From Duolingo

A: Luc est encore invité à la soirée du maire, mais il déteste y aller:
B: Le pauvre, il ne voulait plus y mettre les pieds

I asked this in chat but I am still struggling to understand the "vouloir" here in the imparfait. I guess my issue with it is that the context suggests this conversation is about a current situation regarding a pending invitation, and in English this wouldn't be put in the past tense, unless the overall narrative is in the past (e.g. in a novel or in a recount of a past event). When put in the past I'd assume B's commenting not on the current situation or Luc's present state of mind and I'd also assume there must have been a change since that.

So in English these scenarios would make sense to me

A: Luc has been invited to the mayor's party again, but he hates going there.
B: He told me he didn't want to set foot in that place any more.

B's comment is reported speech and in reported speech backshifting is common (in English at least) but not absolutely necessary (English allows ambiguity in situations like this. I know French is probably less forgiving in this regard). In conversation I would automatically interpret it as a comment about the present, bachshifted to match the main clause.

A: Luc has been invited to the mayor's party again, but he hates going there.
B: He didn't want to set foot in that place any more. But yesterday he told Remy that he might not dislike that place that much after all.

This makes sense because a change has taken place since "didn't want to", and in this context I would assume the "not wanting to set foot in there any more" is anchored at the point in time when he was invited to and went to the party last time: Luc hated it so much the last time he went that he made it clear he didn't want to set foot there any more. Subsequently something else happened and he changed his mind, which explains "want" being put in past tense. But this doesn't match the original French because there's also "le pauvre" which suggests that B thinks Luc being invited to the party again is a bad thing for him.

A: Luc has been invited to the mayor's party again, but he hates going there.
B: Poor Luc. He doesn't want to set foot in that place any more.

This seems to match the original French and also makes the most sense to me, because B's comment is about a current situation (of Luc being invited again but not wanting to go). Me explaining my thought process in English is just a way for me to say that I'm still having trouble making sense of "vouloir" being put in the imparfait in the French dialogue. From what vantage point in time exactly is that comment made? Because a flowchart would look something like this, I assume:

(1) the last time Luc went to the party (2) B learned from Luc that he would never want to go again (3) Luc received a new invitation to go to another party at the same place (4) A and B talk in the present

  • 2
    In English it's perfectly idiomatic to say: "Poor thing; he never wanted to set foot in that place again." While "didn't want to" is much less idiomatic, note also that it corresponds to the passé composé in French, while "never wanted to" corresponds more to the imperfect, which it what DuoLingo used. Commented May 8 at 18:46
  • Of course, saying "didn't want to" corresponds to passé composé and that "never wanted to" corresponds to the imperfect is really just my gut feeling; I don't know if these equivalents have any real formal justification. Commented May 8 at 18:52
  • @PeterShor I don't know if it's my age or the register of an utterance like that, but I've never heard it put like that in English without further context. If someone said "he never wanted to set foot in that place again" I'd wonder what has changed: was he forced to go a second time? To me personally "never wanted" and "didn't want to" seem to have the same problem in this context (in English). Could you explain the vantage point from which "never wanted to set foot in that place again" would be said?
    – desmo
    Commented May 8 at 18:52
  • 2
    The way I read it, he is going to have to go to the mayor's party, even though he doesn't want to. I believe this would justify "never wanted to" in English, and probably (I'm not that fluent in French) "il ne voulait plus" in French. Let's wait for a native French speaker to tell me whether I'm correct. Commented May 8 at 18:53
  • @PeterShor Correct. In the past, Luc has said something to the effect that he didn't want to go to these parties, but he finds himself invited again (and he probably can't escape it).
    – Frank
    Commented May 8 at 19:10

2 Answers 2


Don't focus on the reported speech thing. What you need to understand is Luc has no option but to attend the mayor's party when he is invited to do it.

He was invited in the past and both A and B know he dislikes it.

He didn't want to go again there but we know he will do it anyway. That means that the sentence you expect Il ne veut plus y mettre les pieds wouldn't work1 because it implies he has freedom of choice.

1 It would work grammatically but would contradict le pauvre.

  • 3
    Agreed — this is the only way to read it. The fact of the invitation establishes that he will have to go, so his will has already been denied. It wouldn't make sense (or would need more context / explanation) if a friend invited him.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented May 8 at 20:01
  • At some point in the past, Luc expressed his wish never to go there again; this continued up to the present moment and in the future. What mandates B's choice of the imperfect is, the simple past would be impossible here. In English the logic is different, because you have only your past indefinite to face both our imperfect and simple past. Commented May 14 at 8:26
  • @FrançoisJurain: In English, if you say "he didn't want to", you are probably talking about a single point in time, while if you say "he never wanted to", you are probably talking about an extended time period. So even though we don't have tenses corresponding to both the passé composé and the imparfait in English, in some cases we can still make the distinction. Commented May 16 at 16:45
  • You can indeed; you made this point in your other comments, quite clearly as you're wont to. My point is: in contrast to us, you do not do it by switching to an other past tense. Commented May 16 at 17:12

The imperfect (indicatif imparfait) is used to explain several situations in one verb: to explain ongoing or habitual actions in the past, as well as to set the scene or provide background information.

  • 1
    Welcome to French.SE! You'll add value to your answer by focusing on what the other answer(s) omitted or summarized; here's some guidance. french.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer Commented May 14 at 9:39
  • Oh, and you're welcome to recycling part or all of my comment on jlliagre's post in your edits. Commented May 14 at 9:49

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