AND ASPECT IN FRENCH
ABSTRACT: A survey and analysis of forms I1) is
followed by a presentation of the national distinctions of tense phase
aspect. Cohesion aspect and the closely connected contingency–Mood
($2). The basic and displaced
correlations between forms and notions are then established. ($3)
Some points of comparison with English are highlighted ($4) before
the pedagogical implications are drawn ($5).
is no uniformity of nomenclature in the traditional presentations
of the French verbal paradigms. Moreover
these nomenclatures do not always bring out clearly the alignments
between form and form and between form and its use.
Here we propose a somewhat novel but more consistent and revealing
nomenclature of forms. Some
of the categorical combinations have an additional manifestation that
is confined to colloquial or familiar style (These marked with † when
they are the preferred ones colloquially and with †† when they are
used rather rarely.) The illustrative verb is parler ‘to speak’ with
finite members of the paradigm, 3rd person singular forms
with il he are given except for the Imperative where 2nd
person singular forms are given. Additional examples with finir ‘to finish’ are given where useful
in establishing formal differences.
Subjunctive members are preceded by qu’il’ that he’ rather
than just il ‘he’, what follows is the main paradigm.
Present: il parlel finit
Present Perfect: il a parlć
Present Contingent: il parlera
†† il aura parlć
Present Contingent Perfect: il aura parlć
† il aura eu parlć
Past Descriptive: il parlait †† il avait
Past Descriptive Perfect: it avail parlć
†il avail eu partlć
Past Narrative: il parlć † il a parlć
Past Narrative Perfect: il eul parlć
† il a eu partc
Past Contingent: il parlerait †† il aurait
Past contingent perfect: il aurail parlc
†† il aurait eu parlć
Imperative Present: Parle
† Present Perfect: aic partć
Present: qu’il parte finisse
†† quil parlć finit
† Present Perfect: qu’il ant parte fint
†† quil parlć fint
Past: qu’il parla ftnil
† qu’il parlć
††qui’il a parlć / finit
Present Perfect: quil parlć finit
†† qu’il parlć
Past Perfect: quil cut parlć
††qui’il an parlć / finit
Infinitive Perfect: aver parlć
Present Perfect: avant parlć
Past: Parlć fini
a) Note that in colloquial
or familiar style indicative past Narrative falls together with Indicative
Present Perfect; subjunctive Present with Indicative Present; Subjunctive
Past with Indicative Past Narrative.
The auxiliary with parler and finit is avoir
‘to have’ as with most verbs.
However, with intransitive verbs of change of position or of
state (as aller ‘to go’. ‘venir ‘to come’. Inourir ‘to die’) or with
reflexive verbs the auxiliary used is ćtre to be.
In addition to the main paradigm the following supplementary paradigm
is also in use with special constructions in which the auxiliary is
found in the following finite forms: Indicative Present and Past Descriptive
and Subjunctive Present and Past.
with venir ‘to come’
+ de + Infinitive:
il vienl / venial de parles ‘he has / had just spoken’
with être ‘to be’ + en train de + Infinitive:
il estl etait en train de parler ‘he is / was speaking
at the moment’.
with aller ‘to go; + infinitive:
il va / allait parler ‘he is’ / was going to seak
with the modal devoir ‘ought, should’ + Infinitive:
il doit / devail parler ‘ he is /was to speak
d) In order to generate the finite forms the following
categories and stipulations would be needed.
The categories are:
– Mood: Non-Contingent; Contingent
– Aspect: Non-Narrative; Narrative
– Mood: Indicative, Imperative, and Subjunctive
– Aspect: Non- perfect, Perfect.
last is consistently marked with avoir + Participle Past or cire +
participle past as the case may be.
The remaining categories are manifested conjugationally with
special stems of the main verb with special sets of number person
endings (except with the special colloquial forms: Note however, the
following constraints, namely, that contingency – Mood contrasts are
present only in the Indicant: c mood and that Cohesion – Aspect contrasts
are present only in the Indicative Mood and the Past Tense. Under each category the following are the unmarked
members: Non-Past (or Present). Non-Contingent,
Non-Narrative (or Descriptive), Indicative, and Non- perfect.
The last is formally unmarked; all the five are distributionally
and interpretationally unmarked (as will become clear in what follows).
the formal categories are sometimes labeled after the notional categories
they most often correspond to there will be a certain overlap in the
category labels. However, it is to be clearly understood, for
example, that the notional past does not always manifest itself as
the formal past and that the formal past is not always to be interpreted
in terms of the notional past. In
this notional survey we shall concern ourselves with the category
of tense, the two categories of aspect (phase; cohesion), and one
category of mood (contingency) which is closely interwoven with tense
and aspect both formally and notionally.
A) Tense: To begin with we need to distinguish
between the Time of communication (TC) and the Time Referred to (TR)
in the communication. (The distinction is analogous to the one between
temps de narrator and temps de narration. Respectively that has recently
been proposed in the literary analysis of narrative.) Tense is the
relation of TR to TC: TR may be anterior, simultaneous, or posterior
to TC. Diagrammatically
French, there are two Tenses: Past in which TR is wholly anterior
to TC and Non-Past in which TR is not wholly anterior to TC (i.e.
simultaneous or posterior to it).
Le train etait en gare (mais it n’y est plus maintenant). The train
was in the
(but it isn’t there now any more).
(2) Le train est en gare
(tout a l’heure). The train
is in the station (right now).
Le train sera en gare (tout a l’here). ‘The train will be in the station
(right now / in a moment).
(a) TC that is the now
is not to be interpreted too literally, There is the story of the
man who was planting a tree. Someone
came along and the following exchange took place.
(4) Que faites vous? –
Jc reponds a votre question. ‘What are you doing? – I am replying
to your question.
A less pedantic reply would have been:
(5) Je plante un arbrc.
I’m planting a tree. Though the tree-planting had been momentarily
(b) In certain constructions
TC and TR are carried by separate finite verbs.
(6) Ce n’est pas Madeleine
quil a épouséc. It isn’t Madeleine
that he has married.
