I am having troubles to understand the choice of the verbal times in the examples below.

I don't understand why we should use le passé composé in the first one and l'imparfait in the second one? I would go with le passé composé in both cases.

1.) En 1995, les archéologues ont retrouvé des morceaux du phare d'Alexandrie qu'un tremblement de terre avait détruit en 1302.

2.) En 356 avant J.-C. Érostrate détruisait le temple de Diane, à Éphèse, dont la construction avait duré cent-vingt ans.

Why the verb dénuder is in l'imparfait in the third example below? Shoudn't it be in le plus-que-parfait if the wind stopped after it had denuded the trees, which means the act of denuding happened before stopping?

3.) Tout avait commencé le 1er Avril. Le vent qui, depuis deux jours dénudait les arbres, avait cessé. Prince n'était pas sorti de toute la matinée. Il se tenait là, impassible, son large museau noir collé aux carreaux de la fenêtre.

2 Answers 2


In this third example the "imparfait" is a "background" tense; it is used to communicate information about the setting; the explanation below comes from the following reference;

A1) L'imparfait de l’arrière-plan ou de l'action secondaire : il s'applique à des procès secondaires d'arrière plan, contrairement au passé simple qui est réservé à l'évocation des événements de premier plan.

The plus-que-parfait is a possible choice within the general tone set by the imparfait; however you introduce a slight difference and that is that at the time when the wind stopped the trees had been bared, whereas the imparfait means that this action of pulling the leaves off the trees was going on and had not necessarily been completed (there might still be leaves left). It dépends on what you want to say.


LPH gave a good answer. Just to complete it a little:

First of all, keep in mind that the passé composé is used for a fact. Something punctual, or at least the conclusion of something that lasted. Whereas the imparfait is for something that lasts in time and serves as a background for something else.

1) This is the most regular of the sentences you provided. We have 2 facts in the past. One is anterior to the other. We need the passé composé for the most recent and the plus-que-parfait for the other one.

2) Here, this could be the same things. 2 facts, one being anterior to the other. We could use passé composé and then plus-que-parfait. But the author chose the imparfait for the same reason that you might say: in -365, the temple that took the Greek 120 years of time and energy was being taken down by Érostrate, instead of in -365 Érostrate destroyed a temple. You are not just talking about a blunt fact, but more about a tragedy that, with a bit of imagination, you might almost see happening before your eyes.

3) Here, depuis deux jours dénudait les arbres is just the background for the action cesser. The tenses are perfectly regular.

  • Thank you for all the explanations, I see now that the connection between PQP and l'imparfait/PC is not just the time (like it is explained in the grammars) but the importance of the events as well.
    – Ghost
    May 12, 2019 at 18:49
  • It is common to tweak the rules to create all kinds of effects in a speech. Think about personification: giving things properties that would be incorrect grammatically. Here we are using the imparfait as a way to emphasis an event and to load it with emotions.
    – Sharcoux
    May 14, 2019 at 8:14

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