Why present tense?



The last line in the conversation in lesson 2.3 is

Malheureusement vous arrivez trop tard !
(Unfortunately, you've arrived too late!)

That's present tense. Why? I would expect it to be in passé composé or in some form of preterite.


Is this another situation where we don't translate word for word?  Passé composé and preteriet are past tense verbs that say You arrived  at some time in the past.  In both tenses the action was completed in the past.  However, in the example the plane left in the past and the passenger arrived right at this minute; the officer in the present tense says, vous arrivez trop tard .

The example's English translation uses the present perfect, a tense that describes the action that began in the past and is still continuing.  However the verb to arrive describes of an action that normally happens at one moment in time.  If you arrive at this minute and not at some time in the past, we could say You arrive too late but it's more comfortable to use the present perfect You've arrived too late.

Hopefully this makes sense.


Thanks for your reply, Diana. While it's true that there's no exact correspondence between their respective perfect and preterite tenses, I believe that both French and English use the present tense to denote an action that happened in the past and continues to happen today. By this logic, vous arrivez trop tard implies that the person in question always arrives late! Maybe my understanding of the French present tense is flawed, but its use in the above situation still seems rather odd.


Bonjour à vous deux!

Yes, Diana you are correct. The tenses are not used in exactly the same contexts between both languages. It is perfectly okay in French to use the present tense to express the present perfect, however not for the preterite. Let's look at some examples:

Preterite:               You arrived yesterday. - Vous êtes arrivés hier.
Present perfect: You have arrived late. - Vous êtes arrivés trop tard. or Vous arrivez trop tard.
Present:                 You arrive.            -              Vous arrivez.

Although 'vous arrivez trop tard' is expressed in the present tense, the addition of trop tard, suggests that the action is completed, but late. Furthermore, because French only has two tenses express three clearly defined tenses in English, their uses tend to be broader, or there are other structures that are used to express more exacting meanings.

I hope this helps and let me know if it needs more explanation.

Keep up the good work!

   -   Marie-Claire

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