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How do you say I "was going to" (some verb), but something came up?

J'étais en train de? I know that is not exactly what I mean to say, because it suggests being in the middle of something, while what I mean is the action had not begun yet. So it's not an interruption but failure to begin. J'allais? But then is this a sort of like planning to do something in the future but the action (or lack of action) happening in the past? Would I need subjunctif? Ah I'm confused, I'm just learning the subjunctif, so that's probably wrong. :D

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The more or less literal translation “j'allais” works. There is no subjunctive involved.

J'allais partir quand le téléphone a sonné.   (I was about to leave when the phone rang.)
J'allais le faire hier mais j'ai dû traiter une demande urgente à la place.   (I was going to do it yesterday but I had to process an urgent request instead.)

J'étais en train de” means that you were already doing the task.

J'allais” is generally good but there can be other translations. For example, “I was about to …” may be translated as “Je m'apprêtais à …” to indicate imminence, i.e. that you were just about to start (as opposed to merely planning to do it later). Conversely, to indicate that you were planning something but hadn't committed to starting, you can say something like “J'avais prévu de …” (“I had planned to …”).

  • thank you Gilles for that prompt and helpful reply. I have chosen this as the answer and upvoted it. I have another question. If I am going to do something in future, can I use a similar construction? For instance to say, I am going to leave tomorrow, unless my boss calls. – Jlente Oct 27 '16 at 23:28
  • @Jlente “Je partirai demain sauf si mon patron m'appelle”. “Je vais partir …” is also possible but it sounds a bit awkward. I'm having trouble explaining why beyond native intuition. I think it's because “je vais partir” is a kind of immediate future, and “mon patron m'appelle” is an event that (possibly) occurs between now and “partir” so “partir” is not so immediate. But I'm not completely sure that this explanation is correct. – Gilles Oct 27 '16 at 23:45

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