This exercise used the imperfect tense of pouvoir to translate the English word, could. The French also use the conditional tense to translate could. I am sometimes confused as to the correct choice when trying to translate could. I searched the library for pouvoir and found lots of lessons regarding various tenses for pouvoir; however, I found none for the imperfect. I am surmising that the use of the imperfect for pouvoir is appropriate in what I call "if I could-then I would" constructions. The if part would take the imperfect of pouvoir. This is distinctive from a simple condition as in "Could you pass me the salt?", which I believe would use the conditional form of pouvoir. I hope you understand my question. I am simply trying to figure out when to use the imperfect form for pouvoir when trying to translate could. Thanks in advance.
Freeform Writing Exercise C1
Hi Frank, I think you're spot on! The problem arises often with the double meaning of the English "could". This can mean either the imperfect tense or the conditional of the auxiliary verb "can". And in conditional sentences, i.e., if-then constructions, it is important to keep those apart. Other than that, the French grammar parallels the English one perfectly in this case.
In French, just as in English, you never use the conditional in the si-part (if-part, in English) of the sentence.
Si je pouvais, je le ferais. -- If I could, I would do it.pouvais is the imperfect tense (just as "could")ferais is the conditional (just as "would")
Here's a sentence which makes it easier to tell those two forms apart:
Si tu étais sage, tu te tairais. -- If you were wise, you would keep quiet.étais is imperfect tense of être ("were")tairais is the conditional of tair ("would keep quiet")
Just to add to Chris' excellent answer. You can always replace the 'could' by 'to be able to' to determine in your mind whether it is an imparfait or a conditionnel.
was able to = imparfait
would be able to = conditionnel
Hope that helps!
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