Passé simple

Le passé simple
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French Simple Past

The passé simple is a single-word past tense, equivalent to English’s simple past, aka preterit – at least when speaking strictly about the conjugation. Unlike the simple past, the passé simple is a literary tense and is thus limited to formal writing, such as literature, journalism, and historical accounts. However, that does not mean it’s not essential: it’s used in all written stories, even children’s books.

The passé simple is the literary and historical equivalent of the passé composé, which is used when speaking and in informal writing, such as a letter to a friend. The passé simple and passé composé are never used together, though either one may be used in conjunction with the imperfectlearn more.

Par exemple…

Le maire et le président lui firent la première visite, et lui de son côté fit la première visite au général et au préfet.
   (Les Misérables, de Victor Hugo)
  The mayor and the president were the first to visit him, and he in turn first visited the general and the prefect.
Elle rencontra Candide en revenant au château, et rougit ; Candide rougit aussi ; elle lui dit bonjour d’une voix entrecoupée, et Candide lui parla sans savoir ce qu’il disait.
   (Candide, de Voltaire)
  She met Candide on her way back to the castle and blushed, Candide blushed too, she said hello with a catch in her voice, and Candide spoke to her without knowing what he was saying.

 Unless you’re planning to write a novel or become a journalist, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever need to use the passé simple, but you do need to recognize the conjugations in order to read in French.

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French passé simple conjugations

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