This question is on these two sentences.

The first one is from chapter 6 of La porte étroite by André Gide.

Miss Ashburton, dont la santé depuis quelques mois déclinait, mourut quatre jours avant Noël.

The second one is from this earlier post.

Je travaille sur le projet depuis deux ans lorsque je trouve la solution

This sentence is meant to be in the historic present narration. (If you need concrete context, imagine the opening of a movie with voice-over narration. The voice belongs to a character who is in a coma, to whom everything is the present. He recounts to you the events leading to his accident, starting: "I have been working on the project for two years when I find the solution. Everyone is there in the lab to congratulate me. No one notices the [warning signs]. . .")

The second sentence was called into question (thought "a little weird") in the earlier post because (insofar as I can understand it) a solution suggests end of work while travaille suggests its continuance. I add that there was also a dissenting voice, which found the sentence just fine.


Is the Gide sentence "weird" to a different (i.e. lesser) degree?


Please note that I am not asking whether the second sentence is or is not weird. It's enough for me that it can sound weird to some ear at some time.

What I ask is whether this weirdness is exacerbated by travaille being in the (historic) present while déclinait, in the imperfect, is less weird or not weird at all.

You will note that death would end the decline as effectively as a solution might research work.

Obviously if you thought both sounded just fine, you might not have much to say about the relative degrees of weirdness.

This other post is on the Gide sentence, but is not highly relevant to this post.

  • "a solution suggests end of work while travaille suggests its continuance." Yes. But we don’t know the solution of what it’s about… He may have found a solution to a part of the project, so this part ended but the whole project is still continuing.
    – Stéphane
    Jan 24, 2017 at 16:08
  • I find it confusing that you are referring to some previous post as if we are supposed to remember it. Or, you are asking us to go and see it and come back here. I don't see how the two sentences are comparable at all. Perhaps you might enlighten me.
    – Lambie
    Jan 25, 2017 at 0:47
  • @Lambie. I made the question self-standing. No need to visit the earlier post. The question is simply if you saw a problem in the second sentence whether you found it in the first sentence as well. If someone does not see a problem in the second, the question may not make any sense, which would be natural.
    – Catomic
    Jan 25, 2017 at 1:05
  • @Catomic, but one is in the narrative present and the other is not using that at all. There is no relationship between the imperfect declinait and travaille that I can suss out at all. If Gide's had been in the same form, then it would have been: Miss Ashburton, dont la santé depuis quelques mois décline, meurt quatre jours avant Noël.
    – Lambie
    Jan 25, 2017 at 1:17
  • I like "Miss Ashburton, dont la santé depuis quelques mois décline, meurt quatre jours avant Noël." very much :-)
    – Frank
    Jan 25, 2017 at 1:22

2 Answers 2


I was writing about the Gide sentence explaining why it makes sense, but I realize it's not the point, the real problem is with the second one.

It feels weird of the combo "deux ans" + "lorsque". The suddennes of "lorsque" doesn't match very well with the long duration of two years. It's like saying "I was doing something for 2 years then suddenly I found a solution".

You can say :

Je mange mon sandwich sans faire attention aux gens autour de moi lorsqu'un inconnu vient m'approcher.

The tenses are the same, it also uses lorsque, but the implication are different. Eating a sandwich is a somewhat short action, it makes sense to be interrupted.

Also, "Je travaille sur un projet depuis deux ans" doesn't sound like narration present, it sounds like general truth present, just like saying "je travaille dans l'immobilier". And you cannot use "lorsque" in a sentence using general truth present, it just doesn't make sense.

In your sentence, I understand that finding the solution marked the end of the project, that's an important component. Using "depuis" with present means you're still doing the action (pendant often means it's over, but not necessarily). You can use present for narration but still use past for stuff that already happened at the time of the story.

Narration present is more about describing short actions. You can describe long actions (more than a day I mean), but it sounds weird to interrupt them with a short sentence.

You could say :

Je travaille sur ce projet pendant 2 ans. Un jour, je trouve la solution.


