Translation:The coats that they had are too small.
There's something strange about this sentence: "the coats they HAD ARE too small". It goes from the past to the present in a weird way. If not strictly grammatically incorrect, it's certainly a weird sentence.
I put "the coats they had WERE too small" and got it marked wrong.Should have translated it literally I guess, but Is the French here a normal sounding sentence?
I forgot all about this terrible sentence. Every time I look at it I feel queasy. Anyhow,
I don't think your sentence above works because, presumably they still have the coats now (albeit they are too small). So to say they had the coats, when they still have them now doesn't work. Or if they no longer have the coats you would use "were" not "are".
If I am going out without a coat and my friend says "don't you have a coat?" I wouldn't reply "I had a coat (last year) but it is too small (this year)". I would either reply:
"I have a coat, but it is too small" (I still have it, but it is now too small to wear)
"I had a coat but it was too small" (I no longer have it. I binned it because it was too small).
It's not grammatically incorrect per se, but we have to think of it as implying some other information:
Q: Why aren't they wearing the coats that they had last year? A: The coats that they had (then) are too small (now). (They're still in the closet, but we should probably get rid of them.)
The coats that they had with them when they arrived are too small (for us). (They don't have them anymore. We do.)
As for the French, there's also the possibility that it refers to "the coats that they got", as suggested by the following Duolingo sentence (which you've seen already):
Passé composé are used to describe actions which are completed in the past. We must assume that they no longer have the coats. With imperfect, which assumes continuation, the sentence would be: "Les manteaux qu'ils avaient sont trop petits". They once had the coats, no they don't. The coats themselves are a different story – they are too small, but we don't know if they were too small when they had them. (http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/passecompose.htm)
If they still have them and Now they're too small; The coats that they had are too small 'now'. Duo, however, does not allow this because 'now' isn't in the French- but it should be to make this sentence work. Who knows, maybe a French citizen can help explain Why & how this sentence works. For now I can't get past what seems to be the utter violation of tenses. Is there a scholar in the house?
Well, as I said above, I don't think it's technically incorrect. It's simply a very weird sentence. Would you say the job I had WAS good. Or the job I had IS good. You'd say the former 99 times out of a hundred wouldn't you? To say the latter, you'd need a very contrived situation:
Person A: I'm applying for your old job, is it any good?
Person B: Yes, the job I had is good
Even in that example it sounds weird. If you can come up with a natural sounding context for The coats that they have had are too small I will (figuratively) shake your hand.
Well, English speakers tend to fall into what's called a tense trap in which we think we are supposed to follow the beginning tense of the sentence, which is not entirely true. We DO combine the present and past, quite frequently. The first example of yours goes without saying. We'd naturally say 'The job I had was good'. (I do not currently have this job.) But we can also say something like, 'The reason I DID not buy lunch there IS because the line IS long.' (The line is still currently long.) See what I mean? Something happened in the past that still occurs in the present. So although that was a sneaky, sneaky way for Duo to introduce past and present in the same sentence, it still is, I believe, technically correct. That said, I entered the same translation as you did. :P
Sorry, I still don't agree. "The reason I did not buy lunch there is because the line is long" is incorrect, even if the line IS still long. It's been a long time since I've had to chart a sentence, so mea culpa if I'm wrong, but I believe "I did not buy lunch there" is a subordinate clause (so it need only be internally consistent) to the main sentence "The reason ... was because the line was too long" or "The reason ... is because the line is too long." They both make sense, they are both correct and you can plug the subordinate clause into either with no problem. But you can't mix the tenses within the main sentence.
For example, let's assume Person B has gone coat shopping at Macy's on several occasions in the past.
Person A: Have you bought a coat from Macy's yet?
Person B: No. The coats that they have had are too small.
This is technically correct because there is no reason to assume the coats are not still too small. However, I think this sounds very un-natural and the example is quite contrived.
If Person B said "were" that would technically imply he isn't sure whether or not the coats are still too small. For example, let's assume that Person B has gone coat shopping at Macy's on several occasions in the past but not since losing 100 lbs.
Person A: Have you bought a coat from Macy's yet?
Person B: No. The coats that they have had were too small.
Again, I think that while this is technically correct it is very weird. It would be more natural to say "The coats that they have had were always too small."
Do I get a handshake?
Well,... you said yourself the sentences sound weird. I'm not sure that's your fault, though. Looking again at the original sentence I don't think it is correct at all.It uses the present perfect, which is used to describe an event which started in the past, but is still true now. Therefore I think the issue here we've overlooked is it needs a marker of time
"John and Mary have had those coats since last week"
"The coats they have had since last week are too small"
That's the correct sentence! Only took took us about six months to get there. Thanks for your help.
Bien fait! "The coats they have had since last week are too small" is fine because the inference is that they still have the coats. Without the qualification of "since last week" , one would have to assume that the said coats were in the past and hence the dissonance with the present tense. The verb "have " is strange as it is used as an auxiliary as well as a main verb.
So, to bottom line this: I went to buy a coat yesterday. I did not buy a coat yesterday. My reason? The coats were too small. I am telling you this story now. The coats are still there, and they are still too small. I can see that. Thanks. I don't mind being wrong- I prefer education over ego. Onward...
I'm sorry if I'm being pedantic, but I had to do some research on this. I found a website with an excellent explanation here: http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/presentperfect.html. The short version is that "have had" is the Present Perfect tense in English (your French may vary). So, although "The coasts that they have had are too small" may sound strange (actually it sounds fine to me), it is correct because "have had" and "are" are both present tense. "The coats that they have had were always too small" is incorrect because it mixes tenses. "The coats that they had were always too small" is fine because "had" and "were" agree.
The present perfect is at least a present tense, though it's not the simple present. It combines present tense with perfective aspect. There are several present tenses, or, perhaps to put it more accurately, the present tense comes in several aspects.
I am a native speaker of English who has no issues with this sentence. Perhaps it will help if I share how I see this:
If I went to the store to buy a coat but came back without one, I might say when questioned later: "The coats they had are too small." It's the next day, and they might or might not still have the coats I saw when there; I don't know. I just know I went there in the past, and when I did the coats they had [yesterday or last week] are too small for me [because I'm still the same size I was then].