Passe compose vs imparfait

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Richa

Kwiziq community member

8 April 2019

9 replies

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

This question relates to:
French lesson "Expressing continuing action in L'Imparfait (imperfect tense)"

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

8 April 2019

8/04/19

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!

Richa

Kwiziq community member

8 April 2019

8/04/19

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

Chris

Kwiziq community member

8 April 2019

8/04/19

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/

Alan

Kwiziq community member

8 April 2019

8/04/19

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."

Richa

Kwiziq community member

8 April 2019

8/04/19

Thanks a lot

Chris

Kwiziq community member

8 April 2019

8/04/19

@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.

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

9 April 2019

9/04/19

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...

Alan

Kwiziq community member

9 April 2019

9/04/19

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.

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