I would like to extend further this question

No one has arrived in English would translate to Personne n'est arrivé in French.

In English we would use present perfect tense because it signifies something starting in the past and still going on to the present: no one arrived and they are still not here at the moment and this will continue on to the future.

In French it would be Personne n'est arrivé which to me is something happened once and complete in the past, such as Je suis rentré/sorti, Il m'a quitté. Why are we using it here for No one has arrived. For me if something started in the pass and continue to the present, I would think of imparfait : "Personne n'arrivait". So why are we not using it here and what would it mean if I say "Personne n'arrivait"?

  • the imparfait doesn't continue in the future. It just says it is a long action, and not a brief one. To do that, you could add Personne n'est encore arrivé, saying it is possible for someone to arrive now
    – Random
    Jul 16, 2015 at 13:25
  • But does it does mean something started in the past and continue to now, the moment we are making the sentence ?
    – Kenny
    Jul 16, 2015 at 15:20
  • Yes it does, but it also slightly implies you're expecting someone to arrive
    – Random
    Jul 16, 2015 at 15:23
  • I am asking myself because what you explain would fit perfectly into present perfect tense in English. In present perfect, I am also expecting someone to arrive. It would mean a continuous event: something started in the past, continue to the present and has not changed yet, so it will likely continue into the future. For example, I have lived in France for 2 years.
    – Kenny
    Jul 16, 2015 at 15:33
  • That's it, you can then upvote / accept @LaurentS.' answer, since he suggests the same thing ;)
    – Random
    Jul 16, 2015 at 15:35

3 Answers 3


I think my answer in the previous post might have been slightly incorrect in English and therefore confusing you. I personally don't make a real difference between "Nobody arrived" and "Nobody has arrived", and I think that's were I'm wrong. Actually, the real meaning of "Personne n'est arrivé" depends of the context.

You could be telling a story that happened in the past :

J'attendais mes amis mais personne n'est arrivé.

-> The action was in the past and is finished, nobody did ever arrive. We use "imparafait" because it's an action that spans over time. I would translate this to :

I was waiting for my friends but nobody (ever) arrived

but I guess it could be translated to

I waited for my friends but nobody (ever) arrived

I couldn't tell if both translations have the exact same meaning though, I would maybe mistakenly use either one or the other without further thinking.

You could also be telling about something happening now :

J'attends mes amis mais personne n'est (encore) arrivé.

-> The action is in the present, I'm still waiting, and nobody arrived hitherto (and if anyone had arrived, that would have been in the past from now, so we use "passé composé"). I would translate this to :

I'm waiting for my friends but nobody arrived (yet)

I'm no translator nor French or English expert, but I think tenses in French and English just don't always have a direct translation and that may lead to some confusion. French doesn't have "continuous" tenses for example. Taking my example from previous question remark :

Je bois de la vodka

could be translated to "I'm drinking vodka" (=> right now) or "I drink Vodka" (=> usually; I've nothing against vodka as a general matter)

As of the difference between various past tenses in French, I think those 2 schemas combined summarize it well :

enter image description here enter image description here

  • There is indeed no easy correspondance map for tenses in English and French. Present perfect and passé composé are not equivalent. There are clear rules (so far as rules requiring judgement can be clear) about when to use present perfect (present recap of something started in the past, to wrap it up). There are basic rules for passé simple and imparfait in literary writing. I am not aware of rules for passé composé in French. @LaurentS. I think the yet implies present perfect: "nobody has arrived (yet)".
    – Chop
    Jul 16, 2015 at 13:52
  • I agree with your last remark, the yet is actually providing the context that the action is still going on and we expect current situation to change in the future. Now i remember my English lessons from a long time ago, I also recall a lot of discussions on that subject with the teacher when translating isolated sentences...
    – Laurent S.
    Jul 16, 2015 at 14:08
  • Nobody has arrived (yet) would mean something commenced in the past and continue til the present, as in I am waiting and my friend has not arrived yet . This would be present perfect, which I tend to map to imparfait. Simple past, which I tend to map to French's passé composé, describes something happened and terminated in the past, as in we are telling a thing happening in the past Last week I waited for you but you did not arrive. Do passé composé and imparfait not mean as I have described ? And what would personne n'arrivait mean ?
    – Kenny
    Jul 16, 2015 at 15:18
  • Perhaps another example that describes better what I mean than arrive . I have lived in France for 2 years , and I am still living now, and likely continue into the future. I lived 2 years in France, but now I no longer do.
    – Kenny
    Jul 16, 2015 at 15:37
  • Once a teacher told me that passé simple is mostly only used in formal writing now. And from your diagram it looks like it is equivalent to the passé composé : an action happening for a brief time in the past. Is it correct?
    – Kenny
    Jul 18, 2015 at 6:41

I don't know exactly why this is. But

Personne n'est arrivé

is an observation at point T in time. Nobody is there.

Personne n'arrivait

It gives the idea of continuously observing the situation. Nobody was coming. There is the feeling of waiting for it to happen. The imparfait has this notion of continuity. Well, at least in my mind and for this situation.

By the way, I'm a native french speaker, but not a professional linguist.


Imagine that you just arrived to an appointment with some businessmen. You are expecting five persons to join the meeting but no one is there yet. A friend calls you to check on the meeting and asks you if the others arrived yet by saying Les autres sont - ils arrivés?. You can answer personne n'est arrivéwhich would be perfectly correct. But you would still be expecting them to show up anytime. So your statement:

In French it would be Personne n'est arrivé which to me is something happened once and complete in the past

Is incomplete: it can be something that happened in the past but is still ongoing.

Now let's assume that two years later you are relating this event. You could say Personne n'arrivait, et je m'impatientais. It means that action happened once in the past and it is not continuing in the present, but still it is part of a sequence of actions that all occured in the past once (it could be followed for example by ...tout frustré je décidais de m'en alleror a happier situation: ...enfin ils arrivèrent tous en trombe et s'excusèrent du retard)

  • 1
    Sauf erreur "tout frustré je décidais de m'en aller" devrait plutôt être "tout frustré je décidai de m'en aller", avec un verbe au passé simple car une décision à priori ne dure pas dans le temps...
    – Laurent S.
    Jul 17, 2015 at 11:17

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