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Say When!

There are a few different ways of saying "when" in French, the most basic of which is quand. Like "when," quand can either be an adverb or a conjunction. As an adverb, it's generally used to form questions:

 

Quand seras-tu libre?
When will you be free?

 

Tu l'as inventé quand ce morceau?

When did you compose this piece?

Caption 24, Claire et Philippe: Mon morceau de piano

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À quelle heure is an adverbial expression that's more or less synonymous with quand, albeit a bit more specific. It's the equivalent of "at what time" in English:

 

Enfin, tu commences à quelle heure le travail?

Anyway, what time [when] do you start work?

Caption 70, Elisa et Mashal: Petit-déjeuner

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As a conjunction, quand is synonymous with lorsque:

 

À Paris quand vous sortez le soir, le métro se termine à minuit trente.

In Paris when you go out at night, the metro stops [running] at half past midnight.

Captions 15-16, Amal: Vélib

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Lorsque je vous vois, je tressaille

When I see you, I quiver

Caption 19, Bertrand Pierre: Si vous n'avez rien à me dire

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We could easily switch quand and lorsque in those examples:

 

À Paris lorsque vous sortez le soir, le métro se termine à minuit trente.
Quand je vous vois, je tressaille

 

However, you can't use lorsque as an adverb, that is, as a question word. So you would never ask someone, Lorsque seras-tu libre?

 

You'll also see the phrase au moment où ("at the moment when") instead of quand or lorsque:

 

Au moment où le chat sortit en courant, la calèche royale atteignait le château.

When the cat ran out, the royal carriage reached the castle.

Captions 33-34, Contes de fées: Le chat botté - Part 2

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 usually means "where," but sometimes, as in au moment où, it means "when":

 

Les lignes de métro vont s'ouvrir jusqu'à mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-dix, dans les années mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-dix, la ligne quatorze fut ouverte.

The subway lines will open [continued to open] until nineteen ninety, in the nineteen nineties, when line fourteen was opened.

Captions 17-20, Adrien: Le métro parisien

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Le dimanche, les gens ne travaillent pas, on va prendre le croissant, on va prendre le pain au chocolat

Sunday, when people don't work, we'll have a croissant, we'll have a chocolate croissant

Captions 29-30, Arles: Le petit déjeuner

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If you're ever in doubt when to use which word for "when," just go with quand. It has the broadest scope, so you can use it pretty much n'importe quand (whenever).

Vocabulary

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