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Struggling with translation

I thought I would try to read some French but even when I search online I cannot find what tense this is and how/when one uses it. Here are some examples Il se retira Il leur distribua Il prit Ils trouvèrent

It is, from the context, obviously past tense and I kind of guess the meanings but what is it and how/when should one use it? Perhaps I am being a bit ambitious to try to read French at this stage as I am getting quite confused. Help, please, anyone!

July 25, 2017



"The passé simple (French pronunciation: ​[pase sɛ̃pl], simple past or preterite), also called the passé défini (IPA: [pase defini], definite past), is the literary equivalent of the passé composé in the French language, used predominantly in formal writing (including history and literature) and formal speech. Passé simple - Wikipedia"

cribbed this from google for you.


Hi, I'm french and I would think that the english translation for these words would give a preterit Il se retira -> He left Il leur distribua -> He gave them Il prit -> He took Ils trouvèrent -> They found

I hope that I helped you


Thanks all. I have now looked on Wikipedia for past simple and found an amazing number of tenses in my own language (English).

I don't think it would be quick for me to get my head around all these.

However the answer that the past simple is used predominantly in formal writing (including history and literature) and formal speech does help me. I can recognise it as past and so understand what I am reading. Maybe at the stage I don't need to go further.

Great to have such helpful people in the community. Thanks again


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