Imperfect vs. Passé Composé

FrankC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Imperfect vs. Passé Composé

Often a problem! I had two different rationales for determining the tense in the first sentence, i.e. "I've never had glasses before." My first thought was that the word 'avant' suggested passé composé, i.e. referring to an event in the past. Upon further consideration, the fact that glasses were not worn in the past seemed to me to be a continuing action, i.e. not wearing glasses over an extended period of time, and therefore called for the imperfect tense. I talked myself out of the first choice and opted for the second, which turned out to be a mistake. Why is the second rationale wrong?
Asked 1 month ago
CélineKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Bonjour Frank,

If you use L'Imparfait ( "Je ne portais jamais de lunettes avant/auparavant") in this instance, it would mean "I was never having glasses before" or "I never used to have glasses before" and not: "I've never had glasses before."

Remember that the English Present Perfect is translated in French either by Le Passé Composé or by Le Présent.

J’ai toujours respecté ton frère. = I have always respected your brother.
Je n'ai jamais pris de vacances ! = I've never had a holiday!

→ expressing the consequence of a past action into the present

 

C’est la première fois que j’en entends parler. = it is the first time I have heard of it.

→ reviewing a situation in the present

 

I hope this is helpful.

Bonne journée !

 

MaartenC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Frank, the simplest may be just to remember that ‘toujours’ and ‘jamais’ for an event from the past will virtually always trigger passé composé. 

See attached link of an excellent YouTube by Hugo Cotton - the whole video is worth watching, but discussion of es at around 14 minute mark addresses ‘ advanced uses ‘ such as this : 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rpQ5xeFneg

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I think I disagree with that, Maarten. Both toujours and jamais could just as easily be used with the imparfait, as you explained, yourself, here:

https://french.kwiziq.com/questions/view/passe-compose-instead-of-imparfait

I think a better guide in this case is that the present perfect will be translated by the passé composé (or just the present) rather than the imparfait.

https://frenchtogether.com/french-present-perfect/

(She says here that there is no present perfect in French, but I would have said that the passé composé was the present perfect, but it has now also taken on the role of the passé simple, which confuses things a bit.)

MaartenC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Frank, 

Alan is correct that imparfait can also be used with both toujours and jamais. 

I should have specified that my response was intended as practical advice given that passé composé is more common than imparfait in everyday speech, and toujours and jamais are often used with passé composé for past events that are ‘still true in the present’. 

The advice also aligned well with the specific example you raised, as Céline has addressed. 

Have a look at the YouTube by Hugo, and the link below to Camille’s site, that he also references. 2 of the best practical discussions of imparfait and passé composé I have discovered :

https://www.frenchtoday.com/blog/french-verb-conjugation/passe-compose-versus-imparfait/

Imperfect vs. Passé Composé

Often a problem! I had two different rationales for determining the tense in the first sentence, i.e. "I've never had glasses before." My first thought was that the word 'avant' suggested passé composé, i.e. referring to an event in the past. Upon further consideration, the fact that glasses were not worn in the past seemed to me to be a continuing action, i.e. not wearing glasses over an extended period of time, and therefore called for the imperfect tense. I talked myself out of the first choice and opted for the second, which turned out to be a mistake. Why is the second rationale wrong?

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