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Passé simple

Many students of French are surprised to find that even books for elementary-aged French children are written using the passé simple, even though it is only taught to learners of French in advanced classes.

What is "passé simple"? And when it gets involved in activities (I mean when do you use it?)

Please give some examples.

July 8, 2017



You only use the 'passé simple' in literature (including children's literature). So, unless you are writing a book, you should instead use the 'passé composé', which is much simpler (since you only have to know the auxiliaries 'avoir' and 'être' in the present and the past participle of the verb you want to use, instead of the full 'passé simple' conjugation of the verb in question).


I will give an example, with the verb 'faire'.

Passé simple:

  • Je fis
  • Tu fis
  • Il fit
  • Nous fîmes
  • Vous fîtes
  • Ils firent

Passé composé:

  • J'ai fait
  • Tu as fait
  • Il a fait
  • Nous avons fait
  • Vous avez fait
  • Ils ont fait

If you already know 'avoir' in the present (which is one of the very basic things you have to know by heart), you only need to know that 'fait' is the past participle of 'faire', and you are set. And it is even simpler for the thousands of verbs ending in -er, since their past participle will always end in -é (so you know one, you know them all).

Passé simple (hard to learn):

  • Je mangeai
  • Tu mangeas
  • Il mangea
  • Nous mangeâmes
  • Vous mangeâtes
  • Ils mangèrent

Passé composé (very easy):

  • J'ai mangé
  • Tu as mangé
  • Il a mangé
  • Nous avons mangé
  • Vous avez mangé
  • Ils ont mangé


What tense is this "Ils habitaient"?


Imparfait. 'They lived/they were living (in)...'

Imparfait is used for a continuous or habitual thing in the past.


It's also used for formal writing.


It can also be replaced with the 'passé composé' in formal writing, for instance in press articles, reports, business mail, etc.


Hey! Your question is a bit old but I hope I can give you some help. The passé simple is mainly used in narrative (together with the imparfait). While the imparfait is used for an action that took place in the past and is over, or an habit (ex: J'étais chez ma grand-mère), the passé simple is used for a one-time or sudden action (ex: Quand soudain j'entendis un bruit). You don't really use it in every day language, it's a bit weird if you do, as MarcD50 said before me, we usually replace it with the passé composé.

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