(7) Ce n’est pas madeleinc quil epousa. It
8) Ce n’est pas
Madeleine quietait sa femme
isn’t Madeleine that was his wife
9) II a epouse Madeleine n’est – ce pas?
etait sa femme
He has married Madeleine,
married Madeleine, didn’t he?
was his wife, wasn’t she?
n’est – ce pas? Is, literally, isn’t it?
quil a epouse Madeleine
quil epousa Madeleine
que Madeleine etait sa femme
it the case that
he has married Madeleine
Was that he married Madeleine
That Madeleine was his wife
these examples Ce n’est pas’n’est – ce pas? And Est-ce..? carry TC
and remain typically in the Present; the TR of the main proposition
maybe Present, Past Narrative, or Past Descriptive.
However, with Cest….que / qui and its negative counterpart,
a tense appropriate to the main proposition may also
be used (examples 7 and 8).
B) Phase – Aspect.
In order to establish phase contrast, TR has to be distinguished
from the Time Referred to along with it (TRR).
Phase is the relation of TRR to TR: TRR may be anterior, simultaneous,
or posterior to TR.
French there is a two way distinction of Phase: Perfect in which TR
is wholly anterior to TR and
Non-perfect in which TRR is not wholly anterior to TR.
11) If y a un train qui Passe Parici
There is a train which
Passes through here
the tense (Non-Past) seen in II y a There is and qui passe / quiest
establishes the TR while the absence or presence of perfect in passé
and est passé establishes the time of the passing of the train (TRR)
as not wholly anterior to TR or wholly anterior to TR.
Perfect is typically associated with déjá already.
Of course, TR and TRR may be wholly expressed in the same finite
12) Le train passe par ici.
The train passes through
TR may be Past rather than Non-Past.
13) II a avait un train qui passait par ici
was a train which passed through here
examples of the Phase contrast would be
14) Pleurant / “tour en
pleurant else continual
Weeping / in the
course of weeping
She continued the
: of weeping : TR : of continuing the story)
may or may not be wholly anterior to TR
qu’il dinait elle
Apres quil eut dine
he dined she left
After he had dined
(TRR: of his dining; TR: of her leaving)
16) Je Veux dire la vérité
declare avoir dit
wish to speak
claim to have spoken
(TR: of my claiming or wishing, TRR : of my speaking the truth.)
17) Donnez – moi de leau bouillante Give me some
participles in the last example correspond to the clauses qui bout
que I’on a fait bauilir ‘which is boiling. Which one has mad eto boil
respectively. Further discussion will be taken up towards
the end of ($ 3.A)
a) In the Non-Perfect there are various possibilities:
TRR may be simultaneous to TR posteior to it, extending over
a time up to the esecedly over a period simulatenous to it, or the time
being of it. Diagrammatically.
Time upto ____________
Time being ____________
of these contrast with the Perfect.
Thus in examples (13), the first alternative passait may correspond
The train passed at the time
was going to pass
had been passing till then
passed from time to time
was passing for the time being
the Posteriority relation applies, the supplementary forms with aller,
devair are far more common. More
18) Au moment on il rentra, elle partit. Just when he returned, she left (‘Simultaneous’)
19) Avant qu’il rentrat elle partit, ‘Before he
returned, she left’ (Posterior)
20) Je chante toute
in matinee I have
depuis six heures et demie
il y a /depuis six minutes
(Time up to)
since half past six
for six minutes
: Il y a six minutes que je chante).
21) II se
lé ve souvent de bon matin
se levait toujors
gets up often
early in the morning
used to get up
22) L’homme propose et Dieu dispose: Man proposes
and God disposes. (Repeatedly so).
23) It sait professeur et habitait cette rue, ‘He was a teacher and was having
in this street (For the time being)
24) II Pleut
it is raining (For the time being)
25) II Pleuavait quated je sortis
pendant que nous parlions
It was raining.
when I left
while we spoke
the time being: TRR : of raining : TR : of my leaving or oar speaking).
(b) The forms in the supplementary
paradigm ($ 1 Observation,
e) serve to convey finer notional distinctions of Phase.
26) If y await un train qui venait de passer par ici
etait en train de
There was a train which had just passed through here
was passing just then
was going to pass
was to pass
‘Recently anterior’, “for the time being’,
‘Immediately posterior’, Posterior’)
venir de conveys Perfect of recent anteriority; etre en train de conveys
Non-Perfect of simultaneity for the time being; aller rom devoir convey
Non-Perfect of posteriority. Compare
the following with example (15).
27) Apres qu’il dina, elle allait
After he dined she
was going to leave
(TR : of his dining : TRR : of her leaving; TRR
posterior to TR).
15) Apres qu’il eut dine elle partit. ‘After he
had dined, she left’.
of her leaving: TRR: of his dining: TRR anterior to TR)
two sentences are reporting the same episode from different points
The phase relation (TRR/TR) is independent of the Tense relation (TR./TC)
So the relation of TRR to TC can only be inferred thus, if TRR is
anterior to TR and TR is anterior to TC., i.e. past, then
naturally TRR is also Past.
this does not work in two cases.
First, when TRR is posteior to TR and TR is anterior to TC,
28) À son
arrivée, l’élection devait encore avoir lieu. ‘At his arrival, the
election was still to take place,’ (This leaves us in the dark as
to whether the election is still to take place at the moment of speaking)
The other case is when TRR is anterior
to TR and TR is posterior to Tc, Diagrammatically:
29) Demain il aura déjà fini son exercise. ‘Tomorrow he will have finished his exercise
already.’ (It is just possible he has already finished it at the moment
of making this prediction; we don’t know from this sentence).
d) A past even (i.e. an event anterior to TC) is
open to three ways of reporting: As past perfect (i.e. as TRR anterior
to TR which is past); as Past Non-Perfect (i.e. as TR which is anterior
to TC); as Non-Past Perfect (i.e. as TRR anterior to TR which is simultaneous
to TC). The perfect is preferred to the Non-Perfect
way of reporting in one of the following circumstances:
(i) the event is recently
(ii) the event is currently
(iii) the reference is
not to a definite event but to unidentified occurrences. Examples that follow illustrate these three possibilities in order.
