I understand that 'tout le temps' can mean 'the whole time' or 'all the time.' I would assume, then, that the distinction is made depending on the context.

For example, if I wanted pointed to a specific moment in the past in order to express that since THAT moment until now a certain action has occured 'the whole time', would something like the following work well?

Depuis que je suis arrivé a l'hôtel il y a 6 semaines, il y a certaines clients que j'ai toujours vu. Sont-ils là tout le temps ?

Translation: “Since arriving 6 weeks ago, there have been certain clients that I've always seen. Have they been here the whole time?”

But 'Sont-ils là tout le temps?' as a question can also mean, 'are they here all the time/are they always here.'

So I was just wondering whether the context of my original question would make it clear that I wanted to know whether the clients have been here since I've arrived and not 'always' as a vague indicator of time.

3 Answers 3


The tense used disambiguate the sentence:

Asking if they are always here, not only during the period of time we are talking about:

Sont-ils là tout le temps ?

Asking if they have been here the whole time we are talking about:

Ont-ils été là tout le temps ?

Asking if they will be there the whole time we are talking about:

Seront-ils là tout le temps ?

  • Thanks jilliagre. The use of 'been' in english is difficult to translate in french as there isn't always a direct equivalent. For example 'i have been here for 2 weeks' is 'ca fait deux semaines que je suis la' (literally, '...since I am here) so I decided to omit 'été', thinking it would be to literal a translation. Given the information provided in the part of the question preceding this phrase, would not the listener understand it to be within the given time frame i.e. are they here the whole time (literally)/have they been here the whole time (equivalent)? Oct 14, 2018 at 21:29
  • Another example of the troublesome nature of 'been' is in the phrase, 'i have never been there,' which is 'Je n'y suis pas allé' Oct 14, 2018 at 21:37
  • I have been here for two weeks: J'y suis depuis deux semaines; I have never been here: Je n'y suis jamais allé or Je n'y ai jamais été
    – jlliagre
    Oct 14, 2018 at 21:47
  • Oh yes, of course. Thanks. I was wondering if you could confirm my question in the above comment on whether or not it would be clear, given the context of the question, that I am referring to the time since I arrived. Or is it absolutely necessary to use 'Ils ont été...' instead of 'ils sont...' Oct 14, 2018 at 22:15
  • Should you want to use the present, that could be ils sont tout le temps là depuis deux semaines.
    – jlliagre
    Oct 14, 2018 at 23:01

Your first remark is quite right: "tout le temps" can mean "the whole time" or "all the time". For example:

Ne t'inquiète pas, nous avons tout le temps


Don't worry, we have the whole time

Though I think that here, English people might as well use "all the time", but not in the sense of "always".

And now the other sense:

Tu te trompes tout le temps

This time, we can translate it: "You always make that mistake". So here, "tout le temps" doesn't mean "the whole time" but "always" or "every time".

And now, your example. First, you made two little mistakes: you should have typed

"certains clients que j'ai toujours vus"

instead of

"certaines clients que j'ai toujours vu".

Secondly, the phrase "sont-ils là tout le temps" doesn't mean "the whole time", but "always": If you wanted to express "the whole time", you should have used "tout ce temps" instead of "tout le temps":

Ont-ils été là tout ce temps?

1."Toujours" is not very precise;

-Depuis que je suis arrivé à l'hôtel il y a six semaines, il y a certains clients que je n'ai pas cessé d'y voir. Sont-ils là tout le temps ?

The addition of "y" (which stands for "hotel") makes the sentence more explicit.

2.Let's take up the following sentence;

Translation: Since arriving 6 weeks ago, there have been certain clients that I've always seen. Have they been here the whole time.?'

Something is not right: "the whole time" has to refer to a specific time and that time can only be the time from the arriving to the end of the six weeks; how can the person ask about those clients being there during that time (that whole time) when it is the same person saying that he/she has seen those clients there? Is it possible that you mean something else? For example do you mean that although you saw the clients now and again during the six weeks you do not know whether their stay at the hotel was a continuous one? That seems the only other possible case; if that is so then you might want to phrase your question as follows;

-Depuis que je suis arrivé à l'hôtel il y a six semaines, il y a certains clients que je n'ai pas cessé d'y voir. Sont-ils restés dans cet hôtel six semaines d'affilée ?

  1. Your first sentence indicates the opposite of what you want to say; it says that you want to know whether from an indeterminate date before you arrived those clients were at the hotel and kept on being there thereafter.

In order to make the distinction you want it is necessary to make the context more precise, as in number 2 above.

  • You're right, I had wanted to ask whether the guests' stay had been a continuous one having seen them on and off over the past few weeks. Because in the moment I had thought of the sentence in the original way I phrased it above and since it would have been more or less clear within the context of the conversation I was having, I decided to have it translated it as such. I was wondering what are your thoughts on jilliagre's post below regarding the use of 'été.' Oct 14, 2018 at 21:23
  • @Armaan I think there is no tangible difference between jilliagre's first and second cases; the only slight modification in the information communicated is derived on this basis; the first case makes use of a state present: the state is true in the past , now, and we expect it to so be in the future (Les pins sont-ils verts tout le temps?); the second makes use of "passé composé": it is the tense of states began in the past and that are still true now or a short time before, and there is no judgement about the future (Les pins ont-ils été verts tout le temps?).
    – LPH
    Oct 14, 2018 at 22:25

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