Le passé simple (past historic)

Introduction

We generally use the passé simple in written language. It indicates completed actions in the past that take place only once and/or interrupt an already-occurring action.

Beispiel

L’année dernière, je partis en vacances en France.

À vélo, je roulai au bord de la mer de Brest jusqu’à Saint-Malo puis je visitai Saint-Malo.

Pendant que je visitais Saint-Malo, je pris beaucoup de photos.

Zeichnung

Usage

  • one-time completed action in the past
    Example:
    L'année dernière, je partis en vacances en France.Last year I went on holiday to France.
  • sequentially occurring actions in the past
    Example:
    À vélo, je roulai au bord de la mer de Brest à Saint-Malo puis je visitai Saint-Malo.On my bicycle, I travelled along the coast from Brest to Saint-Malo and then I explored Saint-Malo.
  • a new action that interrupted an already-occurring action in the past
    Example:
    Pendant que je visitais Saint-Malo, je pris beaucoup de photos.While I was in Saint-Malo, I took a lot of photos.

To Note

The passé simple is mostly used in written French. In spoken language, we prefer to use the present perfect (passé composé).

Example:
L’année dernière je suis parti en vacances en France.Last year I went on holiday to France.

Construction

We remove the infinitive ending and add the following endings, depending on verb group:

personer-verbir-verbre-verb
1st person singular j’aimai je finis je vendis
2nd person singular tu aimas tu finis tu vendis
3rd person singular il/elle/on aima il/elle/on finit il/elle/on vendit
1st person plural nous aimâmes nous finîmes nous vendîmes
2nd person plural vous aimâtes vous finîtes vous vendîtes
3rd person plural ils/elles aimèrent ils/elles finirent ils/elles vendirent

The verbs avoir and être are irregular.

personavoirêtre
1st person singular j’eus je fus
2nd person singular tu eus tu fus
3rd person singular il/elle/on eut il/elle/on fut
1st person plural nous eûmes nous fûmes
2nd person plural vous eûtes vous fûtes
3rd person plural ils eurent ils/elles furent

Exceptions in the construction

  • The verbs venir and tenir, as well as their derivative forms (revenir, retenir, …), are conjugated differently in the passé simple.
personvenirtenir
1st person singular je vins je tins
2nd person singular tu vins tu tins
3rd person singular il/elle/on vint il/elle/on tint
1st person plural nous vînmes nous tînmes
2nd person plural vous vîntes vous tîntes
3rd person plural ils/elles vinrent ils/elles tinrent
  • The oir-verbs are irregular (see the List of Irregular Verbs).
    Example:
    savoir → je sus, tu sus, il sut, nous sûmes, vous sûtes, ils surent
  • For verbs ending with cer, we add a ç before the ending (except in the 3rd person plural).
    Example:
    commencer → je commençai, tu commenças, il commença, nous commençâmes, vous commençâtes, ils commencèrent
  • For verbs ending with ger, we add an e before the ending (except in the 3rd person plural).
    Example:
    manger → je mangeai, tu mangeas, il mangea, nous mangeâmes, vous mangeâtes, ils mangèrent

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