Does French have a relative past tense?

Raf Salkie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Some recent work on French tenses has proposed a new analysis of the difference between the imperfect and the passé simple/passé composé. The imperfect is said to be a relative or anaphoric tense, while the PS/PC are absolute or deictic tenses. A number of studies have argued against the more widely accepted analysis which sees the difference between these tenses in terms of aspect.

This paper argues that the new analysis is fundamentally incorrect as an account of the meaning of the French past tenses, although it has brought to light a range of phenomena which need to be included in a full account of the behaviour of the tenses in discourse. I argue that an enriched version of the traditional analysis can account for all the relevant data.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-271
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of French Language Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2000


  • French
  • tense
  • imperfect

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