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I understand that in the main clause of 'depuis que', present tense is used if the action is still ongoing, and that usually in the sub clause of 'depuis que', past tense is used.

  • Depuis que je suis revenue [past] de ce voyage, je ne fais [present] que manger et dormir.

However what I can't understand is why present tense 'suis' is used below although the state of being a child is no longer true.

  • Je suis [present] une passionnée depuis que je suis [present] petite.

Why is it wrong to say in past tense 'depuis que j'étais petite'?

  • Je suis [present] une passionnée depuis que j'étais [past] petite.
  • The use of that present in the second sentence is an annoying illogicality, isn't it? – LPH Sep 7 '18 at 15:45
  • You might want to opt for a solution that makes use of no verb instead (2nd sentence), almost as in the English "I have been passionate since my childhood .": "Je suis une passionnée depuis mon enfance.". – LPH Sep 7 '18 at 15:59
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Regardless of whether the subordinate clause (i.e. after depuis que ) is still true or not, the present used in the main clause (manger et dormir or être une passionnée) forbids the imperfect to be used in the subordinate clause because the main action is still ongoing:

I have been eating and sleeping since I came back from that trip.

I have been a fan since I was a child.

You only use the imperfect in the subordinate clause when the main action happened in the past:

Je ne faisais que manger et dormir depuis que j'étais revenue de ce voyage. (but this period is over)

Depuis que j'étais petite, j'étais une passionnée. (this might have changed)

As you noticed, both the passé composé or the present are possible in the subordinate.

The passé composé is used when the period is relative while the present is used when the period is absolute, e.g.:

Depuis que j'ai passé mon permis, c'est moi qui conduit. (relative, I passed it one day)

Depuis que j'ai le permis, c'est moi qui conduit. (absolute, I still have it)

Both je suis revenue and je suis petite are telling from when the main clause is ongoing. Using the passé composé with être petite would insist on the fact this is no more true but is a little heavy:

Depuis que j'ai été petite, je suis une passionnée.

The present is used instead as être petite is not a point in time but more a "permanent" state, although I understand how confusing it is for non native speakers.

The present can be used in similar situations where it wouldn't make sense in English:

Depuis que j'ai quatorze ans, j'aime le rock !: The person talking is no more 14.

On le connaît depuis qu'il marche à quatre pattes: He isn't toddling anymore.

If the subordinate describes a real point in time, the passé composé is used:

Depuis que j'ai fêté mes quatorze ans, j'aime le rock !

On le connaît depuis qu'il a marché à quatre pattes pour la première fois.

See this Monique L'Huillier's document that tells the tense mismatch between French and English is an issue for people learning French and that Gabriel Wyler's page for a description of depuis uses, from which I picked the relationship between passé composé/present and relative/absolute.

  • Well, you could say "Je suis fan des des États-unis depuis que j'ai visité New York" : present used in the main, past in the subordonate. I can't put my finger on the reason why though. Question 3 in your link could be helpful but doesn't provide much info. Isn't that all very specific to the whole "depuis que je suis petit(e)" idiom ? – Laurent S. Sep 7 '18 at 13:46
  • Yes, I corrected my answer. Present or passé composé are possible but not imparfait. – jlliagre Sep 7 '18 at 14:14
  • @LaurentS. Now you mention it (seeing it as a fixed idiom), what's your take on: "Depuis que je suis petit, j'étais toujours attiré par tout ce qui touche à l'astronomie, (mais je ne le suis plus.)" – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Sep 7 '18 at 14:27
  • @Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Doesn't work for me. That should be either depuis que je suis petit, je suis attiré... (still true) or depuis que j'étais petit, j'étais attiré... (no more true). – jlliagre Sep 7 '18 at 14:29
  • In addition to jlliagre, you could use "Depuis que j'étais petit, j'avais toujours été attiré par...". Note that you could maybe more elegantly convey the same meaning with less complex conjugation using "Depuis l'enfance, j'étais/j'avais été attiré"... – Laurent S. Sep 7 '18 at 14:52

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