In this older post, I got an answer from Kyrio, which may be summarized as

Principle: Imparfait indicatif and présent conditionnel used for an irreal situation backshifts to plus-que-parfait indicatif and passé conditionnel when the "mental state" verb introducing the situation goes from présent to one of the past tenses.

I seem to have found a sentence in L'Étranger that contradicts the above principle, and therefore want to ask: whether that principle should be modified to accommodate the example.

Below, I will recap the relevant portion of the older post, present the example from Camus, and re-state the question.

The principle from the older post

The older post concerned a young man feeling he would have enjoyed a walk if not for his mother. If narrated in the present tense, it might go:

(A) Je sens{0} quel plaisir je prendrais{0} à me promener s'il n'y avait{0} pas maman.

Sens is a present-tense mental state verb introducing an irreal situation expressed in imparfait indicatif and présent conditionnel. The {0} is there to indicate that the verbs so marked indicate, or concern, the present (or the very near future in case of prendrais).

Ten days later, if we were to narrate again the same state of affairs (which is now in the past), the older post told us that it must be done using plus-que-parfait indicatif and passé conditionnel, as follows:

(A1') Je sentais{-1} quel plaisir j’aurais pris{-1} à me promener s’il n’y avait pas{-1} eu maman.

The time code {-1} indicates a past.

We were told two further things. One, the sentence just above may also express a "sensing" that took place in the past concerning, however, a state of irreal affairs at an even more remote past. For example, "Je" sensing yesterday something about a walk that hadn't occurred the day before. Time coding would go:

(A2') Je sentais{-1} quel plaisir j’aurais pris{-2} à me promener s’il n’y avait pas{-2} eu maman.

In other words, the sentence is ambiguous, and disambiguation depends on context.

The second additional thing we learned was that a past-tense mental state verb cannot introduce an irreal in imparfait indicatif and présent conditionnel. For example, the following is ungrammatical and cannot be used to express a past sensing concerning a coeval state of irreal affairs. See comments to Kyrio's answer in the older post.

(A0') Je sentais{-1} quel plaisir je prendrais{-1} à me promener s'il n'y avait{-1} pas maman.

The example from Camus

Please see the highlighted:

En me réveillant, j’ai compris pourquoi mon patron avait l’air mécontent quand je lui ai demandé mes deux jours de congé : c’est aujourd’hui samedi. Je l’avais pour ainsi dire oublié, mais en me levant, cette idée m’est venue. Mon patron, tout naturellement, a pensé que j’aurais ainsi quatre jours de vacances avec mon dimanche et cela ne pouvait pas lui faire plaisir. Mais d’une part, ce n’est pas de ma faute si on a enterré maman hier au lieu d’aujourd’hui et d’autre part, j’aurais eu mon samedi et mon dimanche de toute façon. Bien entendu, cela ne m’empêche pas de comprendre tout de même mon patron.


(Q1) Is the Camus sentence a counterexample to the principle?

(Q2) If so, how should the principle be modified?

On (Q1), we do seem to have a counterexample. The boss's "thinking" and the narrator's "having" (or "being about to have" or, if you prefer, "getting") a four days' leave is all in the past (including the immediate future relative to the past, in case of j’aurais). In terms of time code:

(B0') Mon patron, tout naturellement, a pensé{-1} que j’aurais{-1} ainsi quatre jours de vacances avec mon dimanche

On (Q2), one possibility that occurs to me is that passé composé may introduce an irreal in présent conditionnel. The idea may be that passé composé is "present" on the surface although "past" in meaning. But this would seem highly unsatisfying to me. It would require that, if a pensé is changed to pensait or pensa, j’aurais must become j'aurais eu. Is that what would happen? I would much rather see a modification of the principle that allows all past-tense mental state verbs to introduce irreals in imparfait indicatif and présent conditionnel, if circumstances permit.

Question supplemented

[Site Moderator has told me to post a separate question for what used to be here.]

  • 1
    Whoa! That's enough material for a new question or three. And don't edit your question in a way that invalidates existing answers. Please revert your latest edits and post any follow-up as new questions. Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 20:52

1 Answer 1


There is no contradiction with Kyrio's answer because "conditionnel présent" is not used in the same context. The two major use of "conditionnel présent" are:

-expressing a conditional statement

-expressing a future in the past

In your first example (Kyrio's principle), there was a conditionnal sentence with irreal situation ("IF my mother was there", knowing that it is impossible because she is dead).

In the second case (your question) it is used for an action in the future relatively to an action in the past.

mon patron pense{0} que j'aurai{0+t} ainsi quatre jours de congé.

mon patron a pensé{-1} que j'aurais{-1+t} ainsi quatre jours de congé.

  • With all due respect, I now believe that this answer gets it wrong. The right answer would (a) reject the principle as false or at best misleading and (b) treat the Camus sentence as one of numerous potential examples proving the principle to be false. For an account of conditinals supporting such treatment, see this other post: french.stackexchange.com/questions/16137/…
    – Catomic
    Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 5:28
  • I apologize for this very direct way of expressing disagreement, but the whole topic is entirely academic after all with no personal reflections, and truth-searchers should be able to register sharp disagreement where one exists. I remain open to counter-persuasion, but would recommend that further discussion of the topic take place in the other post linked above. Thanks!
    – Catomic
    Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 5:31
  • I have no issue with you expressing your disagreement, but I think that there is a misunderstanding somewhere. You assume that there could be one and only one use of the "conditionnel présent". My point is that "conditionnel présent" has different use (see leconjugueur.lefigaro.fr/fremploiconditionnel.php or w3.restena.lu/amifra/exos/conj/regcond.htm). your "principle" is not wrong, but it applies only to one of the use.
    – radouxju
    Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 7:28
  • You're right that conditional is also the future of the past (that's why I added a parenthesis in my answer to the other question). The transposition explained in radouxju's answer makes perfect sense. In fact, a condition is treated similarly to the past, it's like a hypothetical past. Or maybe said differently, the future is always conditional; it's conditional of what may happen to the present reality. I remember reading a scholar article about that. Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 10:19
  • And if there is a condition: “Mon patron pense{0} que si je faisais {hypothetical x>0} ça, j'aurais{x⁺} ainsi quatre jours de congé” or “Mon patron pense{0} que si j'avais fait {hypothetical x<0} ça, j'aurais{x⁺} ainsi quatre jours de congé”. In the past: “Mon patron a{0} pensé{-1} que si je faisais {hypothetical x>-1 OR x>0} ça, j'aurais{x⁺} ainsi quatre jours de congé” or “Mon patron a{0} pensé{-1} que si j'avais fait {hypothetical x<-1 OR x<0} ça, j'aurais{x⁺} ainsi quatre jours de congé”. In a narration with “pensa”, there would be no present time and it would be unambiguous. Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 11:11

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