(30) J’ai vu la Tour Eiffel
ce matin. ‘I have seen/ I saw the Eiffel Tower this morning. (Recent
(31) J’ai vu la Tour Eiffel
il y a deux ans : vous gagnez le pari, ‘I saw the Eiffel Tower two
years ago; you win the bet’., (The
event is linked up with the bet in hand).
(32) J’ai vue la Tour
Eiffel deuz fois jusqua aujourd;hui
have seen the Eiffel Tower twice as of today.
all three cases the Perfect introduces TRR as contributing to the
state of affairs described at TR.
All of these could be shifted to a Past setting.
They would then contrast with the Non-perfect in the next example.
(33) Je vis la Tour Eiffel deuxz fois lorsquil
je fus a Paris, I visited the Eiffel Tower twice when I visited Paris.
Note that ‘J ai vu .. j’ai’ etc as colloquial past
Narrative forms cokuld replace Je vis … ji fus in the colloquial version
of example (33).
the following with (15) and (27)
II dina; et puis elle partit. ‘He dined; and then she left’.
(TR of his dining, another TR: of her leaving).
two events are presented in their own right, as it were, so far as
tense is concerned.
Cohesion – Aspect. The foregoing
discussion about the choice between Present Perfect and Past Non-perfect
introduces us to the possibility of presenting two events in the TRR/TR
relation or as two TRs on their own, i.e. as TR1 and TR2/ Cohesion
is the relation ofTR2 to TR1: TR 2 may be anterior, simultaneous,
or posterior to TR 1. Diagrammatically:
TR 2 _______
In French there is a two-way distinction of Cohesion:
Narrative Cohesion in which TR 2 is posterior to or simultaneous with
TR 1 and Non-Narrative cohesion in which TR 2 is simultaneous with
TR 1. A given discourse or text may be divided into cohesion spans. Each span is either. Narrative
or Non-Narrative. (Non narrative spans may also be called Descriptive
spans.) AT a span boundary
there is absence of Cohesion. (Thus
if TR 2 is anterior to TR 1, this means that TR 2 being a new span,
there being no cohesion between TR1 and TR2).
Spans normally succeed each other in the discourse; occasionally
one span may interrupt the cohesion of another span.
All the TRs in the same span have the same Tense relation to
TC (i.e. they are all past, present or Future).
begin with, here are some examples of Narrative spans in the Past,
the Present, or the Future as the case may be.
35) Je vins, jevis, je vainquis. I came, I saw, I conquered. (Julius Caesar, Letter after vicotyr
at Ze a, Asia Minor)
36) Le chasseur vit le renard, il le visa, et il
le tua (colloquially:…a vu … I’a vise… I’a tue…) The hunter saw the
fox, shot it, and killed it.
37) Il arriva en retard; et ainsi eut il ______
son train detrois minutes. He
arrived later and consequently he had missed the train by three minutes.
38) Je prends ce flacon, J’y verse de lesa et jy
ajoute quelques gouttes d’acide sulfurique.
I take this flask, pour water in it, and add some drops of
39) Demain il
viendra me voir. Nous dinerons
ensemble et nous irons voir un bon film.
he will come to see me, we shall have dinner together and go to see
a good film.
in the Present (as in example 38) are in the nature of running commentaries
since every TR is simultaneous to the corresponding TC.
we illustrate Descriptive spans, again, in the Past, the Present,
or the future.
40) Mon père
etait professeur et habitait ctterue.
Notre maison etait petite, mais confortable. Nous cultivons un petit jardio, My father was a teacher and lived
in this street. Our house
was small but comfortable. We
grew a little garden.
41) La chamber etait en obscurite event faisait
agiter les rideaux. II dormait
paisiblement. The room was in darkness. The wind was agitating the curtains. He was
42) La-bas, sous les arbres saorite
au dos bossu
toit penche, le mur sèffrite
seuil de la porte est mousès
fentre, un volet la boucha
du taudis, comme au temps froid
tiede haleine d’une bouche
respiration se voit.
(Describing the scene in a picture) ‘Down there,
under the trees is sheltered / a humpbacked hat;/ the roof sags; the
wall crumbles;/ the threshold at the door is covered with moss. /
The window is shuttered up; / but from the tumble – down hut as in
cold weather/ with the tepid breath from amouth / the respiration
can be see. (From Theophile Gacher, Fumée’, Émaux et Canmees,
connais been cet homme. Je
ĺestime. Et je sympathise avee lui I know this man well.
I hold him in esteem. And I sympathize with him.
chamber est en obscurité., Le vent fait agiter les rideaux. II dort paisiblement. The room is in darkness. The wind is agitating the curtains. He is sleeping
45) J’aurai un enfant de toi. I sera beau. I te ressemblera.
I shall have a child from you.
He will be good looking. He
will resemble you (Henry de Montherlant, La Reine morte).
Finally, some examples of span boundaries showing
non-cohesive transition follow. Such
a transition may be from foreground to background narration or description.
46) II travaille à la banque ces jours – ci II y entra en 1960. He works in the bank these days. He joined it in 1960.
47) It travaille à la banque: ces jours – ci; Pendant quelques ans il etait mon collegue. He works in the bank these days, for some years
he was my colleague/
The non cohesion may, again, be between main story
soir, t’en souviens – tu? Nous voguons en silence. ‘One evening, don’t you remember? We were rowing in silence (Alphonse
de Lamartine, ‘Le Lac.)
49) Pierre a commencè
à travailler à
la banque il y a deux ans. Tu
le connais, n’est ce-pas, ce lourdaud de Pierre?
II a travaillé dur et il a gagnè pas mal d’argent Peter
began working in the bank two years ago.
You know Peter, don’t you this clown of a fellow? He worked hard and didn’t do too badly.
50) It arrival en retard.
II avait manquè son train. ‘He arrived late, which meant he had missed
Contrast example (50) where the second sentence
in the Past Descriptive Perfect makes a comment on the first in the
Past Narrative with example (7) earlier, where the second sentence
in the Past Narrative Perfect continues the story from the first in
the Past Narrative.
37) II arriva en retard; et ainsi eut – il manqué
son train de trios minutes. He
arrived late; and consequently he had missed the train by three minutes.
the non-cohesion may involve reproduced speech or inner speech whether
in direct quotation or not.
