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This is the phrase I'm talking about:
Jusqu’à l’âge de quatre ans, j’ai habité en Allemagne.
In this context, would it be correct to use the past perfect tense because of the 'jusqu'à' or would I still use the imperfect (as in j'habitais)?
Please reply if you know which tense I should use!

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I say you can use either (the sense of what you are saying changes depending on which you use) .

Thank you!

Which would you say I should use in terms of this:

Jusqu’à l’âge de quatre ans, j’ai habité en Allemagne dans un village qui s’appelle Neusatz. Nous habitions en Allemagne parce que ma mère est allemande est presque toute sa famille vivait là.

Please can you let me know what you think would be more appropriate and make more sense, especially in terms of it being marked :)

Well all the other verbs are using the imperfect tense.

To my mind it would be fine to use the perfect tense nevertheless (" j’ai habité en Allemagne") .

Like you , I guess I would be frightened of being marked "wrong" by an examiner (even if I was right) and so I suppose " j’habitais en Allemagne" could be "safer".

Some of the native French speakers on here might also advise ..

btw "presque toute sa famille y vivait " is an alternative way of saying "presque toute sa famille vivait là"

Okay, thanks a lot! I'm just trying to avoid any possibility of being marked down!

From the point of view of style I prefer to use the perfect.

I think it "sets the stage" for the imperfects that follow and I tend to feel uncomfortable with too many imperfects following one another.

Perfect is definitely correct in that sentence. You should be more self confident guys.

Does that mean the imperfect is wrong then?


it's not wrong but the perspective/point of view is different.

  • Imparfait = what was happening all around you (including you), background. Also ongoing events, habits, what used to be.
  • Passé composé = what took place at that very moment: a specific event or a succession of specific events, the main storyline.

If you use the perfect in your sentence you set the scene and suggest that you're going to go further in that span of time in detailing what your life was at that time. It would mean that the fact that you were living with your mother is central to the narration.

If you use the perfect (passé composé) you stress that something occurred in a specific  span of time and that's it's over and you can then more easily pursue with other events. The fact that you were living with your mother is just one moment in a sequence of events.

I won't say "Jusqu'à l'âge de 4 ans j'habitais en Allemagne" it sounds too clumsy to me, almost wrong.

Vedas is right but the problem is not the diffence of perspective. The problem comes from the combination with "jusqu'à". Its presence restrains what is possible. "Jusqu'à" sets a final limit to the verb and imperfect (as it's written in its name) is not really combinable with such an idea. I think that's why imperfect sounds clumsy to me. On the other hand, perfect sounds very natural because its meaning is "it's finished as I speak", which is setting a limit.

So I don't agree with saying that perfect and imperfect are equally correct in that sentence. I really don't feel that when I try both of them.


I asked the question to colleagues who are native French teachers and gave the same explanation as I did. But I confess it's a tricky subject.

You could have " Jusqu'à l'âge de 4 ans j'habitais en allemagne la vie était alors douce et mes parents attentionés, nous allions régulièrement en France visiter mes grands parents."

continuité à l'intérieur d'un cadre non actuel et non présent

whereas "Jusqu'à l'âge de 4 ans j'ai habité en allemagne pour ensuite m'installer en France."

passage d'un état à un autre

In the sentence given by Emily the actions are still in the same span of time so the "imparfait" could be used. Now I understand that it might not sound as natural as with the "passé composé".

In a French grammar it's explained that the aspect (another word for point of view) is also important and that it can take precedence over the usual usage of the "imparfait"

A contrario let's think of the famous sentence by Proust: "Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure. Parfois, à peine ma bougie éteinte, mes yeux se fermaient si vite que je n'avais pas le temps de me dire : « Je m'endors." Longtemps here means "souvent" and one might expect a perfect (Souvent je me couchais de bonne heure) but Proust choose otherwise for stylistic effect. Is there anyone who could say that Proust was wrong?

The use of the imperfect is more obvious in a sentence like:

"Le lundi j'étudiais l'allemand jusqu'à 20h" because it's was an habit, a repetition. 

And it's true that it's more difficult to consider the verb "habiter" as an habit (no pun intended).

habiter and habitude have the same root in latin...

Vedas, coucher is an avoir-verb. Why does Proust have it as être couché ? Thanks.


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