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  5. "Je nettoyais ma voiture quan…

"Je nettoyais ma voiture quand j'ai entendu ton chien."

Translation:I was cleaning my car when I heard your dog.

April 14, 2018



I typed "was washing" as a translation for "nettoyais" and it was marked wrong. I then typed "was cleaning" for nettoyais", and it was marked correct. Does "nettoyer" imply cleaning the interior of the car, or vacuuming it?


"Nettoyer" is "to clean". Nothing more specific than that. You can assume the cleaning process or location, but it wouldn't be an accurate translation.

"Laver la voiture" is "to wash the car".


The odd thing about it is that in English, we say "wash the car", not "clean the car". So maybe the person who wrote the sentence either doesn't own a car and therefore knows nothing about whether one washes it or cleans it, or has abandoned any concern for what happens in the real world in favor of plugging in various words to form a grammatical sentence.


I would say "clean" for clearing out junk and vacuuming the interior. (I also put "wash" and was marked wrong, so you and I think alike.)


Same set: Past Imperfect Level 0, 5/5:

I was encountering Imperfect past as either "used to ..." or just the past tense in English and read some comment sections (still in level 0, 5/5) where the imperfect does not translate to the past progressive, the exercise I encountered before this said that I should put "used to ..." when I put the simple past. Now this was saying the past progressive rather than "used to..." I now have trust issues.


Always examine the context and translate with this context in mind.

Just because a verb is in the French imperfect doesn't mean it has to be continuous past or a habitual past action or something else in English. The "cleaning" here is an ongoing action when it is interrupted by another action: "heard". This is clearly a continuous past translation in English.

"I used to clean my car when I heard your dog" does not mean anything.


Hi, Aron. The various uses of the French imperfect tense are a real challenge to most learners. Simply put, there is no cookie-cutter approach that is going to work 100% of the time. Context influences everything. In general, it is used to describe 1) an action in progress in the past or 2) a habitual/repeated past action. For the first category, there is no reference to time, no information about when the action started or ended at all -- it is just an action in progress. In the second case, there is often (but not always) a clue that indicates it may be a repeated action. Please read the Tips & Notes for this section on your browser. Here is an overview.

  • An action was in progress in the past at the same time as another action: e.g., Il lisait un livre pendant qu'elle écrivait une lettre. He was reading a book while she was writing a letter. Note that there are two actions going on in the past concurrently. It is not a correct use of the Imperfect to refer to a single action in the past, ongoing or not, such as, "Il lisait un livre." In such case, the Passé Composé should be used.
  • An action was in progress in the past when another action occurred: e.g., Nous mangions le dîner quand ils sont arrivés. We were eating dinner when they arrived. Note the first action was going on (in progress) (imperfect tense) when another action occurred (Passé Composé).
  • An action that a person did habitually in the past: e.g. Les enfants allaient à la plage tous les jours. The children used to go to the beach every day. Note that the use of the Imperfect in this expression without reference to another action occurring either concurrently or while a first action was in progress compels an interpretation of a habitual action, so they "used to go...." which carries the sense of the habitual action into the English.
  • A description of a mental or physical condition or state in the past: e.g., Elle n'était pas malade quand je l'ai vue. She was not sick when I saw her. It may also be used in the sense of setting a scene, e.g., C'était une soirée tranquille. It was a peaceful evening. This use of the imperfect tense is common.
  • An action or state of being that occurred in the past and lasted for a certain length of time prior to another past action: e.g., J'attendais l'autobus depuis dix minutes quand il est arrivé. I waited for the bus for ten minutes when it arrived. Note the action taking place in the past prior to another past action.
  • To tell time of day or express age in the past: Il était sept heures et demie. It was seven-thirty p.m. Elle avait dix-huit ans. She was 18 years old.

Source: *Barron's "501 French Verbs". For the best description of the difference between imperfect and Passé composé, take a look here: https://languagecenter.cla.umn.edu/lc/FrenchSite1022/FirstVERBS.html


Why not "I cleaned my car when I heard your dog?"


The point of the imperfect (je nettoyais) is to indicate a past action that has no beginning or end. Combined with "quand" + passé composé, the sentence indicates an ongoing action that is interrupted. So: "I was cleaning my car when I heard your dog." Your translation indicates that there is an order in which the actions took place. You heard the dog, then you cleaned the car. This is not what the French sentence means.

I invite you to read about the difference in past tenses, if you're interested:


Does anyone know how I can distinguish Entendu & Attendu in this case?


why have "j'ai" when "je" is the translation


Please clarify. Both "je" and "j'ai" are in the translation.


How would you express "i would clean my car when i heard your dog"? Obviously, this sentence in particular is hard to see any utility in. But we could use the same tense-formula for, say, pavlovs dogs: "the dogs would salivate when they heard the bell." This refers not to an ongoing action interrupted by a discrete event, but a tendency of behavior that would be performed in response to a discrete event. Thanks in advance


This refers not to an ongoing action interrupted by a discrete event, but a tendency of behavior that would be performed in response to a discrete event.

Using that context, the discrete event should be expressed using the present tense, if the other clause is using the conditional. And because it's conditional, I consider the "when" with the meaning of "if".

  • I would clean my car when I hear your dog.

If you want to keep the discrete event in the past tense, the proper conditional form in the other clause should be the conditional past:

  • I would have cleaned my car when I heard your dog.

Translating to French,

  • I would clean my car when I hear your dog = Je nettoyerais ma voiture si j'entendais ton chien.
  • I would have cleaned my car when I heard your dog = J'aurais nettoyé ma voiture si j'avais entendu ton chien.


Thank you very much for your response. You've given me a lot to chew on here.

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