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When writing in French, would it be awkward to always use the passé simple?

I understand that passé composé is the tense always preferred when talking about past events (besides imparfait of course), it is the tense always used in spoken French, I understand that part. I also understand that the passé simple is more archaic and is ONLY used for in writing and literature.

So my question is, would it be weird or awkward to always and only use the passé simple in formal writing? For example in an environment like writing an essay for school. Or would it be more natural to use a mix of composé and simple?

I also have an understanding that there is a slight difference between the two tenses? Passé composé is used more for past events that have connections to the present? I'm assuming this important difference would best explain how and when to use a mix between the two tenses in writing.

July 22, 2020



When you are doing formal writing, you have the opportunity to take your time, unless it is a timed examination, of course, to prepare a well-written document.

So, even if you don't have all the conjugations memorized for the verbs you want to use in your school essays, they are easy enough to find online.

You should be able to write in the passé composé (PC) and the imparfait (imperfect) relatively early in your French studies.

The pluperfect builds on the PC rules, but uses the imperfect tense of the auxiliary (avoir or être) instead of the present form.

You left out any discussion of the imperfect tense in your question, and said the PC was the preferred past tense, but that is leaving out so much information about the value of using the imperfect tense.

You are correct that the passé simple is one of the literary tenses; it is the literary equivalent of the PC, so why would one use both of these tenses in the same formal document?

I can't tell from your question if you are hoping for some help to know when to use the imperfect, or if you are a very advanced student, as you are already wanting to consider using a literary tense to make your essays more formal.


I'm already familiar with the imparfait and it's uses, even in writing.


I would ask the instructor this question before you start a new writing assignment.

Does he or she want you to deliberately practice this tense (or any other particular one) and use it in a particular assignment each time its use would be permitted?

If you are writing for a school assignment, the instructor ought to give you the answers you are seeking.

If you are writing an admission essay, you would have to find out what would impress the admission committee the most.


Here is someone else who says don't use these two tenses (PC and PS) in the same document:

The passé simple and passé composé are never used together, though either one may be used in conjunction with the imperfect – learn more.



Thanks! I just used the school essay as an example, I don't actually have an essay to write haha. But thank you for clarifying.


You're welcome, ColeEeyou!

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