I thought that the passé composé was used in French to express an action that has definitely finished and is not related to the present. In English we use the present perfect (has been) to express something in the past but which is still relevant to the present.

So why use "il y a eu"? To me it seems like it should be "il y a avait" as the imparfait indicates an action which has happened in the past but has not necessarily finished and may still be continuing.

Can anyone explain the reason for this to me?

  • Although a distinction is made between "perfect" and "perfective" aspect, and we're taught that the passé composé is the latter, I've noticed that Francophones on this site have varying opinions on whether an action in PC "is still relevant to the present". Compare e.g. Feelew's last comment under my answer here to Maxence1402's answer below it and Anne Aunyme's answer here.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Oct 15, 2017 at 13:05

1 Answer 1


Il y a avait is totally incorrect. Maybe you meant il y avait eu ?

Il y a eu is passé composé so yes, it's past and over. However, if you say il y a eu une nouvelle loi (there has been a new law), the law may be still in application at the time you speak (still relevant to the present), but the event have a new law, meaning the new law is published, is actually over. So passé composé is right, and it is used to express the passed instant, the event of the law starting to exist.

Il y avait eu is passé antérieur, so it would be used only if you speak of an event that happened before something else also passed : "Il y avait eu une nouvelle loi mais je ne le savais pas" (There had been a new law but I didn't know that).

"Il y avait" is imparfait and is used to express something that lasted in the past, not an event. Il y avait une loi means the law was in application, but without saying anything about since when. The law could still be in application (il y avait déjà une loi ...) or being over (il y avait une loi, supprimée depuis), the important is that we talk about something who lasted in time.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.