Passé simple

French simple past - Preterite

young woman studying
Max Pixel

The passé simple, translated in English as either "simple past" or "preterite," is the literary equivalent of the passé composé, which means that it is used only in formal writing (e.g., historical and literary writing) and very formal speech. In such writing and speech, the passé simple is used alongside the imperfect, just as in everyday speech/writing, the passé composé and imperfect are used together.



You will probably never need to actually use the passé simple, but it is important to recognize it, especially if you read in French a lot (fiction or non-fiction). Fortunately, the passé simple is very easy to recognize. My high school French teacher told me that if a verb looked weird, it was probably in the passé simple, and 9 times out of 10, she was right. 

Go on to page 2 to learn how to conjugate the passé simple.

The passé simple of regular verbs is formed by dropping the infinitive ending and adding the passé simple endings.

Notes:

1. -ER verbs take the first set of endings, -IR and -RE take the second.

2. Spelling change verbs, like manger and lancer, have their spelling change in most forms of the passé simple.

3. The irregular verbs at the bottom have irregular stems in the passé simple but take the same endings as regular -IR/-RE verbs.

For other irregular verbs, see page 3.

ER endingsparler > parl-  manger > mang-  lancer > lanc-
je-aiparlaimangeailançai
tu-asparlasmangeaslanças
il-aparlamangealança
nous-âmesparlâmesmangeâmeslançâmes
vous-âtesparlâtesmangeâteslançâtes
ils-èrentparlèrentmangèrentlancèrent
 
IR/RE endingsfinir > fin-rendre > rend-voir > v-
je-isfinisrendisvis
tu-isfinisrendisvis
il-itfinitrenditvit
nous-îmesfinîmesrendîmesvîmes
vous-îtesfinîtesrendîtesvîtes
ils-irentfinirentrendirentvirent
 
Irregular verbs
s'asseoirs'ass-mettrem-
conduire  conduis-  naîtrenaqu-
dired-peindrepeign-
écrireécriv-prendrepr-
fairef-rirer-
joindrejoign-voirv-

Most irregular verbs with a past participle that ends in -u use that past participle as the passé simple stem. These verbs and their stems are:

   avoir   eu-

   boire   bu-

   connaître   connu-

   courir   couru-

   croire   cru-

   devoir   du-

   falloir   fallu-

   lire   lu-

   pleuvoir   plu-

   pouvoir   pu-

   recevoir   reçu-

   savoir   su-

   valoir   valu-

   vivre   vécu-

   vouloir   voulu-

Three verbs have irregular stems but take the same endings as the above verbs:

   être   fu-

   mourir   mouru-

   venir   vin-

The passé simple endings for irregular verbs are as follows:

   * je        -s
   * tu        -s
   * il         -t
   * nous   -^mes
   * vous   -^tes
   * ils       -rent

Here are a few irregular verbs conjugated into the passé simple; for more, see my French verb conjugator.

avoir > eu-
   j'eus
   tu eus
   il eut
   nous eûmes
   vous eûtes
   ils eurent

être > f-
   je fus
   tu fus
   il fut
   nous fûmes
   vous fûtes
   ils furent

mourir > mouru-
   je mourus
   tu mourus
   il mourut
   nous mourûmes
   vous mourûtes
   ils moururent

venir > vin-
   je vins
   tu vins
   il vint
   nous vînmes
   vous vîntes
   ils vinrent