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In the following sentences:

Il y a des mois que je ne l'ai pas vue.

C'est l'année où j'ai été diplômé.

In both cases the relative pronoun is used to refer to a preceding noun, which is a noun related to time. But I'm not sure when to use que and when to use in such cases as CC de temps.

So how can I use them apart properly? Or is it completely synonym?

  • You should note in the first example is possible for a different meaning; since I've seen her vs. some months I didn't see her (with ) i.e. there were some months in the year where you didn't see her at all. – personne Apr 1 at 2:00
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If the terms that connote time are used to situate something in time, then you are talking of circumstances, therefore of CC de temps. If no point in time is to be situated then "où" cannot be used ; in particular, you can't use "que" to do that. It is worth considering at this point a pervading principle relative to the terms expressing time : the effective length of time expressed by the word or words is a relative notion ;

  • L'année il a tant plu nous n'avions pas encore acheté cette maison, allons ! rappelle-toi !
  • La charge explosera à la seconde même vous activez ce levier.

When "où" is used that way the "CC de temps" is a "CC de temps position"; it was said above you can't use "que" for that and that is essentially true as there is at least one case of substandard French where the conjunction is used for that ; here is that case ;

La fois qu'on a été à la kermesse avec Aline il n'y avait pas de musique.

When you use "que" as a relative pronoun you must have a COD (other constructions are rare), so there is no similarity as in this case an action must be made to bear on "que" and there is no concern with the whereabouts and hows of the action (CC de temps, de lieu, de manière, etc.) but only that of making precise that an action bears upon a concept worded in the preceding proposition and represented in this other one by "que".

  • le temps que nous avons a perdu (nous avons perdu « que » (le temps))

  • le mois que ça a pris (ça a pris « que » (le mois))

The first sentence (Il y a des mois que je ne l'ai pas vue.) is not however of the supposed type ; "que" is here a conjunction. There are other cases such as this one that are tricky to recognise. If "que" were a pronoun it would have the function of object in the proposition ; however there is already un object (l') ; moreover, "voir les mois" wouldn't make much sense.

You might find sources that consider "que" used in this way as a relative pronoun, for instance this one ; however, I believe that the traditional analysis as supported by the French Academy is the one that is best and according to this latter, "que" is a conjunction, not a relative pronoun.

Il y a dix ans que je ne fume plus. (Ac.)

A few examples so as to start getting the hang of it

  • Le jour je l'ai rencontrée il pleuvait.
  • Le jour que j'ai passé à apprendre ces règles est perdu, elles ne servent à rien.
  • Ils ont vécu près de ces collines deux mois qu'ils regrettent amèrement.
  • Deux mois il fait vraiment chaud, juillet et aout, sont consacrés aux vacances.
  • Voilà deux mois qu'il pleut et ça ne s'arrête pas. (conjunction)
  • Le temps on trouve des champignons dans les bois, c'est l'automne.
  • Le temps que l'on ne sent pas passer est du temps que l'on trouve parfois bien employé.
  • Pendant toutes ces années qu'ils ont œuvré les autres n'ont rien fait. (conjunction)
  • Non, la fois il t'a parlé des étoiles de mer c'était quand nous avons passé les vacances ensembles.
  • Tout le temps qu'il a pris à raconter ses histoires d'animaux aurait pu être utilisé à autre chose.
  • Ça fait des siècles que cette espèce s'est éteinte. (conjunction)

The real difficulty lies in telling the relative "que" from the conjunction "que". The process in making this distinction consists in asking oneself whether the action of the verb "bears upon the word "que"".

  • Durant l'année qu'il a perdu les autres ont progressé. "perdre" is transitive, an object is needed, therefore that's "que" and "que" is a relative pronoun.

  • Durant toutes ces années que vous avez perdu votre temps les autres ont progressé. "Perdre" is transitive, an object is needed, and there is a candidate for the object already in the word "temps"; as there can be only one object and that there is no other option for "temps" it is the object and "que" cannot be one; therefore "que" can't be a pronoun and has to be the conjunction.

It can be noticed that when "que" is the conjunction the complement is not anymore a "CC de temps position" but a "CC de temps période".

The conjunction is found in the following constructions ;

  • "depuis … que, il y a … que, voilà … que, voici … que, ça fait … que, durant … que, pendant … que", "maintenant que, à présent que, aujourd'hui que

examples

  • Maintenant qu'il pleut les escargots vont sortir.
  • Le temps les escargots sortent est quand il pleut.
  • Thanks for the very detailed answer. Let me have more time to digest it... – Blaszard Mar 31 at 17:18

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