Fill in the blank using the appropriate conjugation of the given verb (vouloir):

Hier, tous les gens ______(vouloir) parler ensemble.

I think the verb should be conjugated in the Passé Compose tense, as the action was momentary, associated with a particular instant of time, and not continuous. However, the text seems to use Imparfait to arrive at the answer.

Could someone explain which tense is more appropriate/correct in this case? Also, is there any definite rule which can help distinguish between cases where one of the two tenses have to be used?

  • You may find some answers here When to use imparfait or passé composé for simultaneous actions?. I also think your example sentence is weird, what was the initial sentence ?
    – Bebs
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 9:13
  • This was exactly the sentence given, it may be wrong. (I'm not sure) Is it? Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 9:22
  • 4
    Either could be used according to context. If this sentence is taken out a textbook (it sounds like it...) then it is an example of the stupidity of grammar exercises where context is often forgotten.
    – None
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 9:24
  • I don't think it is incorrect, but it just sounds odd. It is important to understand the meaning because it will determine what the right tense.
    – Bebs
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 9:24
  • Is there a rule or common observation that vouloir in past is 'usually' in the imparfait? Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 9:27

1 Answer 1


Hier tous les gens voulaient parler ensemble et on ne s'entendait plus.

By using the imparfait I stress the fact the people all wanted to have their say all along whatever was taking place and they would not relent.

Hier tous les gens ont voulu parler ensemble à la fin de mon discours.

I'm pointing to fact that my speech triggered some reaction in the audience and the people all wanted to intervene. It does not mean the situation lasted long or did not come to an end.

Note however that in this last case I'd rather use se mettre à ("tous les gens se sont mis à parler ensemble") than vouloir.

And I gather most French natives would say tout le monde instead of tous les gens.

To answer your comment I've just noticed, no there's no rule that says vouloir in the past is 'usually' in the imparfait. Context makes it all.

  • Also Hier tous les gens voulurent parler ensemble, hier tous les gens auraient voulu parler ensemble and even maybe hier tous les gens avaient voulu parler ensemble.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 14:00

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