Le Passé Simple

I've been reading a bit of French literature recently, and constantly come across words like "J'eus" and "Ils furent" which I don't see anyone else looking into studying French talking about. Then I realized there was even an example in "Les Champs-Elysées" by Joe Dassin, which was one of the first French songs I ever studied the lyrics of closely. The first verse is "Je m'baladais sur l'avenue,/le cœur ouvert à l'inconnu./J'avais envie de dire bonjour/à n'importe qui./N'importe qui, et ce fut toi./Je t'ai dit n'importe quoi./Il suffisait de te parler/pour t'apprivoiser." Notice anything strange? Look in that fifth line: ce fut toi. For a while, I just accepted that it's a weird way to say "c'était toi" and just moved past it. But then as I started reading, I saw it along with other conjugations I'd never seen before. So I did some research, and to my surprise, French does indeed have a simple past tense like English. However, it fell out of colloquial use in modern times and is only really seen in literature. So as there's no real explanation of it on this course, I'll go ahead and do a brief summary of it for you all to recognize it in the future.

First off, here are some basic spelling rules:

Verbs ending in ‐cer change c to ç before a to maintain the sound of soft c: avancer: j'avançai, tu avanças, il avança, nous avançâmes, vous avançâtes, ils avancèrent

Verbs ending in ‐ger change ‐g to ‐ge before ‐a to maintain the sound of soft g: voyager: je voyageai, tu voyageas, il voyagea, nous voyageâmes, vous voyageâtes, ils voyagèrent

So here's the conjugations:

Regular Verbs:

-ER (1e groupe)

je/j' -ai aimai

tu/t' -as aimas

il/elle/on -a aima

nous -âmes aimâmes

vous -âtes aimâtes

ils / elles -èrent aimèrent

-IR/RE (2e groupe)

je/j' -is finis // défendis

tu/t' -is finis // défendis

il/elle/on -it finit // défendit

nous -îmes finîmes // défendîmes

vous -îtes finîtes // défendîtes

ils/elles -irent finirent // défendirent

(3e Groupe)

The third group is made up of irregular verbs. Verbs with irregular stems in the passé simple generally end in ‐i or ‐u and have the following endings:

je/j' -s

tu/t' -s

il/elle/on -t

nous -^mes

vous -^tes

ils/elles -rent

Here are the most common irregular verbs/stems in the passé composé:

avoir eu-

boire bu-

connaître connu-

construire construis-

courir couru-

craindre craigni-

croire cru-

devoir du-

dire di-

écrire écrivi-

être fu-

faire fi-

falloir fallu-

joindre joigni-

lire lu-

mettre mi-

mourir mouru-

naître naqui-

peindre peigni-

plaire plu-

pleuvoir plu-

pouvoir pu-

prendre pri-

recevoir reçu-

rompre rompu-

savoir su-

tenir tin-

traduire traduisi-

vaincre vanqui-

valoir valu-

venir vins-

vivre vécu-

voir vi-

vouloir voulu-

May 29, 2019


Callum, good work!

A few comments:

  • 2nd group verbs are those with the present 1st person plural in "-issons", like "finir" (nous finissons), "agir, bâtir, choisir, grandir..."
  • "Défendre" is 3rd group (nous défendons) yet the stem is "défendi-"
  • The stem for "construire" is "construisi-"
  • Since "falloir" is defective, there is one single conjugation "il fallut".
  • The stem for "rompre" is "rompi-"
  • The stem for "vaincre" is "vainqui-"
  • The stem for "venir" is "vin-"
May 30, 2019

C'est une excellente nouvelle discussion dans ce forum. Prenez un lingot pour les efforts, mon collègue.

I have often complained here that the French contributors should include at least a unit of definite past (passé simple) constructions. I have whined and bitched about it in several threads. I believe that their thinking was that since the past compound has subsumed most, if not all, of the preterit functions of the definite past, then there is no reason to include it. But this is demonstrably false. Clearly if you want to be able to read the sports pages of French newspapers, or any serious book, then you need to be able to conjugate in that mood. I have had to learn it elsewhere, but duolingo really should include it. I've made my way through L'Étranger, Le Petit Prince, L'âge de raison, and a few other French novels, and there's no shortage verbs in the definite past.

I applaud your efforts, and have discovered, more or less, the same pattern that you have. I don't always remember it. I can spot some of the irregular ones (fut, fus, etc.), but I haven't memorized all of them. It's definitely a deficiency of duolingo, and now with the misguided attempt to align some of the more popular courses with the common framework standards, is even more likely to be overlooked.

Also, in case you haven't already discovered it, reverso is a pretty good conjugator tool and it includes the definite past tense. It has several languages and I I've been using it for at least a year and haven't found any errors yet. See, for example, the verb marcher:

May 29, 2019

As I recall, when I went through the version 2 French tree (which I completed in early 2017), there was a little information on passé simple, but most of what I know about it I've gotten from other sources, mainly books.

May 30, 2019

I don't know. I think I had Tree 3 at first. I had none of it. I had some knowledge of French before I discovered duolingo and tested out of about the first half of the tree, though, so I might have passed over it. I have made it a point to do the latest, greatest update ten points at a time, with no testing out and I haven't encountered it. I also saw a post by a moderator which said that it isn't covered in the English to French tree. (He was explaining something to someone else, but that came up on the side.)

I also have figured out most of that from books. Not victor hugo, though. haha. I just got through that as best I could. Unfortunately, he spends about half of his time trying to convince the reader how smart he is. Les Misérables could be 500 pages instead of a thousand. Ayn Rand is like that too.

May 30, 2019

The last couple of times I've read Atlas Shrugged, I skipped a lot of the diatribes. :-)

Many more recent authors' books could use a lot of editing, too. Tom Clancy's later books were pretty wordy. And the Harry Potter books kept getting longer and longer, too.

May 31, 2019

Bonjour callum_burgess , ;-) Je pense que les chansons sont un excellent moyen de mémoriser des tournures de phrases, il faut être un peu prudent en les choisissant, c'est tout. Et dans le cas que vous citez, "Ce fut toi" indique un évènement soudain et accidentel, alors que "c'était toi" aurait évoqué un fait moins imprévisible, peut-être même habituel. Cordialement

May 30, 2019

Practice more le Passé Simple ici.

May 31, 2019

Here's another place to practice verb conjugation:

It doesn't include passé simple, though.

It's very repetitive, but drills are SUPPOSED to be very repetitive! :-)

May 31, 2019

Studying song lyrics may not be the best way to learn a language, at least if songs written in English are any indication. Poetry is a wonderful language form, too, but also not the best way to learn a language.

I've spent a little time trying to read Victor Hugo, whose writing was very complex.

May 29, 2019

I'm french and the passé simple is also difficult for me ^^(

June 2, 2019
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