FR: we were there

L'Embrouilleur

Senior Member
English - American
Spécifiquement, je voudrais me renseigner sur le(s) temp(s) correcte(s) (en français) à employer selon les contextes suivants:

1) We were there for a couple of weeks.
2) We were there the first part of May.
3) We were there May 1 through the fifteenth.

Il me semble qu'il convient d'utiliser le passé composé dans tous les cas puisqu'ils s'agissent des périodes délimitées, mais en googlant ;) entre "nous étions là-bas..." et "nous avons été là-bas...", l'imparfait rend beaucoup plus de résultats. Qu'est-ce que vous en pensez ?
 
  • L'Embrouilleur

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Ok, je comprends que le pronom "y" est plus raffiné que l'adverbe "là-bas".
    Mais, voulez-vous m'expliquer la règle de grammaire pour l'autre ? Merci par avance.
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    Pour les trois phrases, on peut utiliser plusieurs temps selon le contexte complet, en particulier le cadre dans lequel elles sont dites ou écrites.

    Imparfait : Nous étions là-bas… → Donne le contexte, le cadre.
    Passé composé : Nous avons été là-bas… → Donne une explication et peut avoir un effet sur le présent. Cette phrase est toutefois souvent employée à l'oral au lieu de Nous sommes allés là-bas.
    Passé simple : Nous fûmes là-bas… → littéraire

    On évite le là-bas
    Question de goût.
    Puisque c'est justement une question de goût, il n'y a rien à éviter du tout : là-bas est tout aussi correct et fréquent que y. Quoi qu'il en soit, j'ai bien peur que cette question sorte du cadre de ce fil…
     

    L'Embrouilleur

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Merci, Maître Cap, mais pour moi ce n'est toujours pas évident, la règle. Voulez-vous donner des exemples. J'en serais très reconnaissant.
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    Even when we English-speakers feel pretty comfortable about imparfait v.s. passé composé in general, the choice can be difficult for the verb être. I suspect it has something to do with the way we are taught to choose between these two tenses.

    It's not so much that there's a rule about when to use which tense, but rather that choosing to conjugate être in one tense or the other affects the focus of your sentence. Choosing between these two past tenses (for any verb) communicates your point of view on the event that you mention; it tells us the lens through which you view the event for the purpose of the thought or idea or story that is in your mind right now. So you could say that your choice of tense provides context at a very fundamental level.

    Using the passé composé signals that you view the event as a unit, without any consideration of flow of time during the event/action/situation. That makes it a natural choice for "point in time" or "instantaneous" things, and for sequential actions. It means we don't expect any information about what happened "during" the event/situation. With the passé composé, there is no "during"... not necessarily because there wasn't time for a "during," but because you deem it to be irrelevant to the idea you're trying to express. Another way to think about it is that the passé composé talks about an event as "all or nothing": it either happened, or it didn't, but you have no interest whatsoever in any sort of incomplete state where the event was in progress but not yet finished.

    Conversely, choosing to use the imparfait clues us in that you do care about the flow of time during the event/situation/action you mention. It focuses us on the "during" (however long or brief, however clearly or poorly defined that duration may be), and we expect you to fill in more information about that "during," about other things that happened or were the case after the event/situation/action started and before it came to an end. For this reason, the imparfait is perfectly suited to "setting the scene" upon which other events played out.

    So in the end, why are you telling us that you were there [for a few weeks, from May 1-15, etc.]? The sentence is surely part of a conversation. Because you do define the time period, it's entirely possible that you're thinking of that trip as a discrete and indivisible block... but if that were the case, you'd probably be more likely to use a verb other than être ("Nous avons passé 2 semaines à Capri", "Nous leur avons rendu visite du 1 au 15", etc.). If you do use être, it's more likely that you're thinking about what you did/saw/etc. during your stay, and that saying "we were there [for a certain amount of time]" is just setting the context for statements about other actions, events, etc. that took place while you were there. Even if you don't intend to go on to detail all your activities, putting the statement "we were there" in the imperfect implies that there were such activities, that being there was not the goal in and of itself. Since all of these thoughts and implications are about the "during" period, the imperfect is very natural when you use être... even when you include words to define the duration or your stay.

    Does that help at all? :)
     
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