The French Words for Cause and Effect

And the Words That Guide Sequence of Events, From 'Ainsi' to 'Puis'

The English word "then" has two distinct meanings: one related to consequence and the other to time. These two meanings translate differently into French, and the various synonyms fall roughly into two groups:

  • Words commonly used to explain the consequences or effect of an action, like ainsialors, and donc,
  • And terms used to indicate the sequence of events, such as aprèsensuite, and puis. 

Cause and Effect

Ainsi

1. so, thus, therefore (adverb) 

  • Ainsi, j'ai décidé de partir. > 
    So I decided to leave.
  • J'ai perdu mon emploi, ainsi je ne peux pas acheter la voiture. > 
    I lost my job, so I can't buy the car.

This use of ainsi is roughly interchangeable with donc (below).

2. this way, like that

  • Si tu vas agir ainsi, je ne peux pas t'aider. > 
    If you're going to act like that, I can't help you
  • C'est ainsi ; tu dois l'accepter. > 
    That's the way it is; you have to accept it
  • Ainsi va la vie. > 
    Such is life.
  • Ainsi soit-il. > 
    So be it.

3. ainsi que:  just as, like, as well as (conjunction)

  • Ainsi que j'avais pensé… Just as I thought… > 
  • Je suis impressioné par son intelligence ainsi que son honnêteté. > 
    I am impressed by his intelligence as well as his honesty.

Alors

1. then, so, in that case (adverb) 

  • Tu ne vas pas à la fête ? Alors, moi non plus. > 
    You're not going to the party? Then I won't either.
  • Elle ne comprend pas, alors il faut l'aider. > 
    She doesn't understand, so we need to help her.
  • Je n'ai pas mangé, alors il est difficile de me concentrer. > 
    I didn't eat, so it's difficult to concentrate.

When used in this way, alors is more or less interchangeable with the first meanings of ainsi and donc; however, alors is not as strong in its cause-effect. It means "so" or "then" rather than "therefore." In other words, ainsi and donc indicate that something happened, and specifically because of that, something else happened.

Alors, on the other hand, is more "well then I guess this will/did happen."

2. so, then, well (filler) 

  • Alors, qu'est-ce qu'on va faire ?  > 
    So what are we going to do?
  • Alors là, je n'en sais rien.  > 
    Well, I don't know anything about that.
  • Et alors ? > 
    And then? So what?

3. at that time

  • Il était alors étudiant. > 
    At that time, he was a student. / He was a student at the time.
  • Le président d'alors Bill Clinton… > 
    The president at that time / Then-president Bill Clinton…

4. alors que: at that time, while; even though (conjunction) 

  • Il est allé à la banque alors que je faisais les achats. > 
    He went to the bank while I did the shopping.
  • Il est sorti alors que je ne voulais pas. > 
    He went out even though I didn't want to.

Donc

1. therefore, so, thus (conjunction) 

  • Il n'est pas arrivé, donc j'ai dû manger seul. > 
    He didn't arrive, so I had to eat alone.
  • Je pense, donc je suis (René Descartes). > 
    I think, therefore I am.

This usage of donc is interchangeable with the first meaning of ainsi. The only difference is that donc is a conjunction and, in theory, must join two clauses, whereas ainsi can be used with one or two clauses. In reality, donc is often used with just one clause as well: Donc je suis allé… So I went… When used in this sense, both ainsi and donc indicate a cause-effect relationship.

2. then, it must be, in that case

  • Si ce n'est pas Philippe c'est donc Robert.  > 
    If it's not Philippe then it is (it must be) Robert.
  • J'ai perdu mon stylo donc celui-ci est à toi.  > 
    I lost my pen so this one must be yours.

3. then, so (intensifier or filler) 

  • Donc, elle était enceinte ? > 
    Was she pregnant, then? So was she pregnant?
  • Voilà donc notre conclusion. > 
    So here is our conclusion.
  • Qui donc êtes-vous ? > 
    So who are you?
  • Allons donc ! > 
    Come on (already)!

This usage is similar to the way "so" is used in English. Technically, "so" indicates a cause-effect relationship, but it is often used colloquially as a filler. For example, you might greet someone and say "So I bought a car" or "So, are you going out tonight?" even though nothing was said previously that the "so" is linking back to.

Sequence of Events

Après

1. after (preposition) 

  • Il a téléphoné après toi. > 
    He called after you (did).
  • Après avoir tout lu… (past infinitive) > 
    After having read everything

2. afterwards, later (adverb) 

  • Viens me voir après. > 
    Come see me afterwards.
  • Qu'est-ce qui s'est passé après ? > 
    What happened later/afterwards?

Après is not interchangeable with ensuite and puis. Those adverbs indicate a sequence of events, whereas après simply modifies a verb to say what will/did happen at a later time.

There is no sense of progression from one action to the next when using après.

3. après que: after (conjunction) 

  • Après qu'il est mort, j'ai déménagé en Belgique. > 
    After he died, I moved to Belgium.
  • Je vais le faire après qu'il arrivera. > 
    I'm going to do it after he arrives.

Après que is followed by the indicative, not the subjunctive. However, when describing something that has not happened yet, the verb after après que is in the future, rather than in the present, as it is in English.

Ensuite

1. then, next, later (adverb) 

  • J'ai mangé et ensuite je me suis habillé. > 
    I ate and then I got dressed.
  • Je suis allé à la banque et ensuite au musée. > 
    I went to the bank and then (to) the museum.
  • Il m'a dit ensuite que… > 
    And then he told me…, / He told me later that…

Puis

1. then, next (adverb) 

  • J'ai mangé, puis je me suis habillé. > 
    I ate and then I got dressed.
  • Je suis allé à la banque et puis au musée. > 
    I went to the bank and then (to) the museum.
  • Puis il m'a dit que… > 
    Then he told me…

This meaning of puis is interchangeable with ensuite, except for the sense of "later," which only ensuite has. They do not indicate a cause-effect relationship; they simply relate a sequence of events.

2. et puis: and besides, moreover (conjunction)

  • Je n'ai pas envie de sortir, et puis je n'ai pas d'argent. > 
    I don't feel like going out, and besides, I don't have any money.
  • Nous devons étudier, et puis toi aussi. > 
    We have to study, and so do you.