"I couldn't finish the exam in time yesterday. There wasn't enough time."

Je n'ai pas pu finir l'examen à temps hier. Il (n'y avait pas / n'y a pas eu) assez de temps.

Is the imparfait or the passé composé appropriate for the second sentence? I'm not sure if the sentence is talking about the setting in general (which would require the imparfait) or about this exam in particular (which would require the passé composé).

2 Answers 2


I think the most naturally flowing sentence in French would be:

Je n'ai pas pu finir l'examen à temps hier. Il n'y avait pas assez de temps.

There are other possibilities, but this one would probably be the most common when speaking.

Curiously, if you insisted on using the passé composé, I would say:

Je n'ai pas pu finir l'examen à temps hier. Je n'ai pas eu assez de temps.

Other combinations (il n'y a pas eu / je n'avais pas) may be possible, but they sound strange or too complicated to me if the first sentence contains je n'ai pas pu (passé composé). This could be a reflection of everyday usage as opposed to grammatical correctness though.


I suspect that a direct calque of "There wasn't enough time" isn't ideal, in any case, because there's a risk that the présentatif + "time" won't work as a metaphor.

Some alternatives are Le temps n'était pas suffisant, Le temps était fini, Le temps manquait, Je n'ai pas eu le temps.

That said, if you were to use the présentatif, I don't know if there's a very strong case to be made either way, but I would probably choose the imparfait (despite the PC in that last example...). Trying to formulate a coherent reason in my head; will update if one comes. :)

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