I understand that the imparfait is used for ongoing past actions, background actions, and descriptions. And I know the passe compose is for completed actions. However there are two songs with lyrics that use the passe compose and I'm not sure why.

The first is "On a vu souvent" I learned that imparfait is often used with souvent. So why is it not the case here?

The second is " Je n'ai jamais eu la chance a d'etre sa copine" I'm of the understanding that the passe compose can describe a specified number of completed actions. If that's the case, are the lyrics talking about one specific event?

  • This two sentenses described finished action. It can be a good way for you to define which time you should use. Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 6:45
  • Je n'ai jamais eu la chance a d'etre sa copine is incorrect. That's likely je n'ai jamais eu la chance d'être sa copine
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 8:29

1 Answer 1


The big difference is that the imperfect is implied to be past-limited. Whatever is described is bound to an (at least implied) specific time or times. More accurately, if it's in the imperfect, it is no longer happening or likely to happen again. The passé composé does not have that implication.

In the first case, there is a slight nuance between the two tenses. The imparfait would imply that it won't happen again or at least didn't happen for some time (i.e. "we would/used to see this often"). "On a déjà vu ça souvent" is exactly what I'd say about something I'm seeing right now (i.e. "I've seen this [often] before").

In the second case, "je n'avais jamais la chance d'être sa copine" is restricted. It would refer to a specific set of occasions at which point the speaker wasn't the (presumably) guy's girlfriend. Furthermore, it is not contradictory with the idea the speaker was at one point the guy's girlfriend. The passé composé makes a broader statement that being the girlfriend never occurred at any point.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.