Table of Contents
§41. Special Future and Conditional Stems
The Author here lists verbs, the infinitives of which go through some slight changes when they are used as the future-conditional stem. For the most part, some trace of the original infinitive form still remains, so it is easy enough to learn these new ones. It is not difficult to see why they changed as they did, if you keep in mind a few standard sound changes.
- Vowels can change in a variety of ways, particularly as a result of whether they are accented or not. Sometimes vowels disappear altogether.
- Consonants can go through various transformations, most of which serve to facilitate pronunciation.
So, in the case of avoir > aur-:
- The diphtongue oi disappears altogether;
- so that the v ends up against the r. A v in this position can “turn into” the semi-vowel [w], written as u; that’s how you get aur-.
In the case of tenir > tiendr-, venir > viendr-:
- The –e– of the root syllable, when stressed, became a diphthong –ie– 1 ; the –i– of the infinitive ending was lost;
- To ease getting form the n to the r (both dental consonants), a d was added.
In the case of vouloir > voudr-, valoir > vaudr-, falloir > faudr-:
- The –oi– disappeared, leaving l and r (both dental consonants) together;
- For ease of getting from the l to the r, the d was added; subsequently, the l (like the v in the case of av
oir) turned into the vowel u.
Two cases cannot be accounted for by the same means:
- être > ser-
- aller > ir-
Nevertheless, in *all* cases, the future-conditional stem ends in an -r-, and that –r– is, one way another, the r of the (or at least an) infinitive ending. To be sure, you need to be able to recognize these forms without hesitation.
§42. Past Tenses: Identifying Tenses by Elimination
In this section the Author slips in the passé simple (which he calls the passé défini) without saying anything about it. For a real introduction, he waits until Chapter 12 page 116-18, §66.
If you prefer not to wait till then, go to The Simple Past.
Personally, I think the best policy is to learn how to recognize each tense for itself…
§43. Translation of the Imperfect Tense
But first, let’s look at the formation:
How to: Form the Imperfect
Nous-form of the present + endings –ais, -ais, -ais, -ions, -iez, -aient
The above rule works for all verbs, regular and irregular without any exception:
- nous parlons >
nousparl ons> parl- + -ais, etc.
- nous finissons >
nousfiniss ons> finiss + -ais, etc.
- nous rendons >
nousrend ons> rend- + ais, etc.
- nous avons >
nousav ons> av- + -ais, etc.
- nous faisons >
nousfais ons> fais- + -ais, etc.
- nous prenons >
nouspren ons> pren- + ais, etc.
—except for the verb être; the base of the imperfect of this verb is ét-.
And here’s for pronunciation. Four of the personal endings of this tense (1, 2, 3, and 6) sound exactly the same, namely, as [ɛ] (“open-e”):
|Looks like||Sounds like|
Now as for how to translate the imperfect:
English does not always have different forms to show the aspect of a verb, that is (for our purposes), the state of completeness of what the verb stands for. So, we can use the same past form of “to be” in both of the following cases:
- “The President was unhappy because his life was in danger.”
- “The President was assassinated at 2:00pm.”
In the first sentence, the aspect of the verb “was” is imperfective. That is to say, the action or state indicated by the verb is not accomplished, finished, over with. It is something ongoing in the past. In the second case, the aspect of the verb is perfective, that is, it refers to something accomplished, finished, done with. In French, one is forced to show aspect in the past. You must choose between:
- imperfect aspect, in which case you use the tense we call the imperfect;
- perfect aspect, in which case you use the passé composé or the passé simple.
The French versions of the above sentences would be:
- Le président était triste parce que sa vie était menacée.
- Le président a été (fut) assassiné à 2H de l’après-midi.
In general, passé composé or passé simple indicate a completed action or state, and most often will be translated in English with our “simple past” or preterite.
- j’ai parlé: “I spoke”(more rarely: “I have spoken”)
- je parlai: “I spoke”
The French imperfect always indicates an action or state that is not envisaged as finished; but it covers a number of situations, which will be variously translated in English.
A. Mental State. Usually translated with simple past
- j’avais peur: “I was afraid.”
- je craignais le pire: “I feared the worst.”
- Elle voulait venir: “She wanted to come.”
- Nous le haïssions: “We hated him.”