51) It dit qu’il avait été malade
nous a ecrit
said that he had been ill
Write to us
52) It dit “j: étais malade.”
said It was ill
Wrote to us
53) It a parlé It était malade
nous a écrit
spoke He had been ill
Wrote to us
54) Elle lui demanda de l’argent. II tergiversa. II ne 1 aimait passages II ne pouvait pas lui donner cette somme.
Elle fut furieuse She asked him for money.
He let her down. He didn’t love her enough. He could not give her this sum. She was furious (Gustave Flaurbert, Madame
The subtle modulation
from the indirect reporting of (51) through the free indirect reporting
of (53) to the direct reporting of (52) does; not affect the point
we are making. Namely, that the reported speech forms a span
by itself. In (51) the span
of the indirectly reported speech (or inner speech) is encapsulated
in the larger span hence the Past Perfect of il avait été malade. The Past Descriptive of the third and the fourth sentences in (54)
set them off as Madame Bovary’s speech in free indirect reporting
over against the first, the second, and the fifth sentences which
constitute the main narrative span in the Past Narrative.
a) In examples of Cohesion spans we have come across
spans of single TR. (any TRR conveyed by Finite verbs subordinated
to some TR and by Non-Finite verb forms does not count separately
for the purposes of Cohesion) Strictly speaking, the contrast Narrative/
Non – Narrative calls for at least two TRs.
However, the contrast often shows itself even with TR taken
have already seen (§ 2. B. Observations. d) that the Perfect
lends itself to description. As
the names suggest and as the examples will have confirmed, the Past
Narrative lends itself to narration and the Past Descriptive to description.
verbs take avoir as the auxiliary; however, some take étre
and avoir or être (1. Observations. B) Broadly avoir
goes with narration and être with description with verbs
that admit of such a choice.
a grandi bien vite. ‘She grew
up very fast.’ (Past Narrative of grandir with avoir).
56) Elle est grandie.
She is grown up (Present Perfect of grandir with etre).
a monté/descendu : tes
escaliers. He climbed up/down
58) It est déjá monté / descendu. He has already climbed up / down He is already
up / down there.
with être en train do lend themselves to narration. In the Non-Perfect Phase. The notions of Repeated occurrence and of ‘Time
up to’ lend themselves to description.
Past Narrative Non-Perfect cannot be used in these two senses. (See examples at 2. B. Observations. a, b,)
‘in the meanwhile will introduce a description, et puis, and then
b) Some predicates are naturally suited to narration,
some to description, the rest are open to either sort of handling. Thus voir is typically narrative in the sense
to come to see. Typically descriptive in the sense to be able to see,
to be in sight of or to be on visiting terms with but neither of the
two in the sense to meet, to visit, regarded is typically narrative
in the sense of to look at but typically descriptive in the sense
of to concern; to consider. A study of French verbs and adjectives from
this point of view is called for.
predicates lend themselves to a similar classification: être
respects to be respected, être gouerné
to be governed are descriptive like their active counterparts respecter
to respect gouverner to govern; être ferme to be shut, and
être onvert to be open are descriptive unlike their active
counterparts fermer to shut ouvrir to open.
59) Pierre est respect
Peter is respected
60) On a fermé
la porte tout deuite
porte a ete fermee
Someone shut the
door was shut
61) On ferme la porte.
62) On fermait la porte.
: Repeatedly; For the time being.
fermée. The door is/was shu. (Both are
passive predicates are open to either sort of handling like their
active counterparts: être lavê can mean either to be in a washed
condition or to undergo washing.
64) Les vêtements
sont déjá laves
lavés tous les jours
The clothes are
Washed every day
first describes the state of the clothes at TR, the second describes
the standing arrangement (‘Repeatedly’) about clothes at TR).
be the status of the predicate, the context willbend it one way or
65) Tu le vois? - Oui, je le vois
suis en train de le voir
see that? – Yes I do
Am beginning to
In (64), the narrative predicate undergo washing
is used descriptively in sont lave’s tous les jours. In (65) the descriptive predicate voir be able to see, be
in sight of is used narratively in suis en train de le voir. In the remaining two cases, sont dèjà lavès
and le vois, a descriptive predicate is being used descriptively.
66) Le soldat mourut the solider died
se mouraĺt was dying
mourir to die, cease to live is typically narrative (but of
être mourant / morl to be dying / dead ) but being
used descriptively in the second alternative (se mourir
to be in a state when death is expected).
67) Il lut le roman hier soir He read
novel last evening
lire, to read is open. The
first alternative with the Past Narrative suggests that the novel
was completed; the second alternative with the Past Descriptive has
no such implication. A similar distinction underlies the following.
68) Louis XIV regnait
soixante – douze ans
Louis XIV was reigning for seventy two years
69) Dicu eréa le monde
(et se trouva fatigue
créait le monde (et se trouvait content
(Created the world (and found Himself tired).
(was creating the world (and found
the normal course the Past Narrative will be used in a non-specific
context in examples (68), (69)
consider the following:
J’ai eu fini avant midi
had finished before noon
Here the Past Narrative Perfect in
the first alternative reports a single event and describes a single
situation arising out of it; the Past Descriptive Perfect in the second
alternative describes a situation in which situations of the sort
described in the first alternative arise repeatedly.
TR anterior to TC; TRR anterior to TR
to TC; TRR repeatedly over a period simultaneous
to TR, TRRR
anterior to each instance of TRR.
D. Contingency Mood: While
Tense relates TR to TC and Aspect relates TRs and TRRs, Mood relates
the validity of the proposition to its use in the communication betweent
he sender and the receiver of the sentence.
We are not concerned here with the total gamut of modal contrasts
in French conveyed by such formal contrasts as Conjugational – Mood,
the absence or presence of modal auxiliaries like devoir ‘ought/should’,
vouloir will, wish, falloir, be necessary, must;’ pouvoir,
can be able to, savoir can, know how to, oser dare.
Rather, we shall confine our attention to Contingency – Mood.
