Recently while talking to a friend in French (she is native) I wanted to say something like "I never knew you used to do that!" and I used l'imparfait with 'ne ... jamais' and said "Je ne savais jamais..." because I considered it to be something ongoing or habitual in the past.
However she corrected me and said I should either say "Je ne savais pas" or "Je n'ai jamais su". In this instance, yes it probably would have been more proper in English to actually say "I didn't know you used to do that", however for futher investigation I tried translating the following negative statements (which express a habitual/repeated or ongoing situation in the past) and they all returned a translation using passé composé rather than l'imparfait:
"The guy I was dating never let me pay for anything""Le gars avec qui je sortais ne m'a jamais laissé payer..."
"I never used to eat olives, but now I'm addicted!""Je n'ai jamais mangé d'olives..."
"When she was studying, I would never see her, but now we catch up all the time" ... etc etc
Is there a rule in french that the sense of "never/jamais" cannot be used in the imperfect past tense? Maybe it's grammtically incorrect and simply saying "I never ate olives" suffices here in French without needing that "used to" nuance that we have in english?
Ne..jamais can be used in L’Imparfait or Le Passé Composé. It is all about context and what you are trying to express.
Imparfait: (a past action that is over, a long time ago)
Quand j’étais petite, je ne mangeais jamais de fruits = when I was young, I never ate fruits (implying that now you do)
Je ne savais pas cela = I did not know that (implying that you do now)
Passé Composé: (a past action mentioned in a conversation that is having a consequence on your present)
Most of the examples you have mentioned are used in the conversational past. Please see link below:
I hope this is helpful.
Sign in to submit your answer
Don't have an account yet? Join today
Test your French to the CEFR standard