FR: Yesterday she spoke to my mother

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by Music22, Dec 7, 2012.

  1. Music22 Senior Member


    I know that the imperfect describes an action that may or may not be finished- we don't know, whereas the past is definitely finished.

    So, "yesterday, he sat uncomfortably"... would that be imperfect, as he could still be sitting uncomfortably "hier, il était très mal assis"

    The same with "yeterday she spoke to my mother" ... it doesn't say that she isn't still not speaking to her so therefore "hier, elle parlait avec ma mère"

  2. Kekepop

    Kekepop Senior Member

    Californian English
    Let's use your second example.

    You're right, it doesn't specify whether or not they are still talking, but the tense you use will do that, or in some way.
    If you simply say Hier, elle parlait avec ma mère, that is simply background information and leaves the story hanging, you need to add something. If you say this sentence alone to someone, they will be expecting something to follow, as the imperfect does not advance a storyline at all, it is background information.

    For example: Hier, elle parlait avec ma mère quand je suis rentré chez moi
    If you picture a timeline, the imperfect will take up a lot of space on it, it's an ongoing action in the past. It's the present of the past, if you will.

    The passé composé on the other hand is a simple dot on the timeline. It's an action that happened during an ongoing action that was taking place.

    Elle parlait à ma mère (pendant un temps indéterminé - c'était ce qu'elle était en train de faire) quand je suis rentré (une action qui commence, se passe, et finit - un point dans le passé - ce que j'ai fait)

    So simply saying "hier, elle parlait avec ma mère" although a gramatically correct and full sentence, is not a "complete" sentence.

    Hope I didn't confuse you more :)
  3. Music22 Senior Member

    Thank you, thats helped! Just one question that's arisen from that though, could you formulate a sentence with "parler" that uses the passé composé?
  4. janpol

    janpol Senior Member

    France - français
    Hier, elle a longuement parlé / discuté / bavardé avec ma mère.
  5. Le Penseur

    Le Penseur Senior Member

    J'ai parlé avec mon fils il y a une semaine. I talked with my son a week ago.

    If you say rather Je parlais avec mon fils il y a une semaine, you almost always would need - as pointed out above - a 'resolution' to that: Je parlais avec mon fils au téléphone il y a une semaine quand la ligne a été coupée, for example.
  6. Music22 Senior Member

    If they've been speaking for a long time why is that not imperfect?
  7. Le Penseur

    Le Penseur Senior Member

    Well, as you mentioned yourself, the imperfect refers to an indefinite, incomplete period of time. Whenever one says in English, for instance, "I was riding my bicycle that morning", we expect something else ("... when ..."), except where it describes a continuous action ("used to").

    In the case above, it wouldn't make sense to say je parlais avec mon fils, except if you were asked, perhaps, what you were doing that day (as one would respond likewise in English with "I was speaking with my son"). There still remains, though, an impression of the action being unfinished.

    Sometimes the differences are very subtle, it's true, and some verbs have different meanings depending on the distinction between them.
  8. Oddmania

    Oddmania Senior Member


    I think there's a confusion going on here. It's true that nothing tells you whether an action has been finished or not when you use the Imparfait tense, but actually this is not something really relevant/interesting.

    In English, if you say When I saw her yesterday, she was talking with Tom, nothing implies that she has stopped talking to him. Maybe right now (saturday the 8th) she is still talking with him, but this is not the point of the tense. Even if you didn't know whether their conservation has come to an end or not, you could perfectly say She talked with Tom yesterday, couldn't you? What's interesting with the Imparfait tense is that it can refer to an action that was on-going at that time (whether it is going on right now isn't relevant). The difference between Elle a parlé à ma mère and Elle parlait à ma mère is exactly the same as the difference between She spoke to my mother and She was speaking with my mother.

    • She spoke/Elle a parlé : one-off event.
    • She was speaking/Elle parlait : on-going past event (at that time, it was happening. Maybe it is happening right now but that tense doesn't enable you to make it clear).

    Note that the Imparfait tense can also be translated as :

    • used to or would [PAST HABIT] :
    ..............J'allais souvent au parc quand j'étais plus jeune.
    ..............I used to go to the park when I was younger.

    ..............Je parlais à ma mère depuis 15 minutes quand Tom est entré dans la pièce.
    ..............I had been talking with my mother for 15 minutes when Tom walked in.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2012

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