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Concordance des Temps

French Sequence of Tenses

Sequence of tenses refers to the important relationship between the verb in a main clause and the one in its subordinate clause. Certain tenses cannot be used together, because the temporal sequence does not make sense.

For example, "Il ne savait pas que je suis professeur (He did not know that I am a teacher)" is grammatically illogical in both languages. You can't use the past tense in the main clause with the present tense in the subordinate - the latter must be in the past as well: "Il ne savait pas que j'étais professeur (He did not know that I was a teacher).

The correct sequence of tenses is usually the same in French and English, but not always.

For example

J'espère que tu réussiras ton examen. - I hope that you pass your exam. (not "will pass")

Quand je serai vieux, j'aurai une belle maison. - When I am old, I will have a beautiful house. (not "will be")

The temporal relationship between the verbs in the main and subordinate clauses determines the sequence of tenses: subordinate clauses express a fact or event that may occur before, at the same time as or after the facts or events of the main clause, and the sequence of these different events is what determines the tenses that can be used. There is almost always a choice of tense and/or mood in the subordinate clause to express the desired meaning and/or comply with French grammar rules.

Tense of main verb Subordinate event occurs… Tense of subordinate verb Example Translation

Présent

Before

Passé Composé Je sais qu’il est venu. I know that he came.
Passé Simple Je sais qu’il vint. I know that he came.
Plus-que-parfait Je sais qu’il était venu. I know that he had come.
Subjonctif Passé Je doute qu’il soit venu. I doubt that he came.
Imparfait Je sais qu’il venait souvent. I know that he often came.
Futur Antérieur Je sais qu’il sera arrivé d’ici-là. I know that he will have arrived by then.

Simultaneously

Présent Je sais qu’il vient ici, en ce moment. I know that he’s coming here, right now.
Subjonctif Je doute qu’il vienne ici, en ce moment. I doubt that he’s coming here, right now.

After

Futur Je sais qu’il viendra demain. I know that he will come tomorrow.
Subjonctif Je doute qu’il vienne demain. I doubt that he will come tomorrow.

Passé Composé,
Plus-que-parfait,
or Imparfait

Before

Plus-que-parfait Tu m’as dit qu’il était venu. You told me that he had come.
Subjonctif Passé J’étais content qu’il soit venu. I was happy that he had come.

Simultaneously

Passé Composé Je mangeais quand il est arrivé. I was eating when he arrived.
Passé Simple Je mangeais quand il arriva. I was eating when he arrived.
Imparfait J'avais su qu’il mentait. I had known that he was lying.
Subjonctif Tu voulais que j’aie tort. You wanted me to be wrong.

After

Conditionnel Présent Je pensais qu’il pourrait venir. I thought that he would be able to come.
Conditionnel Passé Je pensais qu’il aurait pu venir. I thought that he would have been able to come.
Subjonctif Je voulais qu’il vienne. I wanted him to come.

Futur

Before

Passé Composé Je saurai qu’il est venu. I will know that he came.
Passé Simple Je saurai qu’il vint. I will know that he came.
Plus-que-parfait Je saurai qu’il était venu. I will know that he had come.
Subjonctif Passé Je serai content qu’il soit venu. I will be happy that he came.
Imparfait Je saurai qu’il venait. I will know that he used to come.
Futur Antérieur Je te dirai quand il sera arrivé. I will tell you when he has arrived.

Simultaneously

Présent Je saurai qu’il vient. I will know that he is coming.
Subjonctif Je l’achèterai bien qu’il ait plus d’argent. I will buy it even though he has more money.

After

Futur Elle lui donnera un cadeau qu’il aimera beaucoup. She’ll give him a present that he’ll like a lot.
Subjonctif Elle lui donnera cadeau bien qu’il soit fâché. She’ll give him a present even though he’ll be annoyed.

Conditionnel

Before Subjonctif Passé Elle lui donnerait cadeau bien qu’il ait menti. She would give him the present even though he has lied.
Simultaneously Subjonctif Elle lui donnerait cadeau bien qu’il mente. She would give him the present even though he is lying.
After Subjonctif Il apprécierait que nous l'achetions. He would appreciate us buying it.
Getting that for you now.