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why not imparfait

Carl C.C1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

why not imparfait

For "they always made me feel" the answer is "ils m'ont toujours fait" which is passé composé.  Seems to me this is a continuous action in the past so it should be the imparfait "ils me toujours faisaient." 

Asked 1 year ago
CélineKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Bonjour all,

This is a great exchange of views! ;-)

In this instance, L'Imparfait doesn't work because of the adverb of frequency "toujours" as it not only anchors the action in the past but also in the present time. Hence, the use of Le Passé Composé: the action started in the past but it is still happening - there is a sort of "relevance" to the present time too

J'ai toujours aimé les pâtes à la sauce tomate = I've always loved pasta with tomato sauce

 -> started in the past and still ongoing

J'aimais toujours les  pâtes à la sauce tomate = I always liked (used to like) pasta with tomato sauce

-> "anchored" in the past


Have a look at the link from one of our partners' sites: https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/passe-compose-vs-imparfait/ (see "All in the past vs Relevance to present").

I hope this is helpful.

Bonne journée !

Maarten K.C1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Passé composé is used for such events/habits true in past and still true today. ‘Toujours’ (or ‘jamais’) are strong indicators the situation is still true, if not qualified otherwise. 

The link is to a good YouTube from Hugo Cotton that covers this - the relevant ‘advanced case use’ is at about 14 minute mark, but the whole clip is worth watching. 

Using the imparfait here would indicate that this was a habit/continuing action from the past, but no longer occurring. 

This question arises frequently - I know I have addressed it several times, and others have also. 

Suggestion for the team -  this case use should be specifically addressed, possibly with its own lesson, as to my knowledge it is not currently covered in any of the available lessons on the site.


Alan G.C1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I think there's a difference, Maarten, between "they always made me feel" and "they have always made me feel". This is the simple past tense, not the present perfect, so it's not something that is still true today. If you read the whole text I think that's clear from the context.

I suppose the passé composé is used because it's seen as complete, and is not background information for anything later in the text.

Chris W.C1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I keep harking on this point, but try the English sentence with the continuous form. This is what French imperfect would sound to French ears.

The always made me feel... -- Ils m'ont toujours fait sentir...
They were always making me feel... -- Ils me faisaient toujours sentir...

Clearly, in English you would use the simple past tense (first option) if you wanted to emphasize that this was a kind of self-contained event in the past. There are situations where you'd prefer the continuous form (2nd option). Similarly, you could also imagine a context where the French imperfect would be preferable.

Alan G.C1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

The problem with this argument, Chris, is that the past continuous is used much less often in English than the imparfait is in French. So although the past continuous is more often than not translated as the imparfait, the reverse is not at all true. Just because something sounds wrong in the past continuous is not a reliable guide as to whether you should use the imparfait.

Chris W.C1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I found it a valuable guide to getting a feel for the difference of complete vs. incomplete aspect of a verb. In my experience, it is a more reliable guide than the overstressed and often misleading criterion of "repeated action in the past". But, agreed, it isn't perfect.

Alan G.C1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

We disagree on it being reliable, though. It's not easy to explain the difference between passé composé and imparfait through their translations into English, and requires multiple criteria. I don't think that your "guide" helps to answer Carl's question, for example.

I do agree that it's useful to compare the passé composé / imparfait distinction to the one between simple past and past continuous in English, to see that the same event can be described in different tenses depending on how you want to talk about it.

Although the past continuous certainly marks a verb as incomplete, I wouldn't say that the simple past means it's complete - it's more neutral.

Alan G.C1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Sorry, but I don't agree, Céline, and this is a question of English, not French, since it is a translation from English to French. If it still continued in the present, then you would have to use the present perfect, as in your pasta example.

why not imparfait

For "they always made me feel" the answer is "ils m'ont toujours fait" which is passé composé.  Seems to me this is a continuous action in the past so it should be the imparfait "ils me toujours faisaient." 

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