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I have a question I can’t find an answer in textbooks or online, about past participles as adjectives in the past tense: can they be used with the imparfait auxiliary without the result being the plus-que-parfait?

Here are some examples:

  • Je l’avais cru.
  • Vous étiez sérieusement demandé.
  • Le magasin était fermé.
  • Il les avait bien invités.
  • Nous n’y avions pas pensé.
  • Ils s’étaient décidés.

Is there a grammar rule that describes this specific use of the past participle adjective with the imparfait auxiliary when it's not plus-que-parfait?

The Community Bot has asked for more clarification, so then…

I know 4 uses of the past participle:

  1. compound tenses
  2. with the present participle
  3. with adjectives for nouns
  4. with adjectives for present tense

I’ve seen a 5th way of using the past participle, but I haven’t found it explained in any textbook or online. This 5th way uses the past participle with the imparfait, but it ISN’T the plus-que-parfait (please see sentence examples). It isn’t the same as the other 4 ways, so I’m asking if this 5th way is right.

Edit Update: It isn’t a 5th way for past participle adjective usage, because it’s not functioning as an "adjective," which is why I couldn’t find it anywhere with types of adjective usages. It’s the past participle for the imparfait passive voice!!!

So that makes it a 5th way for past participle usages:

  1. with compound past tenses
  2. with the present participle
  3. with adjectives for nouns
  4. with the present tense
  5. with the imparfait passive voice

Sometimes the passive voice is followed by par or de, though I don’t know if en could be used instead.

The passive voice in any tense, including imparfait, is only with être, so then some of the sentence examples for the imparfait passive voice are wrong because I used avoir.

❤️ Thanks very much to Roger Vadim, Peter Shor, and everyone else who helped with this!!!

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  • Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
    – Community Bot
    Oct 4, 2022 at 21:59
  • Why do you think that your examples aren't the plus-que-parfait. I believe that most of them are. Oct 5, 2022 at 20:03
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    @G.D. As in English with the past perfect, in French the other past action required by the plus-que-parfait can be in a previous sentence, or in a following sentence. For example, in Guy de Maupassant's story À cheval, the third paragraph is entirely in the plus-que-parfait, because it takes place before the fourth paragraph. All of your examples except étiez demandé and était fermé are the plus-que-parfait. Those two are imparfait passif. Oct 6, 2022 at 23:07
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    This question has been changed so many times. First edits were helpful. The more you change your question, the less the answers might apply. Please ask one question per question...and do keep on asking other questions. ( :
    – livresque
    Oct 7, 2022 at 2:01
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    @GD unless it's meant as "Le magasin était fermé [par quelqu'un]" (as in "the shop used to be shut [by someone]"), chances are that specific example is an adjective rather than passive voice. Oct 7, 2022 at 11:42

2 Answers 2

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Le magasin était fermé. is not plus-que-parfait but rather voix passive en imparfait:

Le magasin est fermé -> Le magasin a été fermé. -> Le magasin était fermé.

The difference with plus-que-parfait is the use of auxiliary verb être rather than avoir, which is normally used with fermer:

Le magasin ferme. -> Le magasin a fermé. -> Le magasin avait fermé.

There is a difference in meaning between Le magasin était fermé. vs. Le magasin avait fermé., even if for some verbs it may appear to be a rather subtle one.

Since only a small group of French verbs conjugate with être (plus the pronominal verbs, which cannot be confused), there is usually no confusion (although I one could probably come up with some interesting counter-examples.)

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The edited "question+answer" is not very clear about what it considers each example to be (all passive?) Anyway, while it may be tempting to see a usage pattern in the simple fact that the auxiliary is imparfait in all these sentences, I doubt it is a valid analysis.

Of the examples you listed

1. Je l’avais cru.
2. Vous étiez sérieusement demandé.
3. Le magasin était fermé.
4. Il les avait bien invités.
5. Nous n’y avions pas pensé.
6. Ils s’étaient décidés.
  • #1, #4, #5, #6 are probably legit plus-que-parfait, there's nothing passive or adjective-like about them. You can tell because for most of them the auxiliary is avoir rather than être (the verb for passive voice and one of the typical ones for adjectives), and the one that isn't like that - #6- is reflexive ("pronominal"), which trumps all other assumptions with regard to usage.

  • #2 can arguably be considered either a passive or an adjective case while #3 falls more clearly into the adjective category IMO.

"Fermé" is described both by Dictionnaire de l'Académie française and TLfI as a past participle used as adjective, with example sentences very similar to #3.

For marginal cases, some sources make a subtle distinction between passive and adjective uses, something along the lines of:

Le magasin était fermé (adjective)

vs

Le magasin était fermé tous les soirs après la clôture de la caisse (likely passive, "fermé par quelqu'un")

The point here is to replace "fermé" with another adjective ("beau"...) and notice that it works with the first sentence but not so much the second. Note that it remains a distinction in analysis though - both function the same grammar wise.

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  • You’ve stated, "The edited "question+answer" is not very clear about what it considers each example to be (all passive?)" And I had explained, "The passive voice in any tense, including imparfait, is only with être, so then some of the sentence examples for the imparfait passive voice are wrong because I used avoir." I’m not sure how that isn’t clear enough. Please explain.
    – G D
    Oct 7, 2022 at 16:44
  • Please link or cite specific sources for the use of an adjective with the imparfait, which was the topic of the title question of this post. The question has already been answered, but if you have specific sources that prove the answers differently, please let us know. For marginal cases, some sources [some sources???] make a subtle distinction between passive and adjective uses, something along the lines of: Le magasin était fermé (adjective) vs Le magasin était fermé tous les soirs après la clôture de la caisse (likely passive, "fermé par quelqu'un")
    – G D
    Oct 7, 2022 at 16:46
  • @GD you wrote: "This 5th way uses the past participle with the imparfait, but it ISN’T the plus-que-parfait (please see sentence examples)". This either seems to rule out plus-que-parfait for these example sentences or is at the very least quite confusing. Why should we look at the example sentences? Which ones? Oct 8, 2022 at 7:30
  • Wikipedia has good examples of categorizing a past participle as passive vs adjective. This article shows the adjective swapping technique. This other paper examines how passive plays out in the verb-adjective continuum. Oct 8, 2022 at 7:42
  • @GD Overall, my point is just that there is a flaw in the Q - the verb being imparfait or present is irrelevant in categorizing the meaning/use of the past participle. You are free to like my answer or not, no big deal. Oct 8, 2022 at 7:52

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