Passé composé vs. imparfait

JoanneC1Kwiziq community member

Passé composé vs. imparfait

If a sentence is initiated by a fixed duration, is it always necessary to use passé composé?

For example, if I want to say….

During the six days of the trial, the judge was sitting at the front of the room, the lights were low, and the courtroom was full.

I have a fixed duration…. which aligns with the use of passé composé.  But I am giving a description of the situation, with all things occurring simultaneously, and the information does not progress the story…. which aligns with the use of imparfait.

For me, it makes more sense to use imparfait, but I have been told that the presence of the fixed duration at the start of the phrase mandates the use of PC.

The sentence as I would write it is as follows:

Durant les six jours d'audience, le juge était assis à l’avant de la salle, les lumières étaient sombres et la salle de Cour était pleine

CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Joanne,

I agree with your teachers that it is tricky as so instinctive to French people,  and that it is all about context and what you are trying to convey...

I would say that in the case of -

'Durant les six jours d'audience, le juge était assis à l'avant de la salle,  les lumières étaient sombres et la salle de Cour était pleine'

- the imparfait  is correct as you are zooming into a period in the past and describing the scene, further more the use of 'être' which describes state of being sits better in the imperfect.

Conversely, You might say using 'durant' again -

'Durant cette période , Sébastien a été très malade.....', here,  you would use the passé composé indicating that this period is over and he is better now.

In your second example -

'La première fois qu'il a manifesté une émotion aussi forte c'est quand on a parlé de son chien'

Here, the passé composé is correct because it refers to a specific point in time, (the first time he showed a strong emotion)  and it is clearly finished and cannot happen again.

But in a passage describing his emotions you could say :

'C'était la première fois qu'il manifestait une émotion aussi forte ...'

Hope this helps!

CécileKwiziq team member

Hi Joanne, 

For clarification, where have you encountered this sentence and who told you it mandates the use of the passé composé?

JoanneC1Kwiziq community member

Hi Cécile,

I am taking a french course and we had another phrase that started with 'Durant les six jours d'audience,...." and the teacher indicated that this mandated the use of passé composé.  That didn't make sense to me because there were some actions that latest the full six days and other short actions and I thought the mixed use of imparfait and passé composé would better describe it.  The teacher said this is a hard rule, if you have a fixed time period it must be pc.  

Another sentence I didn't agree with the teacher on was…

La première fois qu'il [manifester] une émotion aussi forte c'est lorsqu'on [parler] de son chien.

I thought it best to use pc followed by imparfait, since I imagined the action of speaking about the dog endured and that he showed an emotion at one point within the discours.  But i was told again that the use of 'La première fois' at the beginning of the phrase mandated the use of imparfait.

The reason I questioned it at all is because we discussed pc versus imparfait the day before with another teacher and she said that you have to take the full context of the phrase, sometime even the whole paragraph, to make the selection.  Both could be correct, but they change the nuance of the sentence and the importance of the information.

Passé composé vs. imparfait

If a sentence is initiated by a fixed duration, is it always necessary to use passé composé?

For example, if I want to say….

During the six days of the trial, the judge was sitting at the front of the room, the lights were low, and the courtroom was full.

I have a fixed duration…. which aligns with the use of passé composé.  But I am giving a description of the situation, with all things occurring simultaneously, and the information does not progress the story…. which aligns with the use of imparfait.

For me, it makes more sense to use imparfait, but I have been told that the presence of the fixed duration at the start of the phrase mandates the use of PC.

The sentence as I would write it is as follows:

Durant les six jours d'audience, le juge était assis à l’avant de la salle, les lumières étaient sombres et la salle de Cour était pleine

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