- Je pensais que tu m’aimais: “I thought you loved me.”
B. Physical Description, or Description of Other Unchanging Conditions. Usually translated with the simple past
- J‘avais vingt ans: “I was twenty.”
- J’avais un chien qui s’appelait Fido: “I had a dog (that was) named Fido.”
- Elle était belle, grande, jeune, svelte, imposante,…: “She was fair, tall, young, svelte, imposing…”
- Elle portait un ruban jaune: “She wore a yellow ribbon.”
C. Ongoing or Interrupted Activity. Almost always translated with the past progressive (was/were + VERBing)
- Je prenais une douche quand le téléphone a sonné: “I was taking a shower when the telephone rang.”
- Je parlais au téléphone quand on a sonné à la porte: “I was talking on the phone when the doorbell rang.”
- « Qu’est-ce que tu faisais?: “What were you doing?”
—Je faisais mes devoirs. »: “I was doing my homework.”
D. Repeated, Habitual Activity (when we don’t care when the first or last time was). Variously translated
- Je faisais toujours mes devoirs avant 8 heures du soir.
- “used to” construction: “I always used to do my homework by 8pm.”
- “would” construction: “I would always do my homework by 8pm.”
- simple past: “I always did my homework by 8pm.”
For additional materials on the imperfect, see Aspects of French Past Tenses, To & Fro Between English & French Past Tenses, and Temporal Expressions & Their Tenses.
§44. Irregular Verb Avoir
You should aim at being able to recognize any of the forms of avoir without difficulty.
The idioms listed on page 68 are all worth committing to memory.
- avoir besoin de = “to need,” but literally, “to have need of.”
- avoir lieu = “to take place,” literally “to have place.” You might as well learn that le lieu (plural lieux) is one of the nouns meaning “place.”
- Le criminel revient toujours sur le lieu de son crime. (The criminel always returns to the site of his crime.)
- Au lieu de nous critiquer, vous feriez mieux de nous aider. (Instead of criticizing us, you would do better to help us.)
- avoir beau + infinitive = “(to do something) in vain.” But how does it mean that? Perhaps, if we interpret avoir beau as “to have (it) fine, to have (it) lovely” (to do such-and-such), the idea is: “It’s just great (sarcastic!) that you’re doing such-and-such, but it won’t make any difference.”
- Vous avez beau l’inviter, elle ne viendra pas. (In vain do you invite her OR It’s no use inviting her; she will not come.)
- avoir l’air + adjective = “to look (adjective), to seem (adjective)”; literally, “to have the (adjective) air.” This construction is quite standard, and you want to be familiar with it. The word air is masculine, but the entire phrase can be interpreted as a copulative and the adjective made to agree with the subject, rather than with l’air. The construction can also be followed with an infinitive phrase.
- Ces dames ont l’air fatiguées (OR: fatigué). (These ladies look tired.)
- Elle a l’air de vouloir nous accompagner. (She looks like she wants to come with us.)
You might as well learn these other very standard expressions with avoir:
- avoir raison = “to be right”
- avoir tort = “to be wrong”
- avoir faim, soif = “to be hungry, thirsty”
- avoir sommeil = “to be sleepy”
For more such phrases (with avoir and other verbs), see the Language File Verb-Noun Phrases.
In these exercises I generally translate an action verb in the imperfect as a past progressive (“so-and-so was doing something”). In practice, the past progressive will not always be the best way to translate this tense.
The Three Faces of Arriver
In sentence 1, two meanings of arriver come into play. In fact, the verb has three quite distinct meanings it is worth knowing:
- “to arrive.” Estelle arrive toujours le premier. (Estelle is always the first to arrive. [Literally, Estelle arrives always the first.])
- “to happen.” Qu’est-ce qui arrive? —Une chose qui n’arrive pas souvent. (“What’s happening?” “Something that doesn’t happen often.”)
- “to manage (to do something).” Je n’arrive pas à ouvrir cette boîte. (I can’t manage to open this can/jar/box.)
Compound Tenses in Exercise A
Since he has presented avoir in this chapter, and avoir is used in compound tenses, the Author now begins giving you verbs in various compound tenses in this exercise, even though he does not introduce these tenses formally until Chapter 8. To see the line-up, go to §48.D, page 78, or consult the French Language file Compound Past.
