Source of Confusion When Translating Past Tenses in the English --> French Tree
I think I recognize a source of confusion for English speakers who are learning French.
Today, I was working on the Past Imperfect, and DL marked the following sentences wrong: She didn’t see me/She wasn’t looking at me (Elle ne me regardait pas) We didn’t say anything to our cousin/We weren’t saying anything to our cousin (Nous ne disions pas a notre cousine) You watched TV/You were watching TV (Tu regardais le television)
I wouldn’t have a problem with this if I were working on my French-->English tree. Both English translations are accepted there. This, however, was happening in my English-->French tree. This is where I have the problem.
According to the [Grammar Notes for the Past Imperfect (https://www.duolingo.com/skill/fr/Verbs%3A-Past-Imperfect), the English preterit overlaps with both French past tenses. In English, we use the present perfect to denote: Past actions that have an effect on the present Something that has started in the past but isn’t finished yet Actions that have occurred between the past and now, but the exact time is not specified Actions that have been occurred very recently (used with “just”)
When writing sentences in the past tense, Duolingo seems to structure their French-language sentences without specifying a time frame. According to English grammar rules, this would imply that the present perfect is needed every time. English speakers, however, default to a preterit without a context for dynamic verbs.
Perhaps one way to end the confusion is for DL to specify the context when writing French-language sentences in the past tense. Specifying the time frame will indicate which English tense to use. (One bonus: It would give us extra vocabulary and grammar to practice.)
In the Compound Past units 1&2, all French sentences and all translations from English to French are in compound past. Similarly, in the Past Imperfect, all French sentences and all translations from English to French are in Past Imperfect.
Depending on the English verb and on the meaning of the whole sentence, other English or French tenses can be accepted if the lack of context allows for variants in meaning.
We had to adopt conventions for translations, both ways, recognizing it is not a perfect world and that contemporary English clearly favors the past simple tense for a large array of meanings with appropriate context support to add nuances, while short sentences used on Duolingo often do not allow for enough context. In particular, forms with "used to" or "would" to express past repeated actions or habits are not much in use in real life, but we use them to point to their French equivalent, which is the past imperfect.
- She didn’t see me (stative verb) = This is past simple for a past, one-time and complete event = Elle ne m'a pas vu(e), in passé composé.
--- "Elle ne me voyait pas", in imperfect, cannot back translate to "she was not seeing me" because of the change in meaning, but this French sentence means "During the whole time, she was unable to see me" (past, on-going "action") OR "I used to gesture, but she would never see me" (repetition/habit).
She did not look at me = This is past simple for a past, one-time and complete event = Elle ne m'a pas regardé(e)
She wasn’t looking at me = This is past continuous for a past, on-going action = Elle ne me regardait pas, in imparfait.
She used to not look at me = This is a habit = Elle ne me regardait pas, in imperfect
We didn’t say anything to our cousin = This is past simple for a past, one-time and complete event = Nous n'avons rien dit à notre cousin(e), in passé composé.
We weren’t saying anything to our cousin = This is past continuous for a past, on-going action = Nous ne disions rien à notre cousin(e), in imparfait.
We used to not say anything to our cousin = This is a habit = Nous ne disions rien à notre cousin(e), in imperfect
You watched TV = This is past simple for a past, one-time and complete event = Vous avez regardé la télé / Tu as regardé la télé, in passé composé.
You were watching TV = This is past continuous for a past, on-going action = Vous regardiez la télé / Tu regardais la télé, in imparfait.
You used to watch TV = this is a habit = Vous regardiez la télé / Tu regardais la télé, in imperfect.
I agree but, I have asked my French teacher in school about french verbs in the past tense, and she told me that there are two ways to say the past tense, one way that you use in literature, and one other way that you use to speak with. She said that the literature way is harder as it is less like English by using past tense verbs that are not the simple past tense verbs that you use for speaking. These verbs are also paired in literature with another French word to make it a proper sentence. When speaking, you are to use a different type of verb altogether which is the simple past tense verb. I think I also remember her saying that you also pair it with a present tense word to make the sentence make sense but I don't really remember everything that well. I also think that it would be hard for DL to convey this into a way where English speakers would not be confused because, every language is different, so you can't expect a perfect, direct translation from DL.
I'm a little confused by your post overall, there are many more than 2 forms of the past tense, the two being discussed here are past imperfect and compound past, which each have different uses in french where they must be used over the other, but the form that is used mainly only in literature is the simple past form, I suspect that is what your teacher was talking about.
I believe it used to be spoken but it isn't usual these days, it is still written in literature like she said though, if you read french novels you will see it, and also when I play video games with french translations I see it fairly often. It is not taught on duolingo, however.