Here is an abstract from Le Petit Nicolas by Sempe and Goscinny that my French learning friend was studying:

Le photographe etait la, aussi, avec son appareil et la maitresse lui a dit qu'il fallait faire vite, sinon, nous allions rater notre cours d'arithmetique.

What is the tense of the verb in bold?

Despite being French myself, I couldn't answer my friend's question. At first, it has the "verbe aller+infinitif" of the futur proche, but the verb avoir is here conjugated at imparfait tense, so it doesn't work. Is there a specific name for that tense (futur proche du passe?) or is it just imparfait+infinitif?

What does this tense express?

The name of the tense is mostly a keyword for further researches. More interestingly is to understand its main usages. My explanation is that it is "the futur proche in a past context". Indeed, the narrator (Nicolas) tells an anecdote from his childhood, and the event related by "allions rater" happens shortly after the main related event (the photo), but still in the past from Nicolas' point of view. Is it a correct interpretation?

For example, since the clause is introduced by "sinon", could "allions rater" be replaced by a conditionel present? What is the nuance expressed with

[...] sinon, nous raterions notre cours d'arithmetique.


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    Bonjour, étant français vous-même, pourquoi poser cette question en Anglais ? De plus, je ne sais pas bien d’où vous sortez cet "auxiliaire avoir", "allions" étant l’imparfait de "aller", pas de "avoir". – Laurent S. Feb 16 '18 at 8:20
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    @LaurentS.: 1. Parce qu'a ma connaissance, le le site ne me l'interdit pas. 2. Parce que je n'ai pas de clavier francais et que cela simplifie le travail de celui qui voudrait editer ma question et ajouter les accents. 3. Parce que mon amie est plus a l'aise en anglais et comprendra mieux la question en anglais. Tu as raison pour l'auxiliaire avoir. J'ai corrige – Taladris Feb 16 '18 at 11:03
  • Peut-être utiliser un correcteur orthographique fr. dans le fureteur qui vous permettra de corriger l'absence d'accents sans avoir à les taper au clavier... Merci ! – subsexdexter Feb 16 '18 at 19:26

As you guessed, it is a futur proche dans le passé, or futur périphrastique au passé.

Using the present conditional would introduce a tense mispatch. To avoid it, you might have used the past conditional that way:

[...]sinon, nous aurions raté notre cours d'arithmétique.

However, this introduces a slight change in meaning because that sentence states the lecture wasn't missed, an information the original sentence doesn't assert.

Using the imperfect is a possible alternative:

[...]sinon, nous rations notre cours d'arithmétique.

  • Conditional is not a problem here, the issue is just a tense mismatch. Don't you think “aurions raté” fits as well? – Stéphane Gimenez Feb 17 '18 at 21:31
  • @StéphaneGimenez Yes, the main issue was a tense mismatch. I thought about suggesting nous aurions raté but refrained to do it. I believe using it slightly changes the meaning of the sentence because it means we know the arithmetic lecture wasn't missed, an information which isn't implied in the original sentence or with the imperfect which both leave slightly open the possibility that the lecture was missed anyway. – jlliagre Feb 17 '18 at 23:40
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    Yes, I only meant grammatically. It does change the meaning indeed. And I think the OP was seeking this explanation when asking about conditional (although the present tense wasn't the right one to pick from). You should probably include it in your answer. – Stéphane Gimenez Feb 18 '18 at 0:02
  • @StéphaneGimenez Thanks, done. – jlliagre Feb 18 '18 at 0:19

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