- a. to arrive / (in order) to arrive / he arrives (he is arriving; it happens) / he will arrive (it will happen)
b. he would arrive / they arrived / he arrived / he was arriving
c. without arriving / we were arriving / we are arriving / we will arrive
d. This event doesn’t happen often. Several cars arrived.
- a. to be / he (it) is / she (it) was / he will be / he would be
b. he was (he has been, he went) / we were / we will be / we would be
c. he (it) will have been / he would have been / he was / he was
- a. to give / he gives / he was giving / he will give
b. they gave / they gave (have given) / they would give / they give
c. we give / we do not give / we gave / we will give nothing
- a. there is, there are / there will be / there was / there would be
b. there isn’t / there wouldn’t be / there wasn’t / there is nothing interesting
- a. to finish / he finished / they are finishing / they finished
b. they will finish / they were finishing / they finished / the would finish
c. I will finish / I was finishing / I will have finished / I would finish
- a. to have / without having / (in order) to have / he has / he had (he got)2
b. he had (imperfect) / he will have / they will have / they wouldn’t have
c. I had (passé simple) / I had (passé composé) / I had (imperfect) / I had observed / I would not have finished
- a. to find / he found / he had found / he will have found
b. to find oneself, be located / he (it) is found in Paris / he (it) was found at Paris
c. They will be found (find themselves) in front of a château. / The book is on the table.
- a. to take / without taking / c) I take / I took
b. he will take / he would take / he will have taken / he had taken
c. they took / they will take / they would take / they would have taken
- a. to hold / he holds / he was holding / he will hold / he would hold
b. he held / he had held / he will have held / he held
c. he maintains / he (it) contains / he (it) had contained / he will have held back
- a. it is necessary to begin / it will be necessary to take / to would be necessary to observe
b. he understands (it includes) / he understood / he would like to leave
c. they will be able to complete / they will do the experiment / I will come to see the physicist.
- a. he discovers / they will discover / they discovered (imperfect) / they discovered (passé simple)
b. I asked (passé composé) / I asked (passe simple) / I had asked / I will ask
c. we are studying / we were studying / we will study / we will have studied
12. The boys dreamed (=used to dream? OR =were dreaming?) of the use they would make of the money they had found.
13. Jacques would buy a lovely sports car; he would take a trip to Switzerland and to Italy.
14. If he had made enough money, he would have bought a house near the center.
Sentence 14 is what I call a “Conditional Sentence of the Third Kind,” with a verb in the pluperfect indicative (avait gagné) and a verb in the past conditional (aurait acheté). You can read more about them here and here.
15. In the 17th-century France was keeping up (OR “on a level”) with, if not at the head of, the scientific movement.
16. Descartes perfected the geometry of curves, which enabled him to solve problems (hitherto) believed unsolvable.3
French uses permettre where in English we might use “to enable” or “to make possible.”
17. For Descartes as for Newton, the problem of the physical universe was a problem of mechanics, and Descartes would be the first to teach,4 if not the solution, at least the true nature of the problem.
18. If we didn’t have (any) pride, we wouldn’t complain of others’ (of that of others). –La Rochefoucauld
A conditional sentence “of the second kind” (with a verb in the imperfect indicative and a verb in the present conditional). The same goes for sentence 23 below.
Regarding “pride,” there are two kinds in French, one bad (l’orgueil) and one good (la fièrté). On their difference, see this essay on the Chanson de Roland.
19. It is easier to know man (human nature) in general than to know a man (a human bean) in particular. –La Rochefoucauld
20. Once upon a time there was a king who was superstitious but (who) didn’t want to admit it.
21. The astrologer claimed to know what would happen in the future.
22. In this work, we will use (literally, “take”) the term “information science” in a limited and well defined sense.
23. If this theory of radioactivity were general (=generally true? generally applicable?), one would have to admit that bodies give off radiation.
24. The last thing one finds (discovers, learns) in writing a work, is to know (to learn) what one must put first. Better: The last thing one learns in writing a work is what to put first.
25. If all human beans knew what they say of each other,5 there would not be four friends in the world.
26. Normally my letters are not so long. The short time I had (at my disposal) was the reason for it (=en=de cela). I made this letter so long only because I didn’t have the leisure to make it shorter.
