Nous étions ou nous avons été?

DavidA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Nous étions ou nous avons été?

Nous avons été très surpris en apprenant la nouvelle.

We were really surprised when we heard the news.

I would have used nous étions instead of nous avons été. Is that not correct?

In English nous avons été très surpris translates to - We have been very surprised which implies the surprise happened and is still ongoing or at least has a prolonged duration, whereas nous étions translates to - We were, which implies it happened but is no longer ongoing. The latter seems to be the correct answer to this question especially since being surprised is usually a point in time thing.

Asked 4 years ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

You can't draw a 1:1 correspondence between French and English use of perfect and imperfect tenses.

Nous avons été surpris. -- We were surprised.
Nous étions surpris. -- We were being surprised / we used to be surprised

The imperfect implies a longer duration or a state of being, not a specific one-off event.

DavidA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Thanks Chris, I was fixated on the "were" as implying the imperfect tense, as in "we were running" etc., and so I was equating we were surprised as being imperfect, but of course, as you point out, it is whether it was a fixed point in the past or a duration in the past which determines the perfect/imperfect tense. Thanks for taking the time to reply. It seems so obvious when you say it, but sometimes it takes someone to say it for it to become obvious!

Nous étions ou nous avons été?

Nous avons été très surpris en apprenant la nouvelle.

We were really surprised when we heard the news.

I would have used nous étions instead of nous avons été. Is that not correct?

In English nous avons été très surpris translates to - We have been very surprised which implies the surprise happened and is still ongoing or at least has a prolonged duration, whereas nous étions translates to - We were, which implies it happened but is no longer ongoing. The latter seems to be the correct answer to this question especially since being surprised is usually a point in time thing.

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