“J'ai compris” is in past tense while “je comprends” is the present tense. Why do people always use the past tense form? Is it just how it is?

  • A similar question to ask English speakers might be "Why do more and more English speakers use "I hear you" in the present tense when referring to something they just heard said to them in the past?" Anyway, that was an off-topic, tongue-in-cheek observation because I realize that "I hear you" has a figurative meaning (more like "I'm with you, man" or "I feel your pain"), but there might be some relevance to the extent that in English, using the past tense could come across (aggressively) as meaning "[OK, OK] I heard you/I understood (you) [and you don't have to repeat it again]!.
    – Papa Poule
    Sep 18 '16 at 15:34
  • Isn't it a good idea to deal with one thing at a time/
    – Lambie
    Sep 19 '16 at 14:18

1) /Je comprends [ce que vous dites là.]/= /I understand what you are saying [now]/ or: /I understand what you say [in general]/. It's useful to bear in mind that the French simple present can be translated as simple present OR continuous in English, depending on the specific situation.

2) /J'ai compris [ce que vous venez de dire]/. J'ai compris is used in response to the actual or implied question: Avez-vous compris ce que je viens de dire? or: As-tu compris [ce que je viens de dire] or: T'as compris [ce que je viens de dire].

I'm trying to explain this in terms of the French without too much translation. Bear in mind, however, that French does not have a present prefect, which in situations like these, might be used for a situation in English that would be: /Have you understood what I am saying to you?/ Present perfect is a past tense also.

So, have you understood [what I just said] becomes a simple past in French: Avez-vous compris [ce que je viens de dire?]. Oui, j'ai compris.

  • 2
    This might be anecdotal, but when someone is explaining something to you, je comprends means "I understand your explanation, continue", whereas j'ai compris can sometimes be used to interrupt: "I already know what you are saying, please move on". Sep 19 '16 at 9:52
  • @ Alexandre d'Entraigues What you are saying is not relevant to my explanation. I am not giving a discourse-level or discourse-marker explanation. Je comprends meaning I understand [your explanation] is exactly the same thing in both languages.
    – Lambie
    Sep 19 '16 at 14:16
  • 4
    Mon but était d'offrir un peu plus d'informations à l'OP sur les circonstances dans lesquelles utiliser l'une ou l'autre forme, et c'est ce que je pense avoir fait dans mon commentaire, trop court et pas assez complet ni sourcé pour justifier une réponse à part entière. Sep 19 '16 at 14:25

Quand je dis j'ai compris, cela signifie que le processus de réflexion par lequel j'assimile les faits qui me sont présentés est terminé, donc passé.


We use both, but "J'ai compris" is more like "I get it" and "Je comprends" more like "I understand"

  • 3
    J'aurais dit que «J'ai compris» se traduit plutôt par «I got it» ... Qu'en penses-tu ?
    – Thibault
    Sep 19 '16 at 8:09
  • @Thibault oui tu as raison.
    – Kosmoz
    Sep 19 '16 at 9:07
  • J'ai compris peut dans certaines situations se dire I got it, voire, I get it mais I got it est plutôt, J'ai pigé [ce que tu as dit].
    – Lambie
    Sep 19 '16 at 16:19

You can use both... Je comprends or J'ai compris.

The former is more like 'I hear you'(I accept your opinion - because you respect the other persons right to their own opinion and freedom of expression and speech - even though you may or may not agree with it)

while the later is more factual like 'Ok, got it'(my brain processed it efficiently and your explanation made sense)


Je comprends ... I understand something; usually something tangible as in Je comprends les regles ... I understand the rules

Je compris (or J'ai compris) ... I understand or understood something less tangible as in after a discussion like "they've turned brexit into a disaster" someone might respond "tell me about it" ... and in French Je compris ... I believe what you're saying

  • "Je compris" is a mistake and does not exist. Jun 28 '19 at 5:19
  • 2
    @ON5MFJurgen: c'est le passé simple, ce n'est pas une erreur.
    – Toto
    Jun 28 '19 at 6:19
  • @Toto exact! Je n'étais pas encore entièrement réveillé apparemment :-) Et le passé simplement est si peu utilisé... Sorry, my mistake! Jun 28 '19 at 8:13

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