Passe anterieur - Past Anterior - French Literary Tense

Passe anterieur

The French past anterior is the literary equivalent of the past perfect. It is used in literature and historical accounts to indicate an action in the past that occurred before another action in the past. Because it is a literary tense, you don't need to practice conjugating it, but it is important for you to be able to recognize it.

The French past anterior is usually introduced by one of these conjunctions: après que, aussitôt que, dès que, lorsque, or quand.

   Quand nous eûmes fini, nous mangeâmes.
   When we had finished, we ate.

   Dès qu'elle fut arrivée, le téléphone sonna.
   As soon as she arrived, the phone rang.

   Je partis après que vous fûtes tombé.
   I left after you fell.

(Note that the verb tense in the other clause is the passé simple.)

Since the past anterior is a literary tense, it is usually replaced by another tense/mood in everyday speech - either the pluperfect (for habitual actions), the past ​infinitive, or the perfect participle.

The French past anterior is a compound conjugation, which means it has two parts:

  1. passé simple of the auxiliary verb (either avoir or être)
  2. past participle of the main verb

Note: Like all French compound conjugations, the past anterior may be subject to grammatical agreement:

  • When the auxiliary verb is être, the past participle must agree with the subject
  • When the auxiliary verb is avoir, the past participle may have to agree with its direct object

    French past anterior conjugations
    AIMER (auxiliary verb is avoir)
    j'eus aimé nouseûmes aimé
    tueus aimé vouseûtes aimé
    eut aimé ils,
    eurent aimé
    DEVENIR (être verb)
    jefus devenu(e) nousfûmes devenu(e)s
    tufus devenu(e) vousfûtes devenu(e)(s)
    ilfut devenu ilsfurent devenus
    elle fut devenue ellesfurent devenues
    SE LAVER (pronominal verb)
    jeme fus lavé(e) nousnous fûmes lavé(e)s
    tute fus lavé(e) vousvous fûtes lavé(e)(s)
    ilse fut lavé ilsse furent lavés
    elle se fut lavée ellesse furent lavées