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I was curious as to how such a voice would be rendered in french.

For example:

  • I think they are being used: je crois qu'ils sont utilisés.

  • They were being told not to enter the house when he collapsed: ils étaient donné l'ordre de ne pas entrer la maison quand il a eu une perte de conscience. This one is the most confusing because I know the french don't use a progressive tense so I wanted to confirm that language makes no meaningful distinction between "they were being told...when..." and "they were told....when"

  • It hasn't been used in years: ça fait longtemps que ça n'est pas été utilisé.

I was also wondering if such sentences would be used in the passive voice or if another construction is more apt.

  • That should be alors qu'on leur disait de ne pas entrer dans la maison, il perdit connaissance. and ça fait des années que ça n'a pas été utilisé. – jlliagre Oct 21 '18 at 14:29
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  1. I think they are being used: je crois qu'ils sont utilisés

It seems, first, that this sentence in English expresses typically the fact that people in question are being abused in some way.If you wanted to say that someone is using something you'd say more naturally "I think someone's using them." or "I think they are using them." or "I think there are people using them."

I think they are being used. -- Je crois que quelqu'un les manipule. (1)

I think someone's using them. -- Je crois que quelqu'un s'en sert or (entirely equivalent) Je crois que quelqu'un est en train de s'en servir. (2)

  1. they were being told not to enter the house when he collapsed: "ils étaient donné l'ordre de ne pas entrer la maison quand il a eu une perte de conscience."

The translation of the first verb form can only be "On leur donnait" or "on était en train de leur donner"; moreover the context as elicited from the English sentence is a very unlikely one: to give an order takes very little time and therefore can't be expressed by a progressive form; What would you say of "He was eating bread when suddenly one of his teeth was breaking."? (broke).1 Next is the translation;

On était en train de leur donner l'ordre de ne pas entrer dans la maison quand il a eu une perte de connaissance. (3)

3.It hasn't been used in years: ça fait longtemps que ça n'est pas été utilisé. (4)

That one is almost correct except for the auxiliary verb: it's "avoir" not "être"; "hasn't been used" is not a progresive tense; it is a passive voice present perfect (They have used it for years.); prog: not used, it would be "it has not been being used".

(…que ça n'a pas été utilisé)

    • (1) Je crois qu'il sont manipulés par quelqu'un.

    • (2) (3) (4) No passive form

1 This is a correction made after comments; the assertions, downright wrong or insufficiently precise, have been stricken rather than removed so as not to render the flow of comments meaningless. In the light of the comments (OP and Janus Bahs Jacket) I conceive the progressive form as fully justified in the present context, that as a consequence, essentially, of the characterisation of the span of time over which the action is acknowledged as having to be short being only a very relative notion. The example given (broken tooth) is correct but its context does not match.

  • Thanks. Regarding your second point, is the reason my example doesn't work due to the fact that the passive voice must suggest a subject which does the action. I.e. "they were being given orders" doesn't indicate who is giving them but in french, this element must be included? I was also hoping you could clarify something you mentioned in the same section. "He was eating bread when suddenly one of his teeth broke" is a coherent sentence but I'm unsure why you gave this example in relation to mine. Finally, what are your thoughts on Carl Masens comment - is his also a sound translation? – user18084 Oct 21 '18 at 19:01
  • @user18084 second point: I'll have to think longer about that one and see if I can come up witha sensible explanation. The example I give aims to show that your use of the progressive form is extreme as the action of giving an order is short (relatively); let's take another one: "The captain was giving the order to stand up."; normally, for such a short command, it seems someone would say "The captain gave the order to stand up", wouldn't you agree?. Final point: I'm sorry to say that "je crois qu'ils sont en train de s'utiliser" is an error ; he has a point on the expicitness, though. – LPH Oct 21 '18 at 19:53
  • @user18084 His first sentence should be "Je crois qu'on est en train de les utiliser."; the second is also slightly wrong; you do not use "en train" with a passive form: for instance you can't say "Le drap est en train d'être cousu."; You say rather "On est en train de coudre le drap."; again, you can't say "Les soldats sont en train d'être tués.", but you can say "Les soldats sont en train de se faire tuer." because there is no passive form in this case. – LPH Oct 21 '18 at 20:06
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    There’s nothing unlikely about “they were being told not to enter the house when he collapsed”. Giving an order is not punctual and can absolutely be expressed in progressive constructions in English. Collapsing usually takes perhaps a second or two, while telling someone not to enter a building may perhaps take ten or fifteen seconds, depending on context. Quite apart from that, even quite punctual actions can be expressed progressively, again, in the right context. The progressive in English is very flexible and can be used for almost any conceivable action, given the right context. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 21 '18 at 20:15
  • @Janus I agree with your explanation, although offhand I wouldn't have been capable of putting it as clearly and completely as you do; notice however that I do not exclude totally the possibility you underline as I do not change the sentence and as I use in the translation an equivalent of the progressive form; la traduction "On leur donnait l'ordre de ne pas entrer dans la maison…" would have been quite good if not preferable in at least a normal context. – LPH Oct 21 '18 at 20:34
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For an explicit present progressive, it is generally recommended to use être en train de..., in which case "I think they are being used", in the sense of "I think they are in the process of being used", would be rendered as je crois qu'ils sont en train de s'utiliser, or je crois qu'ils sont en train d'être utilisés for an explicit emphasis on the "beingness" of the utilisation.

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