In the book of French Grammar and Usage, by Hawkins & Towell on page 247-248, it is given that

But if the more distant event does not have continuing consequences, a pluperfect form of the verb will be used in French:

Il avait arrêté de fumer depuis plus d'un an quand il est tombé malade

He had stopped smoking for more than a year when he became ill

and then

Whereas the simple past and compound past tenses refer to events completed in the past from the perspective of the speaker or writer, the pluperfect describes events completed at some point even before these past events:

La police laissa une balise pour indiquer où l'accident était arrivé

The police left a marker to show where the accident happened/had happened (Pluperfect - an event which occurred prior to the police marking the spot)

However, I'm confused: when talking about two events in the past, one is in a distant past then the other, should the one closer to the present be in a past tense (as in the second example) or in the present tense (as in the first example)?

  • There is no verb at the present tense in the first example. Il est tombé malade is passé composé.
    – jlliagre
    May 8 at 23:32
  • @jlliagre according to: conjugator.reverso.net/conjugation-french-verb-etre.html, est is present form of etre
    – Our
    May 9 at 14:11
  • That is correct but in your case, être is an auxiliary verb and est tombé is the passé composé of tomber.
    – jlliagre
    May 9 at 14:52
  • @jlliagre Ah, I see. Just out of curiosity: is it a passive construction?
    – Our
    May 9 at 18:55
  • It is an active one: Il est tombé malade = "he fell ill" / "he got sick".
    – jlliagre
    May 9 at 19:53

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