Je viens de voir un éléphant rouge!
zhuh vee-yaad vwaa ruh nay-lay-fah ROOZH! Click below to hear this!
I just saw a red elephant!
Not a usual sight, is it? If you are the left-brained (logical, rational, literal) sort, chances are you will reply, Viens-y doucement. Je ne te ferai pas de mal (vee-yaa zee doo-SMAH. Zhuhn te fray pahd mahl; Come along nicely. I won’t hurt you).
If you’re the right-brained type, you may look around with interest and ask, Où ça? (oo SAH; Whereabouts?).
Either way, no matter hard you look, you won’t see the past tense in the French. It’s invisible, even though the event took place in the past.
The dictionary form of this expression is venir de. The meaning in normal English is to have just, and it is always followed by a verb in the infinitive (the to form). In literal English, it means to come from. That’s how the past tense creeps in: if you are coming from (doing something), you must have done the other thing before you came, ergo, in the past.
This expression doesn’t prevent from saying je viens de Philadelphie. If what follows venir de is a place name, then it really does mean I come from.
But sayingJe viens de voir un éléphant rouge may have people suspecting that Tu viens du bar.
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