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le plus-que-parfait


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Can someone please explain to me when you would use the plus-que-parfait instead of the straightforward passé composé?

For example, when do you say  j'avais pris instead of j'ai pris

Or, another example, when do you say j'étais allée instead of je suis allée

I can use the tense OK but not sure when you would choose one over the other?

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This is directly equivalent to the English perfect and pluperfect past tenses. I'll use 'to drink' because I can think of an example easier.

Perfect: I drank(or I have drunk)

Pluperfect: I had drunk.

"Yesterday I drank some beer."

"By the time I fell over I had drunk 15 pints"

So the pluperfect refers to something that was in the past relative to some other event in the past.


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Strange that you should post that Sweet as the same subject has been rattling around in my mind.

I am relatively comfortable using the plus que parfait in conversation, I have learnt it on the cuff after my lessons ended and I do sometimes slip up when the auxiliary should be être.

There is one similar tense that I am struggling to get to grips with, when I hear it I understand what is being said but I cannot get my head around its construction hence I dont use it in my own speech or writing its like the plus que parfait but uses the conditional f the auxiliary avoir followed by the past participle, it  may be a literary tense as I think that I only hear on news reports and/or reconstructions of events (faits divers etc)

So I hear il l'aurait tué, elle aurait convoqué, il aurait oublié etc (always I think with the auxiliary avoir), I think they are saying "he had killed her" "she had been summoned" "he had been forgotten, but to me is sounds more like "he would have killed her" "she would have been summoned" "he would have been forgotten".

Which then leads me to question my own use of the conditional past (which once again I have not learnt formally) if I want to say "I would have done something" I say "je l'aurais fait............" etc, perhaps I am confusing the hell out of those I speak to.

Can anyone shed any light or reassure me please?

I also used to invent a future conditional tense, in the manner of saying "if I were to do that" "if you were to go to prison" "if I had the money" etc and it was one of the few things that my ex picked me up on (I guess it must have really bugged her to hear me using the conditional after si) she was never really able to explain it to me (a total lack of patience) but said that "si ne s'entend pas avec rais, rait, raient" so I now correctly use the imparfait but it doesnt sit right with me, it feels like I am speaking like a Pakistani "if I was having the money........" etc [6] 

I really do miss my formal French lessons, its been over 3 years now that I have been muddling along without them.

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It's the conditional perfect...like a past conditional

It's the same formation as the clause in conditional sentences,  'If had known you were coming I'd have baked a  cake'but

without the 'If I/she/he had......' it is no longer 'would have' 'could have '

etc,  but instead becomes a conjecture a bit  like 'might have'

 it's to express that you aren't 100% sure...

or in a report in the paper about a crime a  bit like using 'alleged' to avoid being libellous.

il l'aurait tuée

'He might have killed her'  is the French way rather than 'he is alleged to have killed her'

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Chancer, as a beginner and one, moreover, who is only now starting to learn a bit of French grammar, I can't help you!

But, I want to say "thank you" to Albert.

All understood now, Albert.  What threw me was the name of the tense, le plus-que-parfait, but, when I think about it, it makes very good sense:  sort of more than perfect!

Never having been fortunate enough to learn any Latin, I didn't know the term pluperfect but now I realise that it's just the Past Perfect.

For example, I had eaten the cake by the time he eventually turned up for tea.

It happened and finished at a point of time in the past.  Water under the bridge, as it were![:D]

Edit:  sorry, Norman, I was writing even as you were replying to Chancer


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Thank you for that excellent explanation Norman.

Excellent meaning simple enough for me to understand.

I can only be sure by watchin more programs but i am pretty certain that they used "her might have killed her" to describe an act that someone has already been found guilty of and is serving their time, perhaps its to avoid libel charges given the frequent miscarriages of French justice.

This cake that I might have baked you if you had told me you were dropping by, can one add some (usually insincere) weight or certainty to it by saying "if only I had known you were coming, I might definitely (and I mean that most insincerely [;-)]) have baked you a cake" ?

Conditional perfect, II think that I know how to remember that. 

Wheres my cake then?

I havn't baked one.

Iast time you said you would bake a cake if I told you when I was coming so this time I told you in advance.

No I said I might have baked a cake!

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