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French Passé Simple Tense

French Passé Simple Tense

What is the French passé simple?

The French “passé simple” is a past tense that equates grammatically to the passé composé. Yet, it’s generally overlooked and not learned. This post demystifies the passé simple for students of all levels.

French Passé Simple

What is the French passé simple?

The passé simple (simple past or past definite) is a literary past tense used in formal writing, such as history and literature. It is not used in everyday conversational French. It is used in writing where the passé compose would be used in spoken French. While it’s a good idea to recognize the passé simple, it’s not so important to memorize.

How to conjugate the passé simple

Unlike the passé composé, the passé simple does not require an auxiliary verb.

The passé simple is formed with one single word. For example, je parlai translates to “I spoke” and is grammatically equivalent to j’ai parlé (I spoke in the passé composé).

The absence of an auxiliary verb also applies to reflexive verbs. For example, je me levai in the passé simple means “I go up” and is grammatically equivalent to je me suis levé in the passé composé.

Regular -er verbs take the following endings: -ai, -as, -a, -âmes, -âtes and -èrent.

Regular -ir and -re verbs take the following endings: -is, -is, -it, -îmes, -îtes and -irent.

For verbs like prononcer (to pronounce), add a cedilla (ç) and for verbs like nager (to swim) and an extra -e- for all forms except ils.

Passé simple conjugation for regular verbs

PARLER TO SPEAK
je parlai
tu parlas
il parla
nous parlâmes
vous parlâtes
ils parlèrent
FINIR TO FINISH
je finis
tu finis
il finit
nous finîmes
vous finîtes
ils finirent
VENDRE - TO SELL
je vendis
tu vendis
il vendit
nous vendîmes
vous vendîtes
ils vendirent
PRONONCER TO PRONOUNCE
je prononçai
tu prononças
il prononça
nous prononçâmes
vous prononçâtes
ils prononcèrent
NAGER - TO SWIM
je nageai
tu nageas
il nagea
nous nageâmes
vous nageâtes
ils nagèrent
Passé simple example

Passé simple conjugation for irregular verb savoir, être, faire and aller

The passé simple endings for avoir (to have), être (to be) and faire (to make, to do) are irregular. Aller (to go) takes the endings of regular -er verbs in the passe simplé.

ÊTRE TO BE
je fus
tu fus
il fut
nous fûmes
vous fûtes
ils furent
AVOIR TO HAVE
j'eus
tu eus
il eut
nous eûmes
vous eûtes
ils eurent
FAIRE TO MAKE, DO
je fis
tu fis
il fit
nous fîmes
vous fîtes
ils firent
ALLER TO GO
j'allai
tu allas
il alla
nous allâmes
vous allâtes
ils allèrent
Passé simple example

Passe simplé conjugations for irregular verbs

The following is a list of irregular verbs in the passé simple. We’ve highligted the third-person singular (il/elle) and third-person plural (ils/elles) forms as they appear frequently in literature.

INFINITIVEENGLISHIL/ELLE FORMILS/ELLES FORM
acquérirto acquire, getil acquitils acquirent
appuyerto pressil appuyails appuyèrent
s'asseoirto sitil s'assitils s'assirent
boireto drinkil butils burent
conduireto driveil conduisitils conduisirent
connaîtreto knowil connutils connurent
courirto runil courutils coururent
croireto believeil crutils crurent
cueillirto gather, pickil cueillitils cueillirent
devoirmustil dutils durent
direto sayil ditils dirent
dormirto sleepil dormitils écrivirent
écrireto writeil écrivitils écrivirent
envoyerto sendil envoyails envoyèrent
falloirto be necessaryil fallut
fuirto fleeil fuitils fuirent
lireto readil lutils lurent
mettreto putil mitils mirent
mourirto dieil mourutils moururent
naîtreto be bornil naquitils naquirent
ouvrirto openil ouvritils ouvrirent
peindreto paintil peignitils peignirent
plaireto pleaseil plutils plurent
pleuvoirto rainil plut
pouvoirto be able, canil putils purent
prendreto takeil pritils prirent
recevoirto receiveil reçutils reçurent
résoudreto resolveil résolutils résolurent
rireto laughil ritils rirent
rompreto breakil rompitils rompirent
savoirto knowil sutils surent
sortirto go outil sortitils sortirent
suivreto followil suivitils suivirent
se taireto be quietil se tutils se turent
tenirto holdil tintils tinrent
vaincreto win, conqueril vainquitils vainquirent
valoirto be worth, deserve, meritil valutils valurent
venirto comeil vintils vinrent
vivreto liveil vécutils vécurent
voirto seeil vitils virent
vouloirto want, wishil voulutils voulurent

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David Issokson
David Issokson is a lifelong language learner and speaks over seven languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private lessons. When not teaching or writing his French Word of the Day lessons, David enjoys his time skiing, hiking and mountain biking in Victor, Idaho.

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David Issokson

David Issokson is a lifelong language learner and speaks over seven languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private lessons. When not teaching or writing his French Word of the Day lessons, David enjoys his time skiing, hiking and mountain biking in Victor, Idaho.

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