Why is the past perfect used, rather than the passé composé?

JoannaC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Why is the past perfect used, rather than the passé composé?

Bonjour! These writing exercises are absolutely fantastic resources that I'm enjoying very much. A little question, however: I'm also going to raise (or re-raise) Meryl's question about why the French past perfect is used, rather than the passé composé, to translate what looks like the past simple in English. I've never knowingly come across this usage before, but I've seen it now in a couple of these writing exercises and wonder if I have overlooked something. Perhaps it's a matter of perspective -- perhaps this is an extract from a longer passage where the writer has just been writing about the past, and then for these first few lines, goes back further into the past? (Though strictly speaking, you'd mirror that with "had rented" and "had travelled" in English.) The last line of the text does actually use the passé composé. Many thanks!

A few years back, when I still lived in Brittany, my cousin Sarah and I rented a camper [US: RV] and for two weeks, we travelled up and down the west coast of France. ... During that trip, we also learned how to change a tire...
Il y a quelques années, quand je vivais encore en Bretagne, ma cousine Sarah et moi avions loué un camping-car et pendant deux semaines, nous avions voyagé partout sur la côte atlantique française. .... Pendant ce voyage, nous avons aussi appris à changer une roue...


Asked 1 year ago
CélineKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Bonjour Joanna,

Thank you for pointing this out. We discussed this sentence within the French language team and we realised there was indeed a discrepancy with both sentences (in French and in English) and the lesson link given. Both sentences should have been conjugated in the Pluperfect/Le Plus-que-Parfait. It has now been amended accordingly. 

I hope this is helpful.

Bonne journée !

JimC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Salut Joanna,

https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/past-perfect/

"Pendant ce voyage, nous avons aussi appris à changer une roue..."

I'm not clear either as to why the switch to passé composé in this final sentence.

Given that the text is set in plus-que-parfait which I see as appropriate, perhaps there is an error?

It might be a good idea for you to file an error report "report a problem" top left of the lesson.

Bonne journée

Jim

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

The past perfect tense is used here to specifically put put a temporal distance between them and the narration time.

Ma  cousine Sarah et moi avions loué un camping-car. -- My cousin and I had rented a camper. This happens before the narration time of the story, i.e., before the road trip. Note that in English you would also use past perfect tense here.

Nous avons aussi appris à changer une roue. -- We also learned to change a tire. This is the narration time, i.e., the time of the trip. Again, in English, too, you would use simple past tense.

JoannaC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Thanks Jim and Chris! Chris, yes -- one of my points is that if the past perfect is used in the French version (avions loué), then I would normally expect to see it used in the English too (had rented) -- but in fact it isn't in the English version of the text, as you can see (rented). Perhaps the English text should be tweaked? 

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I agree with you. The English would be more specific when using the past perfect tense. Unfortunately, stringent use of tenses in English is an art that's slowly disappearing. French isn't as bad in this as English.

JoannaC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Thanks Chris! I have a bit of a thing for tenses and like to get them right.

JoannaC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Merci Céline !

Joanna asked:View original

Why is the past perfect used, rather than the passé composé?

Bonjour! These writing exercises are absolutely fantastic resources that I'm enjoying very much. A little question, however: I'm also going to raise (or re-raise) Meryl's question about why the French past perfect is used, rather than the passé composé, to translate what looks like the past simple in English. I've never knowingly come across this usage before, but I've seen it now in a couple of these writing exercises and wonder if I have overlooked something. Perhaps it's a matter of perspective -- perhaps this is an extract from a longer passage where the writer has just been writing about the past, and then for these first few lines, goes back further into the past? (Though strictly speaking, you'd mirror that with "had rented" and "had travelled" in English.) The last line of the text does actually use the passé composé. Many thanks!

A few years back, when I still lived in Brittany, my cousin Sarah and I rented a camper [US: RV] and for two weeks, we travelled up and down the west coast of France. ... During that trip, we also learned how to change a tire...
Il y a quelques années, quand je vivais encore en Bretagne, ma cousine Sarah et moi avions loué un camping-car et pendant deux semaines, nous avions voyagé partout sur la côte atlantique française. .... Pendant ce voyage, nous avons aussi appris à changer une roue...


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