd decided that they should be named the “wrong way around”.