– Mood has to do with the relating of the validity of the proposition
to the grounds available to the sender or the conditions or circumstances
known to the sender. In French,
there is a two-way contrast between the contingent and the Non-contingent. The contingent communicates the proposition
as one of four things:
(i) inference from available evidence;
(ii) concomitant of attendant circumstances (conditions
known for a fact)
(iii) consequence of conditions that are genuinely
open (it is not known whether they are fulfilled or not).
(iv) consequence of counteriactual conditions (conditions
known or suspected to depart from facts).
Non-Contingency communicates the proposition without any such qualification.
the examples that follow the portion conveying the grounds or conditions
is enclosed in parentheses, since it may be left understood, if the
speaker so decides for some reason.
sonne.) Ce sera Je medecin, (someone rings) That will be the doctor.
72) (D, apriès
les journaux du soir), it y aura deux cents morts (According to the evening papers,) will be two hundred dead.
The last two examples
illustrate inference from available evidence.
In this sense the use of pouvoir or devoir is perhaps
more common thus:
73) (D’après les journaux du soir)
it doit y avoir
deux cents morts
se peut quil y ait
to the evening papers.)
There should be
two hundred dead
next two illustrate concomitants of factual conditions.
74) (Quand il me verra,) il me dira bonjour.
he sees me, ) he will wish me good morning.’
75) (Quand il me verrait)
il me dirait bonjour.
he saw me,) he would wish me good morning.’
The next two illustrate the contrast between open
and counterfactual conditions.
je rèussisais) je vous ecrirais,
(If I succeed) I should / would write to you.
77) (Si je réussisais,)
je vous ècrirais.
(If I succeed) I should/would write to you.
… but I know I’m not going to succeed).
78) Le tunnel qu’on a propose reiiera
les deux vailees. The tunne
that has been proposed
will link directly the two valleys
the last example the supporting condition has been left out: reliera
will link will go with the factual condition quand il sera
prêt when it is ready’ or with the open conditions on lc bârit if they build
it, but relicṛait would link will go
with the counterfactual condition si on le bâtissail du toul if they built it at all.
Non-contingent removes the qualifications altogether.
79) Cest le medecin.
It is the doctor
80) If y a deux cents morts. There are two hundred dead”.
one says, D’après
les journaus du soir, il y a deux cents morts one is simply
reproducing the newspaper report in free indirect reporting (as in
example 53) without revealing one’s own position on the matter.
81) Je vous ècris
unc fois par semaine. (C’est entendu).
I write to you once a week. (Agreed.) (Non-contingent)
Contrast example 81 with examples 76 and 77.
contrast between the Contingent and the Non-Contingent comes out clearly
in the following.
82) La nef de cette èglise
appartient au XII siècle,
mais le cheque sera du XV. The
nave of this church belongs to the 12 th
century, but the choir will be from the 15th.
a) In some cases the qualifications may be built
in as it were./
83) Hèsiter sera une faiblesse.
To hesistate will be weekness.
84) Je prendrais ce qui resterait. I would take what would be left behind.
explciityly, one could paraphrase –
85) Si on hèsite,
ce sera une faiblesse, If
one hesitates, that will be weakness.
86) Si quelque chose restait, je le prendrais. If anything were to be left behind, I would
Consider also the following where as explicit paraphrase
will be otiose.
87) Quo! Ces
cohorts etrangers feraient la loi dans nos foyers!
! these alien hordes would lay down the law in our hearths!
de Lisle, “La Marseillaise”)
the qualification is implicit or built in, the distinction between
non-factual and counter-factual contingency (formally Present and
Past Contingent) in the NON-PAST is not always
observed carefully. Thus, seriait will be used in (83) and
prendrai… restera will be used in (84) in much the same
b) The qualified proposition itself can sometimes
be given a more explicit paraphrase by verbalizing the sender’s attitude
towards the proposition.
crois que c’estle mèdecin,
‘ I believe it will be the doctor’ (This
can serve as a paraphrase of example 71: contrast example 79).
89) Sera – t – il
Vrai qu’il l’ait dit?
Serait – t – il qu’il le croie
Can it be true that he should
have said it
it be that
he should believe it
the use of the Subjunctive for the proposition under consideration
in a more succinct for muation the Contingent will replace the Subjunctive
and the comment embedding the proposition under consideration will
drop out compare the following with (89).
90) L’aura – t – il
dit? Can he have said it?’
– t – il Could he
91) Le (crora – t il)? (Can he be believing ) it?’
(croirait – t – il) (Could he be believing)
3. Correlations between Forms and Notions:
that the Forms on the hand and Notions on the other hand have been
presented, we can establish correlations between the two.
These can be viewed either as ways in which a given form is
to be interpreted or as ways in which a given notion is to be manifested. We shall resent the correlations in two groups:
basic or primary correlations and displaced or secondary correlations. The former constitute the central system and
the latter its idiomatic or stylistic extensions.
order to avoid confusion, notional labels will be wholly capitalized
to distinguish them from labels of formal categories.
A) Basic Correlations: To begin with, we shall
present correlations under the NON-CONTINGENT mood in both the tenses. All
forms are in the Indicative. Many
examples have appeared in
the previous section.
Past Narrative Perfect
Past Descriptive Perfect
we shall not concern ourselves with the notional contrasts that correlate
with Conjugational – Mood contrasts, we must not lose sight of the
Tense and Aspect contrasts in the subjunctive.
