The sequence of tenses when the main verb is in the past tense in French

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The sequence of tenses when the main verb is in the past tense

Rules about the sequence of tenses (la concordance des temps) apply to sentences containing two verbs. When the main verb is in the passé (passé simple, plus-que-parfait, etc.), the other verb (in the subordinate clause) goes by the following rules:

•  for an action taking place before the main action, we use:
- the plus-que-parfait.
Elle se mit à pleurer car Victor était déjà parti. passé simple → plus-que-parfait She started crying because Victor had already gone.
J’avais vu que le facteur était déjà passé. plus-que-parfait → plus-que-parfait I had seen the postman had already come.
- the passé antérieur after quand, lorsque, après que, etc when the main verb is in the passé simple.
Victor but un verre de vin quand il eut terminé son discours. passé simple → passé antérieur Victor drank a glass of wine when he had finished his speech.
•  for two simultaneous actions we use:
- the imparfait for the most part.
Juliette pensa que Victor était malade. passé simple → imparfait Juliette thought Victor was sick.
- the passé composé or the passé simple for both short and simultaneous actions.
Juliette dormait quand Victor est entré/entra. imparfait → passé composé/passé simple Juliette was sleeping when Victor came in.
•  for an action happening after the main one, we mainly use:
- the conditionnel présent.
Je compris pourquoi il ne reviendrait jamais. passé simple → conditionnel présent I understood why he would never come back.
- the conditionnel passé for highlighting the completed aspect of an action.
Je compris qu’il aurait terminé avant moi. passé simple → conditionnel passé I gathered he would have finished before me.
Note: Usually, when the subject of the sentence is the same for both verbs, we use the infinitif passé. This tense is often reworded in English.
J’avais cru t’avoir entendu rire (not j’avais cru que je t’avais entendu rire). I had thought I heard you laugh
Je crus t’avoir entendu rire (not je crus que je t’avais entendu rire). I thought I heard you laugh.

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