L'imparfait vs le passé composé

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dtvrij74
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L'imparfait vs le passé composé

Postby dtvrij74 » 2013-03-02, 23:51

Bonjour à tous. J'apprends le français. Je crois que l'imparfait est utilisé pour décrire une action ou quelque chose qui s'est passé au cours laps de temps. J'ai vu cette phrase:
Malgré les circonstances, J'ai été bien trop sympa...
En anglais: Under the circumstances, I've been shockingly nice.
C'est de un chanson ici (à 0:22).
Pourquoi est-ce qu'elle a utilisé le passé composé au lieu de l'imparfait?

I learned that l'imparfait is used to describe something that happened over a period of time or to describe a condition or emotion. The speaker has been nice to somebody (which happened over a period of time), so why is le passé composé used instead of l'imparfait?
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Re: L'imparfait vs le passé composé

Postby Dormouse559 » 2013-03-04, 6:03

C'est parce que l'imparfait décrit quelque chose qui se passait mais qui ne continue plus. Quand on veut exprimer quelque chose qui a commencé dans le passé et qui continue dans le présent, on emploie le passé composé.

It's because the imparfait describes something that was happening but isn't anymore. When you want to express something that began in the past and continues in the present, you use the passé composé.
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Re: L'imparfait vs le passé composé

Postby JackFrost » 2013-03-04, 6:15

I'm sorry to disagree, but isn't the passé composé used to describe an action that occurred in the past and ended in the past? Since the loss of the passé simple in the everyday language, French doesn't usually make the nuance between an action that has occurred in the past and is continuing to be in the present.

Anyways, it's not strange to use the passé composé for "être sympa" instead of the imperfect. Why it happens sometimes, I can't really explain... :s And I always understand it as if it's in the imperfect.
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Re: L'imparfait vs le passé composé

Postby Dormouse559 » 2013-03-04, 6:22

JackFrost wrote:I'm sorry to disagree, but isn't the passé composé used to describe an action that occurred in the past and ended in the past? Since the lost of the passé simple in the everyday language, French doesn't usually make the nuance between an action that has occurred in the past and is continuing to be in the present.
The passé composé can mean that, but that isn't its only use. What is a sentence like "J'ai toujours pensé qu'il est gentil" supposed to describe if not an action that began in the past and continues now? Admittedly, toujours is often added in those cases, as far as I know; and the example lacks that, but it is from a song, so it may not be totally grammatical.
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Re: L'imparfait vs le passé composé

Postby JackFrost » 2013-03-04, 6:28

I guess I can say it's a grey area, but I don't think it's ungrammatical. Generally, the resources say that emotions are mostly in the imperfect, which means it can happen to be in the passé composé and other composed past tenses. I just treat it as if it's in the imparfait... :s
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Re: L'imparfait vs le passé composé

Postby katelyn3 » 2013-03-04, 18:44

Passe compose is definitely an action that has completed in the past.
I can say that for sure although your example as said by Jack Frost is best described as a grey area.

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Re: L'imparfait vs le passé composé

Postby melski » 2013-03-05, 23:02

dtvrij74 wrote:I learned that l'imparfait is used to describe something that happened over a period of time or to describe a condition or emotion. The speaker has been nice to somebody (which happened over a period of time), so why is le passé composé used instead of l'imparfait?

In this case, the phrase "j'ai été bien trop sympa" refers to a precise event that happened in the past. Hence the use of passé composé. In more formal, old-fashioned French, one could also write "Je fus bien trop sympathique", but usage of passé simple has almost disapeared.

Dormouse559 wrote: Quand on veut exprimer quelque chose qui a commencé dans le passé et qui continue dans le présent, on emploie le passé composé.
When you want to express something that began in the past and continues in the present, you use the passé composé.

Not really. Passé composé and present perfect are not the same, because English takes into account wether the action has still consequences now or not, a way of thinking that is not present in French.
Some examples :
J'apprends la guitare depuis deux ans (présent) = I have been learning guitar for two years (present perfect).
J'ai perdu mes lunettes (tout de suite) (passé composé) = I have lost my glasses (present perfect)
En 1980, j'ai perdu mes lunettes (passé composé) = In 1980, I lost my glasses (simple past)
Here English differenciates whether the event (the loss of the glasses) has a consequence on the current situation or not. In the second phrase it uses simple past because there's a precise date, while French doesn't care : if it's in the past and a precise event, then it's automatically passé composé (or passé simple, but as I said, almost never used nowadays)

Imparfait is different : it's used to speak of something that extended over time, or a feeling in general (in the past). It could be compared to "used to" in our example. So in that case, that could be :
"quand j'étais jeune, j'étais bien trop sympathique" : When I was youg, I was shockingly nice OR when I was youg, I used to be shockingly nice.
[I do not cover other uses of imparfait such as description or repetition]

In this case, "malgré les circonstances" has to be understood as a point of reference, a precise event (gramatically speaking), hence the use of passé composé and not imparfait.

And for Jack Frost example, that's how I would understand the nuances between tenses :
- "J'ai toujours pensé qu'il était gentil (=depuis le début)" : from the beginning I think that he is friendly (and I may have changed my point of view but not necessarily).
(Eg : J'ai toujours payé mes impôts. I always pay my taxes, and I will not change from doing so)
- "Je pensais qu'il était gentil" : I thought he was friendly (but I changed my mind)
(Eg. Autrefois, je payais mes impôts, mais maintenant je refuse de le faire. In the past I paid/I used to pay my taxes, but now I refuse to do so)
- "Je pensais toujours qu'il était gentil" : this is somehow a bit more complex, I would understand it as "everytime I met that guy, he seemed nice to me so I thought he was friendly". This is because of the adverb toujours. This is narration and not likely to appear in everyday's oral speech.
(example with the taxes : Je payais toujours mes impôts (quand on me le demandait) = in the past, everytime I had to pay my taxes I did so).

Hope this helps and sorry for the long post.
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