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I know how the passé surcomposé(p.c) is constructed but am uncertain about it's exact purpose. I know it expresses anteriority but then so does the plus-que-parfait. What I'd like to know is what is the exact nuance you're expressing by using the p.c?

So if I see a sentence such as "quand j'ai eu fini le livre" as opposed to"quand j'avais fini le livre, je suis parti", what is it emphasising? It must express more than just anteriority or else you would never see it in literary texts. Can anyone help me?

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Wouldn't the nuance be the same as the English "when I had finished the book, I left" and "when I finished the book, I left"?  I think it would be up to the speaker to choose the construction that best serves the intended meaning.  Any thoughts from others?

Are you saying that the passé surcomposé is used to emphasise the result, i.e "finished" more than the fact that it happened before something else?

Now that I see it again and said it out loud a few times, I believe a better choice lies in the use of apres instead of quand.  It appears to be better French (as well as better English). "After I had finished the book, I left" or "After I finished the book, I left."  This construction would then emphasize the action taken after the reading of the book.  Non?

I was surprised to discover this usage actually exists as I have never come across it really either in the spoken or written language .

My inclination is to believe  that it is  not necessary to use it or even to understand it but I can see that there are discussions on other websites  about it  which I confess I am too lazy to investigate properly -especially as the discussion is in French only-and I get the impression from that that it may be  an accepted usage.


Perhaps there really is a distinction  that is widely used but which I never learned or noticed ?

If so it would have to reflect the perfect sense of the verb in the passé surcomposé as opposed to the continuous nature of the imperfect tense in the plus que parfait  tense which is all I have ever used  (or noticed) myself.

as far as I am concerned I would never use this sentence : quand j'ai eu fini le livre although it is accepted but it's more common in certain parts of France and especially in the south west as it is a direct influence from the Lang doc dialect. But the form is very rare and may appear as a replacement for the passé simple which tends to disappear in oral speech.

In the south of France: mais comment que t'en a eu entendu causer, toi de Méséglise? (Proust)

In Switzerland you may come across : Il est eu parti instead of Il a été parti

So the form consists of 2 auxiliairies and is used to express something that is accomplished or prior to the composé form : Quand Jean a eu labouré son champ, il a déjeuné.

The passé surcomposé is the one mainly used among the surcomposé forms:

forms like :il avait eu chanté/il aura eu chanté/ il aurait eu chanté/ qu'il ait eu chanté might not even be recognised by a French native, at least many wouldn't feel at ease to use those forms.

It was not very used in litterature but here are some exemples just for fun !

Passé antérieur surcomposé:

Quand il eut manoeuvré et que la voiture l'eût eu (!!!!)  franchie...

I must confess that this one in my region was still used when I was a littke boy: ça eût eu payé

sometimes just out of fun, that is to mock elders, I like to say: eût eu /y: y/

Conditionnel passé surcomposé:

Lorsqu'il aurait eu dit

Subjonctif passé surcomposé:

Avant qu'elle ait eu protesté, je suis parti

Subjonctif plus-que-parfait surcomposé

comme s'il eût été né pour m'obéir

Après que j'eusse eu fini nous fûmes invités

Participe passé surcomposé

Ayant eu terminé son travail avant midi, il a pu voir son train ordinaire

Infinitif passé surcomposé

Le plombier est parti sans avoir eu achevé son travail

Passive form:

-Quand j'ai eu été nommé

- Quand il a eu été terminé (!!!)

Well probably the best away to deter any French learners...

Hi Michael -- I'll add my 2p to what others have said in case it helps to clarify anything. If you think about cases in English where you use the pluperfect ("had done", "had eaten" etc), you can consider that you have four types of cases in total. These are the combinations of (1) whether the pluperfect is in a main (M) vs subordinate (S) clause, and (2) whether or not the pluperfect implies 'vague' completion at some time (A), or a single, well-defined point of completion (B). Examples of the four cases would then be:

MA: There had been an accident. Inspector Martin arrived on the scene at 6pm.

SA: When(ever) I had eaten too much, I used to go for a walk.

MB: There had just been an accident when Inspector Martin arrived.

SB: Once/when I had eaten my supper, I went straight to bed.

Now, in all of these cases, English uses the same "pluperfect" tense. But French in principle makes a difference between a 'vague' pluperfect (type A) and a 'punctual' pluperfect (type B). In classical literary French, where the passé simple was the ordinary narrative tense, the pluperfect essentially covered type A and the past anterior essentially covered type B, but this difference was most strictly adhered to in subordinate clauses, i.e. the difference between SA and SB in the examples above.

Meanwhile, the passé surcomposé and other so-called "double compound" tenses had bobbed around on the fringes of French usage for at least several centuries one way or another, but with the other tenses fairly well established, there wasn't much call for them.

But as the passé simple began to fall from mainstream usage, a gap opened up in the "B" cases, because the past anterior was strongly associated with use of the passé simple. Now, in case MB (main clause, punctual past-in-the-past), the pluperfect had already become established as an alternative-- possibly more common-- for the past anterior. But in the case of SB (punctual past-in-the-past in a subordinate clause), the French pluperfect isn't generally used, at least not in prescriptive usage. (Edit: I do think it's actually fairly common to use the pluperfect in these cases, just that prescriptively, people feel that it breaks the so-called "sequence of tenses" they were taught at school...) This left a gap for the 'passé surcomposé' to fill... in principle, and you occasionally find it.

But the thing is that the passé surcomposé, while a logical possibility to fill the gap, isn't actually very common. So instead, what happens is that in cases of the SB type, French speakers simply tend to phrase the sentence in some other way:

- just use an ordinary passé composé: Dès que j'ai terminé mon repas, je suis allé me coucher.

- use an infinitive: Après avoir terminé mon repas, ...

- use a noun: (Aussitôt) après le dîner, ...

- possibly in a journalistic style, you could just about still get the past anterior mixed with the passé composé; this doesn't occur in ordinary use, though.

Neil, thank you for taking the time to give such a comprehensive answer. Despite a lot of searching,  I wasn't able to find anything on the web or in my grammar books that gave a satisfactory explanation and this really clears everything up for me. Merci bien 


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