"He went to buy a car" is the translation for "il est allé acheter une voiture". In both languages, this means that this person moved from one place to another and then bought a car.
"Il allait acheter une voiture" is the past for "il va acheter une voiture": in both cases it is a near future where "allait/va" does not imply a move from one place to another.
Il va acheter une voiture = he is going to buy a car (he will buy a car soon).
Il allait acheter une voiture = he was going to buy a car (he was about to buy a car soon).
I do still disagree with you here. When one is about to buy a car, the check book is out or the bank has pre-approved or the situation is really in progress pretty far. That is past tense also at this point. However if someone went to buy a car and then was hit by a bus, the "went to by a car" is past progressive and the "hit by a car" is passé compose in my opinion. Being about to do something is really different, I think. Example might help one of us make it clearer to the other: I was sitting in the corridor (when the explosion of voices occurred.) "Was sitting" is imperfect, correct? I was about to sit is something else again. Every action, even an incomplete process is past tense even with imperfect, correct? So the wording here has again made things maybe too difficult for the meaning?
The past progressive would be "was going to buy a car", an action in progress and interrupted by the bus hitting him.
To be sitting in a corridor is a state of being, not an action. An action is "to sit down". So in French imperfect: "j'étais assis(e)" (state) vs "je m'asseyais" (action in progress).
I was about to sit (down) = j'allais m'asseoir.
"I was sitting in the corridor (when the explosion of voices occurred) = j'étais assis(e) dans le couloir (quand les éclats de voix se sont produites).
I think you could contest it.
The basic logic is that "He went to buy a car" is a one-shot, completed action, and that is translated using the passé composé.
The imparfait is used for happenings in the past that were repeated or incomplete or ongoing in some way. http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/imperfect.htm
Having said all that, there are ways to interpret "He went to buy a car" that would call for the imparfait - The billionaire believed in retail therapy; he went to buy a car whenever he was sad, and always felt much better."
Mostly, DL has been accepting either passé composé or imparfait as a translation for English simple past, and vice versa, but it is important to understand the limitations on simple past/imparfait.
It's a toss-up. They can accept simple past for either French past tense, which to a great extent obscures the difference between the French tenses, making it harder for learners to grasp, or they can not accept it for imparfait, which means some few legitimate interpretations will be disallowed, which will inevitably be confusing for learners as well.
It is not precise to just say the imperfect refers to an incomplete action, but simply that the action was "in progress" at the time. It does not address what went on before or what happened after, only that at that moment, he was going to buy a car. Here is a link which explains this concept thoroughly. https://languagecenter.cla.umn.edu/lc/FrenchSite1022/FirstVERBS.html
You've added a verb. I believe your sentence would be "Il allait aller acheter une voiture."
Both English and French use "going to"/"aller" as both a verb describing motion toward something and an auxiliary describing an intention.
"I was going to the market" = "J'allais au marché"
"I was going to buy an apple" = "J'allais acheter une pomme"
Your sentence uses the word in both senses.
I also got this wrong with - "he went to buy a car" at first. But then I thought about this in Polish and a more likely translation would be that he 'intended' to buy a car instead of physically moving to buy a a car. Which would make sense as to why "he was going to buy a car" as the only viable english translation. Signifying his intent rather than displacement. Does using "allait acheter" signify intent to buy or having moved to buy; or can it mean both in French? It would be good to get Madame Sitesurf or Monsieur Cadhillac to comment here.
In English the statement "he was going to buy a car", implies he wanted to buy a car but we don't know if he did. "He went to buy a car" is a bit more concrete. He has gone out and intends to buy a car.
I just wish someone french could give a meaning. Maybe french is a little more precise here.
Thanks very much for responding Sitesurf, I'm trying to understand your explanation.....but future tense in a past context? Can you see why I find this particular sentence ambiguous and am struggling with it?! ;]
The addition of "Hier" makes it clearly past, the addition of "Maintenant" makes it clearly present....but without either of those qualifiers it still sounds like the present to me.
English IS my first language, but the teaching of grammar terminology was woefully absent at my UK Grammar School in the 70's :[
I think we got different versions of the sentence, but if you got something like "He would go to buy a car..." for "Il allait acheter..." then NO, Duo is using "would go" to mean "used to go"-- with "would" as a modal/habitual past tense of "will"-- to translate the French past imperfect. VERY confusing and unhelpful on Duo's part, imho.
Marie, I think you're right. Fowler's Modern English says: 'The idiom try and do something is described as colloquial for try to do something. It's use is probably commonest in exhortations and promises ... in exhortations it implies encouragement ... in promises it implies assurance .... It is an idiom that should not be discountenanced, but used when it comes natural.' In the above sentence there is neither exhortation nor assurance so we should be saying to and not using the idiom. Of course I'm assuming the try idiom applies by analogy to go.
Can this sentence have two completely different meanings?
The translation given here, "He was going to buy a car" means something like "he intended to buy a car, but then he didn't", whereas we are practicing the tense with the meaning "he used to/would buy a car" (as in "whenever he had a lot of money, he used to/would buy a car").
As in English, the French future can be expressed as "il va acheter une voiture" (he's going to buy a car), so is this also used as the past continuous, as shown here?
Along with many others I put - he went to buy a car. I knew allait is the imparfait and that usually means a regular event or an event where the start and end aren’t clear cut but translating it as he used to go to buy a car didn’t make sense so I chose he went as, without any other context, this seemed the only sensible translation. I was marked wrong and told the correct answer should be “ he would go buy a car “. As a stand alone sentence this isn’t English. Would is conditional but this is past so, in English, you could say he would have gone to buy a car - but in French that would be il serait allé ....... He would go to buy a car is present conditional, so il irait ...... But il allait is past tense. So I don’t think DL should say “he would go buy a car” as a correct english translation. I also think in English “went” is far more flexible than DL thinks. It can mean a one off journey, it can mean a regular event - he went there every Saturday, or it can mean an event without a clear end - he went to buy a car but never arrived at the garage. I also think “he was going” can suggest either a one off or a regular event. If DL wants to test our knowledge if the different French past tenses it should use sentences with better context.
Although it can be used as part of the conditional, "would" is very often used to help form a past tense.
Remember, conditional requires two clauses, an "if" clause (hypothesis) and a "would" clause (apodosis). There is no "if" clause in this sentence, so it isn't the conditional, but rather a past tense.
Here's a short summary if you want to refresh your memory about English conditional mood:
At any rate, I think it's premature to talk about conditional forms, since they don't come up for a while, at least on my Tree.
Its just important to remember that "would" is commonly used to talk about habitual actions in the past, as is the imparfait. It can also give a sense of "future in the past" which also might get at what this sentence means.
You can proceed by elimination with the things you already know:
- "aller" is an infinitive you would not find after a subject pronoun.
- "allez" is conjugated in present tense, but only with "vous" as the subject.
- "allait" is conjugated, has the correct conjugation for a 3rd person singular subject, therefore it is the one you are looking for.
You will need to differentiate the acute sound é vs the grave sound è. Maybe enter "aller" and "allait" side by side on Google translate to hear the difference.