How do you say then in French? (ctd)

On this page, we discuss further uses of the word then and how to translate them into French, following on from our first section on how to say 'then' in French.

then meaning therefore, in that case

With the meaning of therefore, in that case, either the words alors or donc are generally used, with some minor differences:

then as a "strong consequence"

When then or so ... then marks one statement as being a "strong consequence" of another, either donc or alors or possibly both is used. The word donc tends to go at the beginning of the "consequence" statement, whereas alors can go before or after:

Elle est malade, donc/alors j'irai la voir.
Elle est malade. J'irai la voir, alors.
"She's ill, (so) I'll go and see her then".
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if ... then ...

The equivalent of if ... then ... is generally si ... alors ... in French. As with English then, alors can be omitted. With si ... alors ..., there second part of the sentence is a "strong consequence" of the first:

Si elle est malade, alors j'irai la voir.
If she's ill then I'll go and see her.
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then as a "weaker consequence":
is he coming, then?

On the previous page, we looked at how to say then in the sense of "next in time/sequence".

Sometimes in English, people tack then on to the end of a sentence more as a "throwaway word for emphasis" than as indicating a direct consequence between one sentence and the next ("is he coming, then?"). In this case, there are generally two equivalents, depending slightly on the type of sentence:

  • alors can always be tacked on to the end of the sentence:
    il vient, alors?
    is he coming, then?
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  • if the verb isn't sitting at the end of the sentence1, donc can also be used in this "weaker" sense, but is usually placed "inside" the sentence2, just after the verb and before any negative marker (such as pas):
    il vient donc à quatre heures?
    =he's coming at 4, then?
    il ne veut donc pas admettre que...
    =he doesn't want to admit, then, that...
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Translating the then prime minister etc

The English word then is sometimes used in a slightly odd construction in which it appears between the determiner and the following adjective/noun— the then Russian leader, his then part-time secretary etc. French doesn't have a direct equivalent of these constructions; instead, you must find a paraphrase usually using de l'époque, alors/à l'époque:

le président de l'époque avait déclaré que...
the then president had declared that...
sa secrétaire, qui travaillait alors à temps partiel
"his then part-time secretary"
Tony Blair, premier ministre de l'époque...
Tony Blair, (the) then prime minister...
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In the last case of apposition (where we put two noun phrases next to each other than are interpreted as equivalents: Tony Blair = the then prime minister), another common alternative is to use alors as follows:

Tony Blair, alors premier ministre...
Tony Blair, (the) then prime minister...
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Notice that in these cases of apposition, the is optional in English. In French, speakers wouldn't tend to say: Tony Blair, alors le premier ministre..., although there appears to be some variation in usage.

1. Technically, the restriction is usually stated as the verb needing a complement; cf. L'Huillier, M. (1999), Advanced French Grammar, p. 459.
2. This is arguably a generally tendency of French to avoid single-syllable words at the "tail" of a sentence, especially when followed by a fairly long constituent; cf. Hawkins & Towell (2001), French Grammar and Usage, p. 124.

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This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2017. All rights reserved.