L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade vs L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade


Kwiziq community member

12 July 2016

3 replies

L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade vs L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade

Similar question to Clif... Is the second option acceptable, and if so, is there any difference in meaning/emphasis? I was taught that j'ai été vraiment malade was used more to express "I have been really ill" in a sentence such as "Sorry I haven't been to see your recently, but I've been really ill" ...... is that correct? Also, is it grammatically correct (and common usage) to say: j'ai été mangé (I have been eating) Thanks in advance

This question relates to:
French lesson "Conjugate être (+ avoir) in Le Passé Composé (conversational past)"


Kwiziq language super star

12 July 2016


Bonjour Adrian !

Very interesting question indeed!

The past of être is always a bit tricky because the nuances between L'Imparfait and Le Passé Composé are not as easy to sense with this ''state-of-being'' verb. Both cases would be translated in English by ''Last year, I was really sick.''

1. L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade.             

-> In this first case, you're talking about the fact of having been sick as a punctual event that happened at a definite point in the past. You can also as you pointed out translate it with the Present Perfect "I have been sick" when linking it to a later consequence.      

2. L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade.

-> In this second case, you're evoking that sickness as something that lasted in the past, in its temporality as a process (e.g. it would be a bit like saying ''I was being sick'').

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !


Kwiziq community member

13 July 2016


Bonjour Aurélie ! Thank you very much for taking the time to respond, That's very helpful. May I please clarify to ensure I understand? So the use of Le Passé Composé draws attention to a specific instance or time when the speaker was sick last year - for example, if during the month of February s/he had been very ill and was referring to this, it would be correct to say L'année dernière, j'ai été vraiment malade. However, if the speaker is referring more generally to having been ill, perhaps even on several different occasions throughout the year and not drawing attention to a specific occasion of being ill, it would be correct to use L'année dernière, j'étais vraiment malade. Can it be said that Le Passé Composé is more likely to be used to draw attention to the sickness, whereas the use of L'Imparfait might be used if one were drawing attention to the nature of last year rather than particularly drawing attention to the sickness? I know it's a different question, but could you also please let me know if it is acceptable to say: j'ai été mangé (I have been eating) - and whether it is a common construction in French. Many thanks again!


Kwiziq community member

9 April 2019


Even though it's coming up to three years that this question was asked, it is an interesting one and sheds light on the ever present problem of passé composé versus imparfait.

I think Adrian got the right idea in his last post, when distinguising between a singular occurrance of falling sick versus emphasising that one was sick more or less over the entire year.

However, I noted one mistake which I wanted to point out: J'ai été mangé means "I was eaten." It is passive voice. To contrast again the most common use of imparfait and passé composé:

J'ai mangé et puis tu m'as appelé. -- I ate and then you called.Je mangeais quand tu m'as appelé. -- I was eating when you called me.

In the first sentence you have two acts in the past, one happening after the other. You need passé composé for both. The second sentence uses imparfait because the act of eating is ongoing and kind of the back story to your calling me. The temporal relationship between the two actions (eating and your calling me) is different.

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