Imparfait vs passé composé

JackC1Kwiziq community member

Imparfait vs passé composé

"Même si j'ai parfois hésité",... should this be imparfait since it is a case of a repeated action. It seems that the word parfois indicates it was more than a single hesitation.

Merci

Asked 8 months ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

The notion that the French imparfait is used to talk about repeated actions in the past is really more misleading than it is helpful. Yes, it can mean that but not always. What really matters is whether the speaker views whatever he is talking about as a completed event or wants to stress the continued, descriptive flavor.

Native English speakers already have a good  feeling for the use of the French imperfect tense. It is the use of the English -ing form (continuous form). Whenever you would use continuous form in English, French often uses the imperfect tense. Here are some examples to think about.

I was reading a book when you called me. -- Je lisais un livre quand tu m'as appellé.
I reread this book often. -- J'ai relu ce livre de nombreuses fois. (No imperfect, even though it is a repeated action in the past. The speaker views the event as a single completed entity.)
I was feeling sick during vacation. -- Je me sentais malade pendant les vacances. (Note that the implication is that she felt sick throughout the entire vacation.)
I felt sick during vacation. -- Je me suis senti malade pendant les vacances. (Here, the implication is that sometime during the vacation she felt sick.)

JimC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Hi Jack,

"parfois"  --> from time to time.

We could say that these are isolated events, complete in themselves, and they happen infrequently.

They are not continuous past events they are random and infrequent.

This is why I cannot agree that the imparfait is appropriate.

This is how I see it  --  hope it helps.

Bonne journée

Jim

JackC1Kwiziq community member

OK. That makes sense for the repeated action case. But at another point in the same exercise we have "J'ai travaillé si dur ces dernières années". This is a continuous action over a period of some time. Is this still passé composé because it is a completed event? Everything expressed as a past tense is by definition a completed event, is it not? Or does imparfait only apply for continuous actions in the past that are still going on?

JimC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Bonjour de nouveau Jack,

If in the sentence we are able to translate using "was" "were" "would" (Would in the sense of habitual past action) then we are looking at an imparfait situation.

Même si j'ai parfois hésité"       

This is a similar situation that I commented on earlier today   --  can we substitute "was" "were" or "would" ?

I say no!

So not imparfait.

Jim 

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Hi Jack, you're asking about: J'ai travaillé si dur ces dernières années and why the passé composé is used instead of the imparfait. If you take what I wrote in my lengthy explanation, the difference becomes quite obvious:

I worked so hard those last years. -- J'ai travaillé si dur ces dernières années.
I was working so hard those last years. -- Je travaillais si dur ces dernières années.

To French ears, the shift in emphasis between passé composé and imparfait is the same as it is for a native English speaker between normal and continuous form. Both are possible options. Which one you use depends on which aspect you want to emphasize. 

MaartenC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Jack, try this external link to get further perspective on the use of imparfait or passé composé. I use Camille’s site a lot, and have also encountered this article cross-referenced by other very good native speaker French instructors on the internet: 

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

Imparfait vs passé composé

"Même si j'ai parfois hésité",... should this be imparfait since it is a case of a repeated action. It seems that the word parfois indicates it was more than a single hesitation.

Merci

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