French Literary Tenses: How to Conjugate the Passé Simple and the Passé Antérieur

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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.

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

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.