92) Il est possible
veux qu’il soit
It is possible
that he come(s)
he has come
93) I’l était possible qu’il vint
qu’il fut venu
It was possible
that he came
he had come
Next we shall present
the CONTINGENT system. Along
with the correlations in the main proposition, it will be useful also
to present correlations in the supporting or qualifying clause or
sentence. The four sub-moods in the CONTINGENT, it will
be recalled (from $ 2.D), are as follows:
(i) inference from evidence
(ii) concomitants of factual
(iii) consequences of
(iv) consequences of counterfactual
When correlated with the
formal manifestations, it will be seen that (iii) falls together with
(i), while (ii) and (iv) remain distinct, so notionally, CONTINGENT
admits of a further three way distinction between NON-FACTUAL (i,
iii), FACTUAL (ii) and COUNTERFACTUAL (iv):
Support or qualification
Past Des-criptive (perfect)
Past con-tingent (perfect)
Past contin-gent (perfect)
CONTINGENT FACTUAL (ii)
Past Des-criptive (Perfect)
Past Des-criptive (perfect)
Past Narra-tive (perfect)
CONTINGENT COUNTER FACTUAL (iv)
Past Descriptive Perfect
Past contingent Perfect
Past Descriptive (Perfect)
Past contingent (Perfect)
Notes: (a) Perfect in
parentineses indicates the absence or presence of perfect correlating
with NON – PERFECT and PERFECT as required by the sense.
b) Note how with NON-PAST, the contrast Prsent/Past
correlates with (NON-) FACTUAL / COUNTERFACTUAL. Note also how with COUNTERFACTUAL, the obligatory presence of Perfect
correlates with PAST.
c) All forms are in the Indicative, However, in
qualifying clauses introduced by et que ‘and if’, avant
que ;before; jusquύá ce que until (with condition
that is itself ocntingent) etc., the corresponding subjunctive is
various possibilities are illustrated in the examples that follow. First NON FACTUAL, type (i):
94) Je ie connais bien II dira tout cela
know him well
He will say
He way my colleague will have said
Would have said
Next NON – FACTUAL, type (iii):
95) S’il ne rèpondait p & s
n’avait pas encore rèpondu
If he didn’t reply we were not going to wait anymore
hadn’t yet replied would have gained our ends
Next, FACTUAL, type (ii) with the sub-possibiliteis:
96) Tantque je vivraj
je men souviendraj
je l’aurai vu
As long as I live
I shall recall it
I have seen him
Both of these could be cast in the PAST also
97) Quand il voyait le professeur, il cessait de bevarder
vit le professeur, il cessa
voit le professeur, il cesse
‘When he saw the teacher, he stopped chattering
saw the teacher, he stopped
sees the teacher, he stops
the second alternative with the Past Narrative will not admit of the
notion of Repeated occurrence, the first and the third will : Quand
‘when can be replaced
by Chaque fois que ‘Every time when, Whenver; when
repeated occurrence is to
be indicated explicity.
the COUNTERFACTUAL, type (iv) :
98) S’il venait ici,
il verrait un beau spectacle
came/were to come) here he would see
a fine sight
would have seen)
contrast between the FACTUAL (Indicative) and NON-FACTUAL (Subjunctive)
is illustrated in the following examples:
99) Il dormit jusquúá ce que le reveil sonna. ‘He
slept till the alarm clock sounded.’
(Similarly with: dormail … sonnait… (Past Descriptive.);
dort…sonne (Present). (All
three are FACTUAL in character.)
100) II dormirait
jusquúà ce que le reveil sonnait
avait I intention de dormir
would sleep till the alarm clock sounded, (NON
Intended to sleep
FACTUAL: so it is not know whether the alarm clock
actually sounded or not similarly with dorniara somer : a intention
de dormir soane.
101) II travailla
de sorte qu’il rêsait
pour qu’il rêsait
So that he succeeded
(FACTUAL with actual
order that he might succeed)
: NON- FACTUAL with intended result respectively.
completes the survey of the correlations involving finite verb forms. In respect of the Non-Finite verb forms there
are only contrasts of Phase Aspect.
PERFECT Infinitive Participle
PERFECT Infinitive Perfect Participle Participle
Examples have already
turned up (at 2, B examples 14, 14, 17).
It will be seen that the well – entrenched traditional labels
participle present and participle past inappropriately suggest.
These contrasts which are not there, Non-finite verb forms
(other than participate past) can support clause – like phrases and
then typically correlate with TRR (thus pleurantlayant pleure
in example 14; dire/avoir dit in example 16) However
an Infinitive displacing the Finite verb in a sentence (see
examples 112, 117, later) correlated with TR.
Further, Participle present and participle 112, 117, later)
correlates with TR. Further, Participle Present and Participle Past
(better called Participle Non perfect and Participle Completive) are
also used exactly like adjectives describing stable prosperities of
102) On les trouva vivant encore one found
Then still living
(Participle Non perfect),
103) On les trouuva assez éblouissants One found
them rather dazzling
participles as adjectives are typically intransitive and NON-PERFECT
(bouillon example 17, vivants example 102) Completive
participles as adjectives are typically transitive passive, and PERFECT
(enchants in example 103,)or reflexive passive, and PERFECT
fatiguès in example103)
typically certain verbs exhibit special use, so non perfect participles
as adjectives can be transitive, active and NON-PERFECT (èblotissants in
example 103). Completive participles
as adjectives can be (a) intransitive and PERFECT (bouillie
in example 17), (b) intransitive and NON-PERFECT (osés in example
103). Or (c) reflexive, active, and NON-PERFECT (dissembles
in example 103).
a) What are the interpretations
appropriate to the Present (perfect) and the Present Contingent (Perfect)?
First, there is the obvious distinction between NON- CONTINGENT and
CONTINGENT. There is, however,
a derivative interpretation relating to the TR/TC relation.
The Non-Contingent form is typically interpreted as TR simultaneous,
to TC, but when matters are pre-set, leaving no room for a qualification,
the sense TR posterior to TC is also possible.
Cf. example (81) consider also the following:
104) II rentre tout á I’heure
après un an
in a year
The Contingent form on the other hand is typically
interpreted as TR post erior to TC (whence the traditional label ‘Future’);
but the sense TR simultaneous to TC is also possible, when the speaker
does not wish to make an unqualified statement but rather would look
for grounds or conditions.
Le train sera en gare tout a I’heure
‘The train will be in the station
in a moment
When the Contingent is used in the sense TR posterior
tok Tc, the sense of CONTINGENCY is weakened.
105) Quel jour-es-ce demain ? Demain c’est Lundi
What days is it tomorrow?
Tomorrow it is Monday
the second alternative is not noticeably more qualified or contingent
than the first!
The imperative (Perfect) behaves like the Contingent (Perfect) in
the NON-PAST CONTINGENT main clauses.
The imperative may be accompanied by a NON FACTUAL condition.
yourself it anyone attacks you
the condition may be FACTUAL
avani que je retourne
quand on fera l’inspection
Have done with it before I return
when they inspect
parallels examples (100, 96).
