'Quand,' 'Lorsque,' 'Lors de,' and 'Pendant': What's the Difference?

The Discrete Differences Between These Similar Expressions of Time

teenage girl looking confused at notebook

Time doesn't have to be a point on a clock or any other exact measure. It can be a moment or a duration, simultaneous actions or repeated actions, and every discrete difference in between. That's what the following analysis of these time-related expressions is all about.

We're going to look at the differences between the conjunctions quand and lorsque, the similar-looking expressions lorsque (a conjunction) and lors de (a preposition), and the temporal prepositions lors de and pendant.

This may sound like a mouthful, but it's actually pretty straightforward once you know the story behind these words and see how they're utilized. Here are explanations and examples to help you use all of these correctly in French sentences.

'Quand' versus 'Lorsque'

The conjunctions quand and lorsque both mean "when." They are interchangeable when they indicate a simple correlation in time, although lorsque is a bit more formal. However, quand and lorsque each have unique, non-interchangeable meanings as well.

'Quand' ('When')

1. Temporal correlation (interchangeable with lorsque)

  • Je marchais quand tu m'as téléphoné. > I was walking when you called me.
  • Quand je t'ai vu, j'avais peur. > When I saw you, I was afraid.
  • Je te verrai demain quand j'arriverai.* > I will see you tomorrow when I arrive.

2. Repetition correlation (meaning chaque fois que)

  • Quand il est là, elle ne parle pas. > When(ever) he is there, she doesn't speak.
  • Quand il sera là, elle ne parlera pas.* > When(ever) he is there, she won't speak.

3. 'Quand' as interrogative adverb

  • Quand vas-tu arriver ? > When are you going to arrive?
  • Je ne sais pas quand il reviendra. > I don't know when he will return.

'Lorsque' ('When')

When the action that follows lorsque or quand has not yet occurred, the subsequent French verb must be in the future tense, whereas in English the present tense is used.

1. Temporal correlation (interchangeable with quand)

  • Je marchais lorsque tu m'as téléphoné. > I was walking when you called me.
  • Lorsque je t'ai vu, j'avais peur. > When I saw you, I was afraid.
  • Je te verrai demain lorsque j'arriverai. > I will see you tomorrow when I arrive.

2. Simultaneous opposition (meaning alors que or tandis que)

  • J'ai crié lorsqu'il a fallu courir. > I screamed when / whereas I should have run.
  • Je crierai lorsqu'il faudra courir. > I'll scream, when / whereas I should run.

'Lorsque' versus 'Lors de' ('During,' 'At the Time of')

Lorsque and lors de may look similar, but that's all they have in common. Lorsque is a conjunction. Meanwhile, lors de is a preposition used to provide the background for another action; it means "at the time of" or "during."

  • Lors de son anniversaire, elle était contente. > At the time of her birthday, she was happy.
  • Je suis arrivé lors du mariage. > I arrived during the wedding.

'Lors de' versus 'Pendant' ('During')

Be careful not to confuse the prepositions lors de and pendant. They can both be translated by "during," but lors de refers to a single moment in time, while pendant indicates a duration of time.

  1. Il était content lors de son séjour. > He was happy (at some point) during his stay.
    Il était content pendant son séjour. > He was happy during his (entire) stay.
  1. Il était content lors de son anniversaire. > He was happy (for a moment) on his birthday.
    Il était content pendant son anniversaire. > He was happy during his (entire) birthday.
  2. Il a travaillé lors des trois dernières années. > He worked (at some point) during the last three years.
    Il a travaillé pendant les trois dernières années. > He has worked (throughout) the last three years.