Lorsque and Quand : Synonyms or Not ?

lorsque quand synonyms or not french conjunctions

Initially, you might think that quand and lorsque are synonyms in French. It’s true that they can be used interchangeably when they mean “at the time of”.

However, they also have their own separate meanings.

Today, we’ll learn in which cases conjunctions quand and lorsque can be treated as synonyms, and in which cases can’t be exchanged.

Let’s take a look at the differences between these conjunctions.

Quand Vs Lorsque

French offers two main ways of saying “when” – you can either use quand or lorsque. The two words differ slightly, however. They are interchangeable when indicating a simple time correlation, although lorsque is a bit formal, and it may even sound more refined or educated than quand.

That’s why in the spoken language, quand is probably slightly more frequent.

On the other hand, each of these conjunctions has its own unique and non-interchangeable meaning.

Let see first the sentences where both conjunctions are interchangeable.

Quand/ Lorsque il est arrivé, nous étions en train de dîner.

When he arrived, we were having dinner (At the moment of his arrival, we were having dinner).

Quand/Lorsqu’ elle était jeune, elle prenait souvent le train.

When she was young, she would often travel by train.

Quand/Lorsque mon frère mange des fraises, il attrape des boutons sur tout le visage.

When(ever) my brother eats strawberries, he gets spots all over his face.

Lorsque is a bit more precise than quand. The difference lies also in the fact that “lorsque” is monosemic (it only means “at the time of”) whereas “quand” can also be used as a question for example.

The Uses of Quand

  • It can be used to form questions as an interrogative word. On the other hand, lorsque is not used to ask questions.

Quand revient-il ?

When is he coming back?

  • Quand can also mean ‘every time that (something happens). While lorsque can not imply repeated action.

 Quand je suis la, on bosse.

When I am here, we work hard.

  • You can also use quand to describe the correlation between events in time, just as in English.

Elle dormais quand je suis arrivé.

She was sleeping when l arrived.

The Uses of Lorsque

  •  talk about temporal correlation.

Je dormais lorsque le monsieur est arrivé.

I was sleeping when the man arrived.

  • draw contrasts.

On a raison de ne pas voter lorsqu’il faut une révolution.

We are right to not vote when a revolution is needed.

  •  instead of ‘tandis que’ and ‘alors que’

Je suis allée au magasin lorsqu’il fallait étudier.

I went shopping when I should have studied.

Lorsque has the obligatory elision, in front of it elle(s), il(s), en, on, un(e).

Lorsqu’elle / Lorsqu’il/ Lorsqu’en/ Lorsqu’on/ Lorsqu’un, Lorsqu’une

Too Many Ways to Say “When” in French

So far, we learned two ways to say when in French. But, that’s not the whole story. There are a couple more words that also can mean when.

If you want to learn how can you say when in French in all possible ways, click here.

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