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« Le rivage d'Hinsfjall est le premier endroit agréable qui me soit venu à l'esprit. »

The sentence refers to an event that happened in the past. So I was tempted to use "était", but "est" seems to be the correct tense to use here. I wonder why.

Incidentally, am I correct in thinking that "soit venu" should be used here instead of "est venu" to reflect the subjunctive mood?

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    Where does this sentence come from? What is the context? – Toto Jan 31 '16 at 12:25
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Il y a deux actions qui conditionnent les temps:

  • le constat agréable
  • la réflexion (venir à l'esprit):

Présent du constat , réflexion passée mais récente => passé composé:

Dans cette expression, la réflexion a déjà eu lieu, mais le constat dure (le rivage est toujours agréable aujourd'hui).

Le rivage d'Hinsfjall est le premier endroit agréable qui me soit venu à l'esprit.

ou (s'entend moins souvent)

Le rivage d'Hinsfjall est le premier endroit agréable qui m'est venu à l'esprit.

constat et réflexion présentes:

Le rivage d'Hinsfjall est le premier endroit agréable qui me vient à l'esprit.

Le rivage d'Hinsfjall est le premier endroit agréable qui me vienne à l'esprit.

Passé. le constat agréable n'est peut-être plus vrai aujourd'hui:

Le rivage d'Hinsfjall était le premier endroit agréable qui m'était venu à l'esprit.

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If the event referred to is in the past, the writer is using the historical present in French, which is much more common than in English. That said, the sentence could also be:

Le rivage d'Hinsfjall a été [was] le premier endroit agréable qui me soit venu à l'esprit.

OR

Le rivage d'Hinsfjall était [was] le premier endroit agréable qui me soit venu à l'esprit.

All three are correct. It all depends on what emphasis you are giving to the verb être in French: did the place that came to mind in French occur at one specific time? Or was there something ongoing IN FRENCH when it came to mind? As for the subjunctive or not, you could use either depending on your meaning....

  • No, it is just emphatic. – Lambie Feb 11 '16 at 15:02
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The past concern the action of remembering, precisely in "soit venu". You also can use the past for the fact that the Hinsfjall's shore is the first thing that came to your mind, but not with "était". You'd rather use "fut":

Le rivage d'Hinsfjall fut le premier endroit agréable qui me soit venu à l'esprit.

That way, the tense of the two verbs is close enough.

  • Your sentence is not right because the tenses doesn't match (concordance des temps). If you use past simple in the first part of the sentence, then you have to keep using past in the second part : " [...] fut le premier endroit agréable qui me vînt à l'esprit" (subjonctif imparfait) – Chewie Feb 1 '16 at 13:33
  • Chewie, "qui me soit venu" is subjonctif passé, therefore I respect matching tenses. The choice of "vînt" underline the instantaneousness, while "soit venu" feels more adequate, imho, for the storytelling of a memory. – Julien Chateau Mar 14 '16 at 14:07

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