Passe compose vs imparfait

RichaA0Kwiziq community member

Passe compose vs imparfait

I was not well

Yesterday I was not well

She was absent

Yesterday she was absent

These sentences are case of passe compose or imparfait

Asked 8 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Here Richa, we would use the imparfait as the verb 'être' being a verb of state is most often in the imperfect which conveys duration rather than a fleeting moment ...

Hope this helps!

RichaA0Kwiziq community member

Thank you so much mam for your quick response but, iam totally confused between the two.

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I feel with you, Richa. That distinction isn't trivial and goes against the grain of how English uses these two tenses.

The reason you'd use imparfait in these examples lies buried in the fact that we are dealing with the verb être, to be. "Being" describes a state, and a state is considered distinct from an event. Describing states in the past, you use the imparfait. There's this group of verbs which are often used to describe states and, hence, are most often used with the imparfait tense.

Here is a link that explains this aspect further:

https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/passe-compose-vs-imparfait-2/

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

But "yesterday" implies a clear beginning and end, which often triggers the passé composé. So you have two competing guidelines, which is why it can be so confusing.

Laura gives the example: "Il a fait froid, hier."

RichaA0Kwiziq community member

Thanks a lot

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

@Alan: I know, it can be quite contradictory and confusing at times. I don't think there's a clear distinction and it probably depends on what you want to stress or emphasise. See, e.g., the sentence:

J'étais malade. -- I was sick, vs. J'ai été malade. -- I fell sick. Maybe in this context:

J'étais malade pendant les vacances. -- I was sick during (the entire) vacation. J'ai été malade pendant les vacances. -- I was sick during the vacation (maybe a day out of the entire week).

I wonder if we could get some input on this from a native speaker. Will ask one of my fallback resources. ;)

-- Chris.

CécileKwiziq team member

Just to add to this excellent debate , the context is very important when deciding which tense to  use . 

E.g.

Reflecting on a task that was particularly hard you could use either the imparfait or passé composé to say, ‘That was hard!’ 

If you say -

C'était dur!  = you are reflecting on how hard the task was when you were doing it.

Ça a été dur!= you are reflecting on how hard the task was but that it is now over.

That said,  I maintain that you will meet  ‘être’ mainly in the imperfect tense...

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

There's an interesting discussion here, too:

https://french.stackexchange.com/questions/25999/imparfait-or-pass%C3%A9-compos%C3%A9-j%C3%A9tais-absent-or-jai-%C3%A9t%C3%A9-absent

I liked this guideline, which is perhaps similar to Cécile's last reply:

Move on or Dwell on

The passé composé is when you want to mention the action and move on.

The imparfait is when you want to dwell in the action and say what happened in the middle of it.

SanjivA1Kwiziq community member

Its passe composee as the action is complete

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Sanjiv, the choice of tense does not depend on whether the action is complete or not. The passé composé and the imparfait are both past tenses, so generally the actions referred to will be complete. It depends on whether you want to describe it as being complete or not.

Passe compose vs imparfait

I was not well

Yesterday I was not well

She was absent

Yesterday she was absent

These sentences are case of passe compose or imparfait

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