Translating the imparfait - "used to?"

I am getting quite frustrated with the exercises on the imparfait. I know the meaning it conveys: a habitual action in the past over a period of time, as opposed to a one-time action in the past, for which the passé composé would be used.

The problem is that it seems DL demands that I use the phrase "used to" in translations, even where it sounds unnatural to me. For example, for one sentence, the "correct" solution is "Grandma, what did you use to do when you were young?" - this just sounds weird to me. I would much rather phrase it "...what would you do..." or simply "...what did you do..." but both of these are marked wrong. It seems that the "when you were young" already establishes that this is in the past, over a period of time, and so the meaning of the imparfait is already conveyed without using the awkward construction "used to."

Is there something I'm missing here?

January 30, 2019


it seems DL demands that I use the phrase "used to" in translations

Not always. After I read your post I did a ten-point imperfect past skillset. Some were multiple-choice questions and some were translations from English to French. For the ones that were French-to-English translations, I was able to translate them without using the phrase "used to" on any of them.

Here are my answers for all those, and they were all counted correct, although some had an alternative suggestion:

It was the same shirt that you wore yesterday

The teachers saw their students on that day.

But I had to do it every day

She wore a red hat

I wanted red shoes

She came alone

He saw no one

They never wanted my photo

In my youth, I wanted this car

I often saw my nephew

She thought that I was her boyfriend

They thought of their children

You came to see me

Day after day, she did not want to eat

I suggest that if you get one that you feel was translated properly by you but was marked incorrect, then report it. Click on "my answer should be accepted." You'll eventually get an email from duolingo saying that your answer is now accepted. I get a few of these every week. Sometimes they take a long time, but eventually (in all languages) I get the email that says that my response is now accepted.

January 30, 2019

You have an older version of the French tree than the OP.

January 31, 2019

Lots of versions out there. They kept threatening to update all of us, but it hasn't happened yet. I wish they would.

Still, you'd think that all the "my answer should be accepted" reports that got addressed would have affected changes which carry over into the newer versions. No need to reinvent that wheel every time.

January 31, 2019

They do carry over. I just think it's not surprising that you, with an older tree, might not encounter an issue that someone with a new (and huge) tree is encountering. I suspect that the missing translations aspect of this problem is largely with the newly-introduced sentences.

Can't say I understand why a course should accept phrasing like "the car of my brother." The chances that a native English speaker would spontaneously generate such a thing seem negligible at best. Anyone using this as a reverse tree seems particularly poorly served by this. Contributor time is a scarce resource that could be better spent elsewhere (and that goes for Spanish and German contributor time, too, who presumably have to delete more nuisance reports of this type than they would otherwise).

January 31, 2019

The French course accepts car of my brother, presumably, because it is a correct translation into the English language. I will continue to encourage the OP to report omitted correct answers. Such reports are hardly nuisances, and they help everyone, contributors included. They help learners by mitigating distractions--and such inflexibility does amount to a distraction as evidenced by this thread and many others like it--they help duolingo because they identify omissions, and they help contributors because when users identify legitimate alternatives it relieves them of the burden of conceiving every possible translation themselves.

Also, today I got four email (all regarding Spanish lessons) saying my sentences are now accepted. I kinda feel bad for saying they were unresponsive earlier, so I deleted that part of my post. They are clearly being responsive today.

January 31, 2019

I'm all for reporting correct, idiomatic translations :)

February 1, 2019

I suspect that the missing translations aspect of this problem is largely with the newly-introduced sentences.

This is true. The sentence that the OP is referring to is not written by a contributor. Accepted translations of a sentence are not tree-dependent.

January 31, 2019

You're not missing anything, it's just the Duolingo's stubborn way. And it's the same with the Spanish corresponding tense, I'm tired of writing "used to" there.

January 30, 2019

Yeah, I think sentences like that push (or just push right on through) the bounds of grammaticality. I don't like "used to" with time references.

There might be dialect differences on this point (anybody want to say that something like "What did you use to do last winter?" sounds fine to them?), but the least they should do when using a grammatically questionable suggested translation is include the requisite alternative structures.

Overusing "used to" could give learners the impression that the imparfais is rarer or more restricted than it actually is. Based on what I've seen, I'd prefer a less-"used to" approach.

January 31, 2019

Very good explanation here:

In particular the explanation of the difference between the passé composé and the imparfait is very insightful. Even though that isn't exactly what you asked for, it goes into depth about how the imparfait is used, and why it is distinct from the passé composé.

February 1, 2019

I remember that lesson and I agree it was really frustrating, especially because they would accept something other than "used to" for some sentences and then ding you for not using "used to" in sentences which are almost identical. I just remembered which ones wanted "used to" specifically. I get that Duolingo probably did this because it wants to point out the distinction between the imperfect and compound past more broadly, but it does kind of deter people from practicing...

January 30, 2019
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