FR: alors que / tandis que

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by Elisabeth, May 15, 2005.

  1. Elisabeth Senior Member

    England and English
    Can alors que and tandis que be used interchangeably or are there certain cases when one is more relevant? Thanks
  2. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Ok, take this as a first approach, Elisabeth. Other people will certainly amend it or go further into details. And let me apologize in advance if I say things that you already know.

    These two conjunctions work more or less as the English "while" (but do no necessarily translate "while"). i.e. they can convey an idea of time or of opposition.

    However, while ;) "tandis que" can still convey one or the other idea, "alors que" seems to be more and more used only for opposition.
    At least, my French dictionnary says that "alors que" is old-fashioned as a time conjunction.

    1. I use both as "opposition" conjunctions
    2. Despite what my dictionnary says, I also use both as time conjunctions, only I reserve "alors que" for very precise moments, for actions that do not last, that happen at a very precise point in time. (i.e. as a synonym for "au moment où").

    Il est sorti pour m'accuellir alors que je franchissais le portail du jardin
    Il est sorti pour m'accueillir tandis que je cherchais ma carte de visite.

    I hope this is clear but I can't guarantee its accuracy. Wait for the others.

    So the answer to your question is, I should think, YES, as "opposition" (sorry, I can't find a more adequate word in English) conjunctions, and SOMETIMES as time conjunctions.

    I've just realized I'd forgotten to give you examples with the "oppostion" meaning.

    Nos maisons sont différentes. La sienne a un garage alors que la mienne n'en a pas.
    Nos maisons sont différentes. La sienne a un garage tandis que la mienne n'en a pas.

    Here, both conjunctions are interchangeable, I think.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 27, 2014
  3. charlie2 Senior Member

    My understanding is "alors que" brings out the contrast (une opposition)and "tandis que" brings out the difference.
    (1) Il n'est pas venu alors qu'il avait promis de venir.
    The opposition is between come and not come.
    (2) Cettes roses fleurissent dès le mois de mai tandis que celles-là fleurissent en fin d'été. ( I just made it up, I know nothing about roses.)
    May and end of summer can hardly be called opposite, right?

    Alors que as a time conjunction.
    I have never been taught that it is old-fashioned.
    It is "while" as in English but I was taught that you use it to introduce an element of interruption.
    e.g. Le téléphone a sonné, alors que je sortais.
    As for tandis que, our teacher hinted that if we could manage "alors que", he would be very happy. Don't ask me where does that leave you.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 22, 2009
  4. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    I'd not thought about it this way but you seem to be right.
    In this case my "garage" example with "tandis que" doesn't work.
  5. charlie2 Senior Member

    I guess that is the element of interruption that my teacher was referring to.
  6. Zabar New Member

    english UK
    Does it always have to be a conjunction? What about:

    '...seule la Belgique, alors que RDC pays detenteur de ce mineral, fait toujours figure de...'
  7. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    According to the WR dictionary's definition, your alors que here seems to be an actual conjunction
    It connects the clause RDC, pays détenteur de ce minéral, fait toujours figure de.... to the previous clause ending in ...seule la Belgique

    I'm not sure about English but in French we have to types of conjunctions :
    conjonctions de coordination
    linking words or phrases
    conjonctions de subordinations
    linking clauses mainly.
  8. Zabar New Member

    english UK
    thanks. I should have put more context in; 'seule la Belgique' isn't the end of the last phrase, but the beginning of this one. I understand 'alors que' here to be opposition, ie 'only Belgium, as opposed to DRC holder country...'
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 27, 2014
  9. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    In that case, there must be a problem somewhere with you sentence, a comma and/or a few words missing or something. Alors que always introduces a subordinate clause.
    Could you quote the whole sentence?
    My guess is that seule la Belgique is the subject of a verb which comes onlly after the end of your quote.

    By the way as opposed to would be contrairement à
  10. Zabar New Member

    english UK
    'Il convient a ce nivel de souligner que, selon certains sources, seule la Belgique, alors que la RDC, pays detenteur de cette matiere fortement strategique, fait toujours figure de 'laissez pour compte' dans ce dossier'.
  11. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Sorry, it doesn't make sense to me. Let's see what my fellow natives will have to say.
  12. calembourde

    calembourde Senior Member

    Genève, Suisse
    New Zealand, English
    Can you use alors que as a time conjunction when there is also an opposition? For example:

    Sometimes I think there is a grammatical error when there isn't one.
    Parfois je pense qu'il y a une faute de grammaire alors qu'il n'y en a pas

    But even in English I just used 'when', so can we simply use quand or lorsque here, and forget about the element of opposition?

    Or perhaps the best conjunction here is actually . Which ones would work, and which wouldn't?
  13. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    That would be perfectly correct indeed.

    Yes, you could. But, as you say, the element of opposition would no longer be there.
    Parfois je pense qu'il y a une faute de grammaire quand/lorsque il n'y en pas
    would, on the whole, be understood exactly the same as the previous one. You would only miss the emphasis on the opposition.
    Parfois je pense qu'il y a une faute de grammaire où il n'y en a pas
    Same as above. The emphasis here would be on the place.

    But the best way would still be using alors que.
  14. gerardovox

    gerardovox Senior Member

    en autre mots c'est

    Seule la Belgique fait toujours figure de 'laissez pour compte' dans ce dossier alors que la RDC, pays detenteur de cette matiere fortement strategique (ne le fait pas).

    and then its a typical conjuction, n'est-ce pas?
  15. languageguy1 Member

    English (American)
    Could alors que be translated as "whereas" and tandis que translated as "while"?

    I believe "whereas" stresses opposition and "while" stresses difference but not opposition.

    For example, in English we might say:

    1) I was doing my homework whereas he was not doing his.

    2) I was doing my homework while he was reading a novel.

    What do you think?
  16. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    I think alors que and tandis que are similar, and both ambiguous without context.

    In the sentence Je faisais mes devoirs alors/tandis qu'il lisait un roman, it's impossible to know if the speaker wants to express the simultaneity of the events, or to oppose them.

    I always had the feeling that while had the same drawback in English, but Languageguy1's post makes me wonder about it.
  17. lune_bleue

    lune_bleue Senior Member


    do alors que and tandis que have the same meaning with bien que/quoique (which in English can be translated by although) ? maybe only where there is an opposition in the sentence....??

    alors que and tandis que - are they ever followed by subjunctive (bien que - is always followed by it) ?

    merci par avance.
  18. GerardM

    GerardM Senior Member

    Paris, France
    . Alors que la Belgique est un pays de l'Union européenne, le Japon ne l'est pas.
    . Le Japon n'est pas un pays de l'Union européenne tandis que la Belgique l'est.
    . Bien que la Suisse est soit en Europe, elle n'est pas dans l'Union européenne.
    . Quoique la Suisse est soit en Europe, elle n'est pas dans l'Union européenne.

    These examples show the use of the subjonctive present or indicative present.

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