The Solitary Walker: Rousseau At Home p70
The work this passage is taken from, Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire, which Rousseau was working on when he died, is one of this author’s best appreciated.
 Of all the habitations where I have dwelt, none has made me so truly happy as the Isle of St-Pierre in the middle of the Lake of Bienne.  This little island, which at Neuchastel they call the “Isle of La Motte,” is very little known, even in Switzerland.  No traveller, that I know of, mentions it. And yet it is very pleasant, and singularly (well) situated for the happiness of someone who loves withdrawal.
 l’Île de Saint-Pierre…lac de Bienne – This site has some nice pictures and a map—and it will let you make reservations! See also the very nice print on this webpage.
 m’a rendu – For various meanings of this verb, see the French Language topic rendre.
 bien peu connu – On the meanings of the adverb bien, see the Language File Bien, the Many Us of. On peu, review my comments on Chapter 02 §16. Expressions of Quantity.
 The banks of the lake of Bienne are wilder and more romantic than those of Lake Geneva, because the rocks and woods border the water more closely there;  but they are no less agreeable.  If there are fewer cultivated fields and vineyards, fewer towns and houses, there is also more natural greenness, more prairies and more woody retreats, more frequent contrasts and more changes of outlook.  Since there are no main roads convenient for carriages on these happy banks, the countryside is not much frequented by travelers;  but it is interesting6 for solitary contemplatives who like to drink deeply of the charms of nature, and to recollect themselves in a silence troubled by no other sound than the cry of eagles, the intermittent song of a few birds, and the rumble of torrents descending from the mountains. [See following note!]  This lovely, nearly round basin encloses in its midst two small islands, one inhabited and cultivated; the other (yet) smaller, unpeopled, and (lying) fallow.  Adapted from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of a Solitary Walker, 5th Walk.
 Si – This is what I call the “Concessive If,” that is, an “if” that = “although.” See the French Language topic French Concessions. Part II. Concessive Si.
 déserte – Learn the meaning of this word: “uninhabited.”
Inversion of Subject & Verb After que (see sentence )
After que, whether the direct object relative pronoun (as it is here in number 33) or the conjunction that introduces a noun clause, French allows for inversion of the subject and the verb. Hence, in the relative clause
que ne trouble aucun bruit, etc.
–que is the direct object, trouble is the verb, and (aucun autre) bruit is the the subject. Translation could be:
“that no sound troubles”
–except that the subject bruit has a whole lot more joined to it: que le cri des aigles, etc., etc.
Hence, to keep things in their same relative positions, a solution is to make the voice of the verb passive, so that the “subject” (now a prepositional phrase) can stay at the end.
Another case of inversion occurs in sentence  of Le Système solaire (below).
The Author will eventually discuss this type of inversion (Chapter 10 §54C), and I examine it in the Language File Que, Etc., and Inversion.
The Solar System p71
 The earth we inhabit is part of a system of bodies called planets, which turn around a star we call the sun.  The sun possesses at least nine planets; it occupies approximately the center of the system.  There are moreover numerous comets and planetary satellites that are part of the solar system.
 The earth is the third of the planets in the order of the distances that separate them from the sun.  It is a more or less spherical globe, whose circumference is 40,000 kilometers and whose average diameter is 12,432 kilometers.  It turns on itself in 23 hours 56 minutes 4 seconds, and around the sun in 365 1/4 days, or one year.  The diameter around which the daily revolution takes place is called the axis, the extremities of which are the poles.  The earth is slightly flattened at the poles.
 dont le circuit est de 40.000 kilomètres – You will often find this extra de in front of numbers, e.g.,
- La vitesse de la voiture était de 200 kilomètres à l’heure. (The car’s speed was 200 kilometers per hour.)
It is as though the noun were being repeated: “The speed of the car was (a speed) of 200…”
See also:  La distance moyenne du soleil à la terre est d‘environ 150 de kilomètres.
 The annual revolution takes place along a plane curve; it is in fact an ellipse that the earth describes as it turns around the sun.  The earth’s axis is inclined (in a variable way) by about 23° 27’ 37” to the axis of the ecliptic.  The average distance between the earth and the sun is about 150 million kilometers.
