7.1.6 The passé simple

There is another past tense that is known also in other languages. If you know Spanish there is the indefinido, if you know Italian, there is passato remoto, French has passé simple. However there is a big difference, the passé simple is only used sublime literature language. The other language - in comparison - still use this form actively.

In the formation of the passé simple we have to differentiate between verbs ending in -er, -ir, -re and -oir. Many forms are irregular, especially verbs of type 2 ending in -re, -oir have no regular form.

The passé simple is formed with the stem of the present forms adding the endings accordingly.


person -er -ir
je donnai finis
tu donnas finis
il / elle donna finit
nous donnâmes finîmes
vous donnâtes finîtes
ils / elles donnèrent finirent

-re -oir
Type 1 Type 2 Type 1 Type 2
descendis bus reçus vis
descendis bus reçus vis
descendit but reçut vit
descendîmes bûmes reçûmes vîmes
descendîtes bûtes reçûtes vîtes
descendirent burent reçurent virent

Taking only the endings of the above table we get the following overview:

Person -er -ir -re -oir
Type 1 Type 2 Type 1 Type 2
je ai is is us us is
tu as is is us us is
il / elle a it it ut ut it
nous âmes îmes îmes ûmes ûmes îmes
vous âtes îtes îtes ûtes ûtes îtes
ils / elles èrent irent irent urent urent irent

The passé simple knows many irregular verbs, especially the verb être is irregular, therefore we show it here in particular. The translation is only a help for us, since there is no 100% equivalent in English.

je fus I was
  tu fus you were
  il / elle fut he / she was
  nous fûmes we were
  vous fûtes you were
  ils / elles furent they were

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