The French preterite is the passé simple. It’s nowadays used only in literary writings and very very formal speech. In conversation and informal writings, it’s almost always replaced by the passé composé. But we meet this tense a lot in literature, in fairy tales, in narrative writings. That’s why it’s useful to know it…

Il était une fois une princesse qui était très malheureuse.
Un jour, elle rencontra un crapaud…

When to use it ?

As the passé composé, the passé simple is used alongside the imparfait tense. The imparfait is used to put the setting in place while the passé simple (exactly as the passé composé) is used to express the important actions.

Un roi venait de perdre sa femme. Un jour il décida de se remarier.

The passé simple is used to express a completed action that is delimited in the past (we know when it began and when it stopped). It can be a short action as well as a very long one.

Elle le gifla. / Il vécut cent ans.

How to form it ?

The passé simple is a very difficult tense to conjugate (even for French people) as it’s a very irregular one. Of course, there are a few rules to know.

The verbs of the first group (they end with –er) always conjugate the same way. We take the stem then we add the following endings :
-ai, -as, -a, -âmes, -âtes, -èrent.



Je chantai


Tu chantas

Tu aimas

Il chanta

Il aima

Nous chantâmes

Nous aimâmes

Vous chantâtes

Vous aimâtes

Ils chantèrent

Ils aimèrent

The verbs of the second group (they end with –ir but they all have the ending -issons with nous at the present tense) always conjugate the same way. We take the stem then we add the following endings :
-is, -is, -it, -îmes, -îtes, -irent.



Je finis

Je désobéis

Tu finis

Tu désobéis

Il finit

Il désobéit

Nous finîmes

Nous désobéîmes

Vous finîtes

Vous désobéîtes

Ils finirent

Ils désobéirent

Conjugate the verb aller at the passé simple.

Conjugate the verb punir at the passé simple.

Translate in English.
1. Il mangea. — Ils finirent. — Je changeai.
2. Il l’aima longtemps.
3. Je rougis quand je le vis.
4. Quand elle arriva, les enfants pleurèrent.

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