 In addition to the planets there are satellites that turn around a principal planet.  Thus the earth is accompanied, as it travels about its orbit, by the moon, which turns around the earth and around itself.  The moon is 50 times smaller than the earth, which it circles at a distance of 384,000 kilometers [from which it is separated by 384K kilometers].  Jupiter, the sun’s largest planet, has twelve satellites; Saturn has seventeen, and three rings in addition; Uranus possesses four satellites.
 Saturne en a dix-sept – “Saturn has seventeen of them,” i.e., Saturn has seventeen satellites. The Author lets the pronominal adverb en slip by once again, this time without glossing it. He will at last discuss it in Chapter 11 §62. If you can’t wait to learn about it, you can read my commentary.
 Numberless comets also move around the sun.  They differ essentially from the planets in that they travel through space in all directions, following orbits that are very elongated, and in that they are accompanied by a train of light called the tail or hair.  There are comets that disappear and return periodically, like the famous Halley’s Comet as it is called, which reappears every 76 years.
A Lively Mind7 p73
 There was once a king who was superstitious, but who didn’t want to admit it.  He learned that a certain man in his realm claimed that he could read the future in the stars and predict what was going to happen.
 Il y avait une fois – The reading begins with these words, but the traditional beginning of a fairy or folktale is Il était une fois, with imperfect of the verb être rather than of the verb avoir. Il est a more elegant variant for ll y a:
- II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants (There are cool/fresh perfums like the flesh of children) –Baudelaire, “Correspondances”
 The king considered himself very clever and he became angry at this astrologer who did what he, the king, was unable to do.  He had him come to the royal palace, having resolved to put him to death and, at the same time, to show his courtiers that his claims were false.
 ce que – The indefinite relative pronoun, once again: “what” = “that which.”
 lui – The emphatic, or stress, or tonic, or disjunctive, pronoun for “he/him,” used when the personal pronoun is separated from the verb and thus receives unwonted emphasis. If you wish, you can look at my commentary on Chapter 15 §79.
 le fit venir – It is the causal faire, which we have already encountered, and which you can read up on, if you feel you must, here: Faire causatif.
 Following their master’s orders, two soldiers held themselves ready to throw the astrologer out the window when the king would give them the signal.  Turning around to the poor [= wretched] man who had just entered the great hall of the palace, the monarch said to him:  “You claim to know what is going to happen in the future.  Very well, can you predict when you yourself are going to die?”  The astrologer suspected what the king had in mind,8 and, after reflecting a few moments, he answered:  “Sire, I cannot predict the day of my death, but I know very well that I will die exactly three days before Your Majesty.”
 quand le roi leur donnerait le signal – I have translated donnerait literally, as “would give,” but more ordinary English would be “when the king gave them the signal.”
 pauvre – Review, if you need to, the French Language topic Short Adjective Pauvre.
 qui venait d’entrer – You can read up on this construction with the verb venir here: Recent Past, and here: The Recent Past Takes a Step Back.
 Vous prétendez savoir – The verb prétendre merits of course a death mark (†), because it never means “to pretend.” For more on this verb, go here: prétendre.
 ce qui va arriver – Indefinite relative pronoun again (“that which” = “what”); again in  ce que. Also: the Near Future construction. See the topic Near Future.
 The two soldiers waited in vain for the signal.  The king changed his mind very quickly and, instead of killing the astrologer, he begged him to stay in the palace, to take care of himself, and not to risk any danger.  It was necessary to take the greatest care of a life so precious.9
- As likewise happened in the four forms of the present thus stressed: je tiens, etc.↩
- he has had, he has gotten↩
- Literally, qu’on croyait insolubles = “that one believed unsolvable.”↩
- Literally, enseignera le premier = “will teach the first,” i.e., “will be the first to teach.” The writer has slipped into what I have called the “historical future,” so I translated it as a present conditional (a “future in the past”).↩
- Literally, les uns des autres = “the ones of the others.”↩
- “intéressant” has here the meaning of “attractive, appealing.”↩
- Or: “A Quick Wit”↩
- Literally, avait l’intention de faire = “had the intention of doing.”↩
- More elegant: “One had to take the greatest care…”↩
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