108) Faites comme vous voudrez
Do as you wish
Here the alternatives
with comme was voudrez / vondez can be expanded either
as FACTUAL CONTINGENCY:
Comme vous voudrez quand vous voudrez quelque
As you will wish when you wish anything:
Comme vous voudrez si vois voulez quelque chose
As you will wish if you wish anything.
The last of the three alternatives is likely to
be more polite in intention
109) Ne le croyez pas
quand même il vous le jourait
ne le croiriez pas
Don’t you believe
him even if he
swore it to you.’
wouldn’t believe him
Here the condition is COUTERFACTUAL
B. Displaced Correlations: The best format for presenting these will be:
the Notion x which basically manifests itself as the Form Y is manifested
also as Form Z when the displacement is justifiable for reasons W.
X: PAST NARRATIVE
X: Indicative past Narrative (Perfect)
Z: Indicative Present (Perfect): or
W: Dramatic climax cinematic effect.
110) II ouvirt, il posa la lampe, pusil
entra I pieds nus
opened, put down then lamps, and the he
entered barefoot (Dramatic climax)
111) La petite
poussa un cri, le gros livre imba
la pendule Sonna The little one Screamed
the fat book fell the clock struck
choice is between the Past
Narrative throughout or, for cinematic effect, the Present throughout)
this displacement it is as if the “now” is displaced from TC to some
point anterior to TC. An example
with the Infinitive follows.
112) Anisi dit le renard
et flatteurs d’applaudir
‘So said the fox and the flatterers applaud
an Infinitive never begins a narrative span.
This use of the infinitive is obsolescent.
II: X: PAST NARRATIVE
X: Indicative Past Narrative over a cohesion – span
Z: Indicative Past Descriptive over a cohesion – span W: Slow – motion cinematic effect.
113) Co jour-lá, elle partait de bonne heure avec
sa bonne qui lui donnait le bras et portait un plaint.
Pres due cimetiere, elle entrait chez une marchande… La, elle
se reposait quelques instants, puis… elle passit la porte du cimétiere,
Prenait l’allée á gauche du cédre. On that day, there she was leaving
early, with her maid giving her the arm and carrying a folding chair. Near the cemetery, she was visiting a woman shopkeeper… There, she
was resting for a few seconds, then… she was passing the gate of the
cemetery and taking the alley on the left of the cedar – tree.. (Gustave
Flaubert, Un coeus simple. Note the Progressive in the English version. In English one could also say on that day,
you could have seen her leaving early.).
X: PERFECT (TRR anterior to TR)
X: Perfect; or venir de
W: Exaggerating recency
114) II est arrivé de Paris.,
‘He is come from Paris
115) Elle était sortie due couvent lorsqu’il la vit/
venait de sortir
had just come out of the convent when he caught sight of her.
this displacement, it is as if TRR anterior to TR is displaced to
TRR simultaneous to TR. In
the next. TRR posterior to TR is displaced
to TRR simultaneous to TR.
X: NON PAST CONTINGENT
in a main clause
Y: Indicative Present Contingent; or aller;
or devoir in
Z: Indicative Present, or Infinitive
W: Exaggerating Imminence
116) Ne vous en allez pass j’arriverai dans us instant
Don’t go away I’ll come in a moment
I’ll have finished
I have finished
117) Que répondra – t – on á cela?
Répond – ton
How will one reply to that?
Does one/ is one to reply
X: PAST CONTINGENT in a main sentences;
NON-PAST CONTINGENT COUNTERFACTUAL
In a main sentence.
Y: Past Contingent (Perfect): aller
or devoir in Past Descriptive
Past Descriptive (Perfect), past Descriptive
W: Minimizing Contingency
118) Un pas de plus et je tomberais dans Fabime
I je serais tombe
One more step and:
I would fail in the abyss
I would have fallen
Displacement VI X: NON PAST CONTINGENT COUNTERFACTUAL
Y: Past Descriptive
Z: Past Contingent
W: Concessional clause introduced by quand
(meme) que to even
If – for Emphasizing Coutnerfactuality
119) Vous ne le croiriez pas, quand meme
il vous le
jurait you wouldn’t
believe him, even if he swore over it to
X: PAST CONTINGENT COUNTERFACTUAL
Y: Past Contingent Perfect in the main sentence;
Descriptive perfect in the condition.
Z: Past Subjunctive Perfect in either ease
W: More elegant
120) Si on
I avait attauqé, il se serait
I’ eût attaqué. Il se fût
anyone had attacked him, he would have defended himself.
X: CONTINGENT, command
Y: Imperative (Perfect)
Z: Indicative Present Contingent (Prefect)
W: Minimizing contingency as in divine or
Commands or official edicts.
121) Ne tue point
ne tueras point
Thou shall not kill
4) Points of Comparison with English:
a full-scale comparison, a description of the English system of forms,
notions, and their correlations will have to be attempted first before
one can formulate correlative formulas of the following sort:
French Notion →
ii) English form → English Notion → French
→ French From.
each case the first arrow stands for transportation the second for
correlation, and the third for manifestation.
we shall do here in stead is to bring together some observations on
points of comparison that will have emerged in comparing the French
examples with their English glosses.
(a) French contrasts Past Descriptive and Past
Narrative. English has no
such contrasts (examples 37/50, 46/47), though some compensatory mechanisms
are available (progressive in 41, 44 but not in 36, 38, cf also 61). Thus, Displacement II has an English parallel
(example 113). See also (c)
(b) French Past narrative and Present Perfect fall
together formally in colloquial style.
English maintains a clear contrast between Pasti Non-perfect
and present perfect.
(c) French uses etre in train de for ‘For the time
being’ springly. English uses
the Progressive freely for definitely identified occurrences in the
senses ‘For the time being’, ‘Repeatedly’ ‘Over a length of time’.
And, colloquially, ‘Imminent Posteriority’. In the first three sense. French
has Past Descriptive in the PAST examples 21 to 25, 40, 41). English prefers the Progressive for short-term
descriptions (examples 24, 25, 41, 44) and the Non-Progressive for
long – term descriptions (examples 21, 22, 40, 4). French has no such distinction.
