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The Use of the Passé Simple and the Passé Antérieur

written by: yasmina • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

In French, the simple past is not normally used in conversation. However, it does have a special role in the French language. This article will present the easiest ways to learn and remember the forms of these two literary tenses.

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    The Passé Simple and the Passé Antérieur

    In French, these are two of the least commonly used forms of verbs. They are rarely spoken. You may hear the passé simple in a formal speech by the President of France, or in formal diplomatic discussions, but the common person only need to recognize the forms for reading literature, in particular classic literature.

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    Passé Simple

    We will begin with the passé simple. The passé simple is the literary version of the passé composé. Conjugating the passé simple is relatively simple. As with all conjugations, the primary key is learning the different endings. This article will present the regular verb forms and the forms of two of the most common irregular verbs, avoir, and être.

    Verbs ending in -er, -ir, and -re remove the ending before adding the verb endings.

    -ER verbs:

    The first, second, and third person singular verb endings are the present tense forms of avoir.

    The plural forms change endings:

    Nous: -âmes

    Vous: -âtes

    Ils/Elles: -èrent



    je parlai / nous parlâmes

    tu parlas / vous parlâtes

    il/elle/on parla / ils/elles parlèrent

    -IR and –RE verbs:

    These verbs take the same endings.

    Je -is / nous - îmes

    Tu -is / vous -îtes

    Il/elle/on -it / ils/elles irent


    Choisir Vendre

    Je choisis / nous choisîmes

    Tu choisis / vous choisîtes

    Il/elle/on choisit / ils/elles choisirent

    je vendis / nous vendîmes

    tu vendis / vous vendîtes

    il/elle/on vendit / ils/elles vendirent

    Avoir Être

    J’eus / nous eûmes

    Tu eus / vous eûtes

    Il/elle/on eut / ils/elles eurent

    je fus / nous fûmes

    tu fus / vous fûtes

    il/elle/on fut / ils/elles furent

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    Passé Antérieur

    The Passé Antérieur is strictly a written verb conjugation. It is never spoken and is the literary equivalent of the Plus Perfect tense. Once the passé simple is mastered, the passé antérieur is actually very simple. Its structure is similar to the passé compose, except that the auxiliary verb (avoir or être) is in the passé simple. As with all verbs whose auxiliary verb is être, the past participle must agree in number and gender with the subject.



    j’eus chanté / nous eûmes chanté

    tu eus chanté / vous eûtes chanté

    il/elle/on eut chanté / ils/elles eurent chanté


    Je fus allé(e) / nous fûmes allé(e)(s)

    Tu fus allé(e) / vous fûtes allé(e)(s)

    Il/elle/on fut allé(e) / ils/elles furent allé(e)(s)

    Anyone who desires to read classic French literature in its original language will need to have a working knowledge of these two tenses.

    As you can see, learning the forms of the passé simple and the passé antérieur is not terribly difficult. As with other verb tenses in French, these two tenses follow strict patterns, which once learned, make them significantly easier to master.