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I've recently been studying the:

-Imperfect;
-Simple Future; and
-Conditional (mood)

in French, and I'm wondering why the tenses are constructed in the way that they are.

For the imperfect, one conjugates the verb as though it were a normal present-tense verb, but just uses different endings (-ais, -ait, -aions, etc.)

For the simple future, the verb stems are modified and always end with a least one "r" for the stem, then the conjugation for avoir is added (largely) to each form accordingly.

For the conditional, one takes the verb stem of the simple future and then adds the conjugations for the imperfect tense.

Why is there such a strange combination for the conditional and how did the other tenses come to be with their conjugations and stems and whatnot?

  • "Strange" is in the eyes of the beholder :-) That being said, this is above my paygrade in linguistics. I hope one of the linguists here will give an answer. – Frank Feb 7 '17 at 2:22
  • I'd never heard the future tense described as "verb stem + avoir" or the conditional as "verb stem + imperfect". These sound like somewhat weak mnemonics that don't have any relationship to etymology – qoba Feb 7 '17 at 5:17
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    @qoba It's not mnemonics and has a historical reason, and you can find that in most grammar books for French natives (eg Grammaire Larousse), or for learners as a foreign language. And it's most of the time pointed out to primary schoolchildren in France. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Feb 7 '17 at 7:11
  • Wow! Never knew that before – qoba Feb 7 '17 at 20:22
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Conditional origin is already answered here: What is the historical origin of the French présent conditionnel?

Imperfect is a direct evolution of the same tense in Latin, with the noticeable fact an 's' has been added to the first person singular.

amabam   → amava   → ameie   → aimoie  → aimois   → aimais
amabas   → amavas  → ameies  → aimoies → aimois   → aimais
amabat   → amavat  → ameiet  → aimoiet → aimoit   → aimait
amabamus →           amiiens →                      aimions
amabatis →           amiiez  →                      aimiez
amabant  →           ameient →           aimoient → aimaient

Reference: http://monsu.desiderio.free.fr/curiosites/imparfait.html

The simple future has been designed a similar manner than the conditional, from periphrasis:

amare habeo   → amareo   → aimerai
amare habeas  → amareas  → aimeras
amare habet   → amarea   → aimera
amare habemus → amaremus → aimerons
amare habetis → amareis  → aimerez
amare habent  → amarent  → aimeront

As you see, its no surprise if you recognize the avoir verb in the future tense endings as that very verb was already used in Latin.

Reference: http://monsu.desiderio.free.fr/curiosites/futur.html

  • Amare habeo? Not amabo pour le futur? C'est du Bas Latin? – Frank Feb 7 '17 at 15:34
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    @Frank Les futurs en -b- ont disparu de toutes les langues romanes, en faveur de constructions initialement périphrastiques, généralement le participe + habere. Ces formes sont déjà présentes ça et là durant la période classique, mais ne deviennent dominantes que dans les langues romanes, donc j'hésiterais à appeler ça du bas latin. Amābo aurait donné j'amèf en français (en supposant une évolution phonétique normale sans reformation sur base du reste du paradygme verbal, en tout cas, ce qui est hautement improbable). – Eau qui dort Feb 7 '17 at 17:29
  • The resources I have found suggest that the "ei" of the imperfect in Old French 1st-conjugation verbs was not a natural development from Latin "ab", but came about by analogy with the "eb" of 2nd and 3rd conjugation verbs: books.google.com/… – sumelic Feb 7 '17 at 18:19
  • books.google.com/… – sumelic Feb 7 '17 at 18:19
  • @sumelic i was about to mention that in my preceding comment, but jlliagre's first link makes a note of it. It's probably worth an aside, or to take a regular third group verb as example rather than aimer – Eau qui dort Feb 7 '17 at 19:59

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