For the fourth sense of imminent posteriori (he is/was coming
in a minute, cf. also example 104) French has no real parallel
but falls back on Prospective constructions.
(d) French treats ‘Time Up to’ as NON-PERFECT;
English uses Perfect or Perfect Progressive (example 20).
(e)French venir de has no direct counterpart
in English. French aller
and English be going to are parallel, as are to some extent
French devoir and English be to, should, ought in
the sense likely to follow Ci also the use of the Progressive (see
(f) French Present and Past Contingent (perfect
(parallel English will/would (+ Perfect) in the sense of contingent
infer ability. But note the
lack of parallelism in the following:
122) ii ne restera pas
He won’t stay
ne veut pass rester
Here the English distinguishes between the unaccented
will of prediction and the accented will of prediction from the agent’s
known will and dispostion.
123) Je vais
Souvent le vour
I will go
see him often
the unaccented will is used for Repeatedly occurrence (Compare examples
examples 74, 75, 96 the clause of prospective factual condition has
Present or Past contingent in French but Present or Past without will
(g) French Displacement
I for the dramatic presentation of the PAST is much more freely used
than the parallel English displacement.
The same is the case with Displacement III. The French dramatic
Infinitive (example 112) has no parallel in English.
(h) Displacement IV and
the use of Present for pre-set future ($ . A. Observations, a) have
close parallels in English/
(i) Displacements V, VI
and VII have no exact English parallels.
(j) Displacement VIII
is paralleled by the use of will and shall in English. French uses it more sparingly.
(k) While French uses
Indicative Present for TC in certain co instructions, kept separate
from TR ($ 2.A. Observations, b) English usually assimilates the tense
to the main tense (was comes more naturally than is in examples 7,
8, 10 cf also 9).
5) Pedagogical Implications:
observations may be brought together that will be useful in teaching
French Tense, Aspect, and Contingency – Mood.
Translation rules of the kind visualized at the beginning of the last
section have their place not in the beginner’s class0room but either
as contrastive observations that help one to design the course sequence
so as to minimize the need for later remedial work (prevention is
so much better than cure) or as teaching points in an advanced translation
course where the learner can be assumed
to have achieved the basic fluency or automaticity of basic
In more positive terms, teach the central French system (§ 3.A) as
such in the beginner’s classroom. Don’t worry the learner at that
stage with the correlations with the filter language, say, English
or Hindi. Don’t worry about the interpretation of specific
forms – the usual text-book treatment in terms of the uses of the
Present, on the Past Narrative,
and so forth gives a fragmentary view thoroughly obscuring the overall
view. Don’t confuse the earner with displaced correlations,
which had better wait for a later stage.
Within the central system, introduce the central paradigm of forms
(to be internalized as fluent response) will the minimum of notional
apparatus. That is, basic correlations are introduced
as interpretations of forms. Then
the fuller picture be introduced in terms of correlations presented
as manifestations of the notional apparatus.
Isolate one variable at a time as the notional correlations are introduced.
Presenting examples in sets of parallel and contrasting sets is more
useful at the beginning (cf. examples 1,2,3,11,12, 13 which constitute
a set). Presenting telling examples selected from live
speech context or literature (of. Examples 4,5,7,42, 45, 54) is more
useful later in contextual zing the apparatus of forms and notions
(Note the use of braces and diagonal dashes in the examples.) Displacement examples should be introduced in conjunction with examples
with out displacement.
Degree or grammaticality must not be confused with degree of frequency
of usage. Thus, the so called ‘Temps surcomposés; (colloquial versions
of Present Contingent Perfect, Past Descriptive Perfect, Past Narrative
Perfect) are semi-grammatical while the subjunctive Perfects have
lower frequency. (By semi – grammatical expressions we mean those
that are permitted or tolerated but eh grammar rather than enjoyed
The notional collocations serve to render more palpable the abstract
notional contrasts – the selection of a verb form goes with certain
adverbials (e.g. Perfect with déjá) with expressed and
implied grounds and qualifying conditions (e.g. the use of Contingent
and the parenthesized portions in examples 71 to 77 the paraphrase
relationships between 83 and 85.84 and 86), Bringing out paraphrase
relationships is in general useful
pedagogically for the same purpose (e.g. examples 71 and 88, 89 and
h) This analysis can also
serve the purpose of a stylistic analysis of discourse. The notions of cohesion spans and their catenation (one after the
other, one within he other) and the classification of cohesions (description
vs. narration; past, present, and future) and non-cohesion (background,
commentary, and reported speech) are obviously relevant to discourse
i) The notion of style
involves the motion of selection between alternatives.
Examples of such situations offering the possibility of a choice
Placement of span boundary.
Presenting content as
description or narration (cf. Examples 55-58, 65-69).
Cohesion or non cohesion (cf. Examples 37, 50)
/ TR relation versus TR2/TR1 relation (cf. examples 15, 27 versus
Placement of TRR
and TR (cf. examples 15, 27)
/ TR relation versus TR/TC relation (cf. examples 30, 31, 322 versus
Vs. NON CONTINGENT, Past Contingent vs. Present Contingent (the former
is often selected as less assertive and therefore more polite, cf.
2. D Observations, a).
of forms in the main paradigm versus forms in the supplementary paradigm
introducing finer notional distinctions (§ 1 Observations c). Use
of basic manifestations versus displaced manifestations (3.B.)
R. V. 1974 Mood tense, and aspect in English and Marathi. U. of Poona,
Ph. D. diss. (Coimpleted under the present author’s supervision).
Mansion, J.E. 1919.
A Grammar of present – day French. London : Harrap.
Schaefer. Carl. F. 1968 : Temporal order and time-relations. MS.
am indebted to Mansion 1919 for authentic examples and preliminary
sorting out that is much better than in most traditional grammars;
to Schaefer 1968 for the notion of predication types, the distinction
between narration versus description, and the notion of interrupting
narration; to Raymond Doctor (Ferguson College, Pune; personal communication)
for useful discussion and checking and suggesting examples.
preliminary version was presented
orally at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages,
Hyderabad on 4th March, 1976.
was published in Indian Linguistics 9. 104-35, 1978.