FR: before we (had) washed ours - temps

Maîtreaupôle

Senior Member
anglais "Canada"
This is a question that relates strictly to how spoken French handles the examples below.
I realize I pose it using a number of sentences, but the grammatical point involved is the same for all of them. It’s this one grammatical point involving simplifications in ordinary speech that I’m looking for help with.

One
1. Il se lavait les mains avant le moment où nous nous étions lavés les nôtres.
He used to wash his hands before we had washed ours.

2. Il se lavait les mains avant que nous nous soyons lavés les nôtres.
He used to wash his hands before we had washed ours.

In ordinary spoken French, would most French speakers simplify these two to:

1. Il se lavait les mains avant le moment où nous nous sommes lavés les nôtres.
2. Il se lavait les mains avant que nous nous lavions les nôtres.

Two
In the same vein.

1. Il l’avait dit avant le moment où je m’étais préparé à l’entendre.
He had said it before I was prepared to hear it.

2. Il l’avait dit avant que nous nous soyons préparés à l’entendre.
He had said it before we were prepared to hear it.

In the same manner, in ordinary spoken French, would these two be simplified to:

1. Il l’avait dit avant le moment où je me suis préparé à l’entendre.
2. Il l’avait dit avant que nous nous préparions à l’entendre.

Thank for your thoughts.
 
  • Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    The first sentence should read:

    A.3. Il se lavait les mains avant le moment où nous lavions les nôtres.

    Or:

    A.4. Il se lavait les mains avant que nous lavions les nôtres.

    The same is true in English by the way. It should indeed read, "He used to wash his hands before we washed ours."

    Temporal clauses introduced by avant, respectively before, logically occur after the main clause. It therefore makes no sense to mark precedence in the temporal clause with a pluperfect tense since it doesn't occur before the main clause.

    Anyway, a much more common phrase would be simply:

    A.5. Il se lavait les mains avant nous.​


    Likewise, the second sentence should also be rewritten:

    B.3. Il l'avait dit avant que je sois prêt à l'entendre.​

    Unless you meant, "He had said it before I (had) prepared to hear it," in which case it should read:

    B.4. Il l'avait dit avant que je me sois préparé à l'entendre.​


    Note: avant que takes the subjunctive mode, but avant le moment où takes the indicative.


    +++
    See also:
    FR: avant que + temps (subjonctif présent / passé)
    FR: avant que l’assaillant ne soit abattu - temps
    FR: I had eaten before you arrived
     
    Last edited:

    Maîtreaupôle

    Senior Member
    anglais "Canada"
    Hi Maître Capello,

    I understand and accept your correction A.3. What it involves is me as an English speaker realizing that the French think of what's being said as if it were in English "He used to wash [or "was washing"] his hands before we used to wash [or "were washing"] ours. As an English speaker, I need to ignore the oddity of that while accepting the logic.

    However, A.4. is a very different case in that the main clause is in a past tense while the the clause following is in a present tense though about past event. If you tell me that's correct in ordinary (non-literary) French, I accept that, but it means I must accept it while rejecting the logic. Surely, "que nous nous soyons lavés les nôtres..." would be the more logical choice. It accords the two clauses with respect to tense by putting both in past tense.

    This is why I asked if the French simplified following "avant que" by putting the clause following it in the present subjunctive rather than a more logical past subjunctive tense even if the verb of main clause was in a past tense. Apparently, French speakers do opt for this simplification. So be it. I'll just have to get used to what appears to me illogical - a past tense in the main clause followed by a present tense in the clause following even though it relates to the past.

    However, moving on, what you say to justify B.4 seems to contradict your example A.4. If "Il se lavait les mains avant que nous nous soyons lavés les nôtres" should be "Il se lavait les mains avant que nous nous lavions les nôtres" why shouldn't B.4 be "Il l'avait dit avant que je me prépare à l'entendre"??? In other words, why shouldn't the same ploy you use in A.4 be used in B.4?

    Finally, I know "avant que" takes the subjunctive and I realize also that avant + nous, moi, eux, etc. and avant de + verb often provide a much simpler solution to the problems tackled above, but not always. Sometimes, one is stuck with "avant que" and has to deal with its complications. That is why, for example, dodges like using "avant le moment où" or using "avant de" or "avant" + pronoun come into play.
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    In A.4 with avant que, the subjunctive mode is required unlike in A.3. However, the tense should theoretically be the same as in A.3, namely the imperfect. In other words, the imperfect subjunctive should be the logical choice.

    But as you know, the imperfect subjunctive is barely ever used in speech in modern French, even in careful speech. It is used only in literary works. In standard French we use the present or past subjunctives instead. The choice between those two tenses is, however, not free. Usually only one of them is suitable depending on context. As a matter of fact, the past subjunctive does not work in A.4 because it would improperly indicate anteriority or completion. We are therefore left with the present subjunctive, as illogical as it may sound.

    B.4 is actually perfectly consistent with A.4 because the verb is être, not préparer. Here préparé is merely an adjective like "ready" in "to be ready." :)
     

    Maîtreaupôle

    Senior Member
    anglais "Canada"
    Hi Maître Capello,

    Many thanks. You've made sense of it all for me. I think I find it so hard to keep straight because it does involve points of grammar where the French language faces different problems involving the subjunctive from those that arise in English. My brain wiring as an English speaker makes it difficult for me to make sense of the French choices for resolving the problems. Anyhow, thanks again for hanging in there with me.
     
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