Je commence à travailler sur ce projet. Deux ans plus tard/Après deux ans, je trouve la solution.

(If those two sentences raise more questions, please ask them in comment as they come.)

  • Intéressant. On pourrait aussi utiliser quand plutôt que lorsque. Mais lorsque ne me choque pas. Le problème de perception serait le même avec quand de toute façon. Il faudrait voir si quand et lorsque sont proscrits ici, ou non, ou si c'est une déviance/dérive.
    – Frank
    Jan 24, 2017 at 18:34
  • Aussi, lorsque a/a eu d’autres usages. J’ai trouvé “Ils n’auront pas la maison avant dix ans, lorsque je devrais crever de faim entre les quatre murs” ( dans Zola, Au Bonheurs des Dames) dans le Grevisse. Ces autres usages pourraient contribuer a affaiblir l’implication de simultanéité dans le mot lorsque.
    – Frank
    Jan 24, 2017 at 18:59
  • Questions for Teleporting Goat would be: 1. Does changing the second sentence to depuis deux semaines or jours make it more acceptable then? 2. Does changing lorsque to quand change anything (per @Frank's observation)? Thanks.
    – Catomic
    Jan 25, 2017 at 2:56
  • Like you said in an another comment, it's difficult to say why I don't like the expression. 2. Quand doesn't change much IMO. The problem is the same with simultaneity and suddenness, you're comparing a very long action with a short one, and that supposedly ends the first one. It's really the combination of all this stuff that makes it weird. The "depuis" also bothers me, notice I used "pendant" in my alternative solutions. (It brings back to the part about general truth present.) I have more stuff to say about that so I'll edit my answer. Jan 25, 2017 at 13:10
  • And 1., It's a little less weird but I'd still say this differently. I'm sorry I can't really give more consistent explanation ^^ Also, to answer Frank,lorsque doesn't always imply suddenness, it depends on the context, but finding example doesn't change that it does in this sentence. Jan 25, 2017 at 13:17

I would say that yes, in the second sentence, the present tense travaille, was chosen for its stylistic impact, bringing a sense of immediacy to the narration. So yes, that travaille would be the key to making this sentence interesting (it is, IMHO, a good, pleasant style).

I think "weird" is not the right word here. It's just different styles, the second one probably being more "modern" (not implying common) than Gide's style. My feeling is that writers before the fifties probably would not have considered using this present tense style (I could be wrong).

  • I wanted to know why the sentence might not sit well with someone, but it is also valuable to know that it is "good, pleasant style" to someone else. Thanks.
    – Catomic
    Jan 25, 2017 at 0:58
  • @Catomic - yes - I saw the details of your question. It's interesting that Teleporting Goat had a completely different reason for being "surprised". I can understand his feeling, but it is not as significant for me. I think the style is definitely distinctive. Did you see my 2 comments in French below Teleporting Goat's answer? I'm still trying to dig into this lorsque.
    – Frank
    Jan 25, 2017 at 1:19
  • @Catomic - also note that Teleporting Goat's main premise is that lorsque necessarily implies suddenness - which I am disputing. I do not know for sure if lorsque is supposed to inevitably imply suddenness and I'm looking for examples where it doesn't. I found one example where lorsque was used with another meaning. Also, I have data (googe ngrams) showing that lorsque is less common than quand.
    – Frank
    Jan 25, 2017 at 1:25
  • @Catomic - the dictionary from the French Academy gives the following definition for lorsque: "Quand, au moment où. J'en jugerai lorsque je serai mieux informé. Lorsqu'il est arrivé, je sortais. Lorsqu'il pleut, les oiseaux se taisent." Note how it seems like it implies simultaneity more than suddenness, esp. in "Lorsqu'il pleut, les oiseaux se taisent." - Teleporting Goat might be after simultaneity rather than suddenness.
    – Frank
    Jan 25, 2017 at 1:28
  • Yes I saw your comments to Teleporting Goat. It's often difficult to bring out why one doesn't like some expression. I think it's a subtle thing with him too.
    – Catomic
    Jan 25, 2017 at 1:54

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