French temporal adverbs 101

Reading the newspapers, I frequently struggle with the interpretation of various function words and phrases expressing temporal relations.  Here I’ll lay out the explanation of some terms as given by About.com, and then explore some hypotheses that they suggest.  Following About.com, I’ll compare and contrast quand, lorsque, lors de, and pendant.  To see the original page on About.com, click here.

First, an overview, with simple definitions from WordReference.com:

The last one is not discussed in the About.com lesson, but it seems to go with the rest, and I do see it in the papers a lot.

Let’s follow About.com’s model and compare and contrast quand and lorsque first.  When expressing what About calls a “temporal correlation,” they are interchangeable.  In these cases, there is a relationship between two events–one establishes a background for the other:

Je marchais quand tu m’as téléphoné.
I was walking when you called me.
Je marchais lorsque tu m’as téléphoné.
I was walking when you called me.

Quand je t’ai vu, j’avais peur.
When I saw you, I was afraid.

Lorsque je t’ai vu, j’avais peur.
When I saw you, I was afraid.

Je te verrai demain quand j’arriverai.*
I will see you tomorrow when I arrive.

Je te verrai demain lorsque j’arriverai.*
I will see you tomorrow when I arrive.

One thing that jumps out of me about all of these examples is that they involve two sentences–either the pattern Quand/lorsque S1, S2 or S1 quand/lorsque S2.  

So, that’s how quand and lorsque are similar.  Now let’s look at different uses, again from About.com.  Quand is used for what About calls “habitual correlation”–every time that one thing happens, the other happens:

Quand il est là, elle ne parle pas.
When(ever) he is there, she doesn’t speak.

Quand il sera là, elle ne parlera pas.
When(ever) he is there, she won’t speak.

Lorsque, on the other hand, is used for what About calls “simultaneous opposition”:

J’ai crié lorsqu’il a fallu courir.
I screamed when/whereas I should have run.

Je crierai lorsqu’il faudra courir.
I’ll scream, when/whereas I should run.

Again, what’s being related in all of these examples, for both temporal adverbs, is two sentences.

Now we contrast lorsque with lors de.  Lors de is described by About.com as establishing a background relationship.  We saw that before with lorsque and quand, but let’s look at About.com’s examples:
Lors de son anniversaire, elle était contente.
At the time of her birthday, she was happy.

Je suis arrivé lors du mariage.
I arrived during the wedding.

What jumps out at me about these examples is that the pattern is not an adverb and two sentences, but an adverb and a sentence and a noun phrase (le mariage, son anniversaire).  It’s time to turn to a corpus to see if that generalization holds, or is just an accidental effect of About’s examples.  We’ll do a Google search.  The first page is all links to dictionaries or pages about grammar, so we need to page down a bit:

  • Une erreur est survenue lors de l’écriture sur le disque
  • Les obligations de l’employeur lors de l’embauche (une embauche is “hiring”)
  • 5 réflexes à avoir lors de la réception d’un courriel
  • Liste des opérations lors de la Seconde Guerre mondiale
  • Maltraité pendant 50 ans, un éléphant pleure lors de sa libération

Looks like a good generalization–it holds for the first five hits on a non-grammar/dictionary page, at any rate, and I tell my students in corpus linguistics and field methods that a good rule of thumb is to give five examples of everything.

Now we’ll look at lors de versus pendant.  As About.com explains it, both of them can be translated as “during.”  However, lors de refers to an event that occurs at some point in time, without a specified duration, while pendant refers to the entirety of the time period.  About’s examples:

 Il était content lors de son séjour. Il était content pendant son séjour.
   He was happy (at some point) during his stay. He was happy during his (entire) stay.
   
   Il était content lors de son anniversaire. Il était content pendant son anniversaire.
   He was happy (for a moment) on his birthday. He was happy during his (entire) birthday.
   
   Il a travaillé lors des 3 dernières années. Il a travaillé pendant les 3 dernières années.
   He worked (at some point) during the last 3 years. He has worked (non-stop) for the last 3 years.

 

2 thoughts on “French temporal adverbs 101”

  1. I remember learning a distinction between “an” and “année”. Except in stereotypical phrases (e.g. “Bonne année”) the difference was between something more or less neutral (“an”) and something onerous (for lack of a better term at the moment). We joked with our HS teacher: which one do we use to describe how long we’ve studied French. BTW – I don’t remember ever studying these distinctions. I seemed to do well enough “by intuition”.

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  2. I’m still trying to figure out bon jour/soir versus bonne journée/soirée. As far as I can tell, the first ones are more common for greetings and the second ones more common for leave-takings, but I don’t think it’s an absolute. Quite possibly I’m missing something.

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