Le passé simple / Simple Past

This tense is somewhat rare. Only advanced students should attempt mastering this tense. It is translated just like the passé composé. It is called the passé simple because there is no helping verb. Sometimes it is referred to as the past historic. This tense takes the place of the passé composé in some literature, but it is never used in spoken French. To form it for any regular verbs, drop the -er, -ir, or -re, and the endings are as follows:

regular -er verbs

  • je: -ai
  • tu: -as
  • il/elle/on: -a
  • nous: -ames
  • vous: -âtes
  • ils/elles: -èrent

regular -re and -ir verbs
  • je: -is
  • tu: -is
  • il/elle/on: -it
  • nous: -imes
  • vous: -îtes
  • ils/elles: -irent
For irregular verbs, often times you will take the past participle that you used for the passé composé, and you will have your stem. If the past participle ends in a consonant, drop the final consonant so that the stem ends in a vowel (for example, drop the "t" off of "dit," the past participle of "dire" to get "di" as your stem). Add the following endings:
  • je: -s
  • tu: -s
  • il/elle/on: -t
  • nous: -^mes
  • vous: -^tes
  • ils/elles: -rent
And for those times when the past participle is not the stem, here are some irregular stems for you to memorize (use the same endings for irregular verbs):
  • venir (to come) --> vin-
  • faire (to do) --> fi-
  • mourir (to die) --> mouru-
  • naître (to be born) --> naqui-
  • être (to be) --> fu-
  • voir (to see) --> vi-
  • écrire (to write) --> écrivi-
  • craindre (to fear) --> craigni-
  • ouvrir (to open) --> ouvri-
  • joindre (to join) --> joigni-
  • peindre (to paint) --> peigni-
  • construire (to construct) --> construisi-
  • joindre (to join) --> joigni-
  • vaincre (to conquer) --> vainqui-
  • traduire (to translate) --> traduisi-
  • tenir (to hold) --> tin-
  • souffrir (to suffer) --> souffr-
Here are a few examples of verbs conjugated in the passé simple:

chercher (to look for, to seek)
je cherchai=I sought
tu cherchas=you sought
il chercha=he sought
nous cherchames=we sought
vous cherchâtes=you sought
ils/elles cherchèrent=they sought

attendre (to wait)
j'attendis=I waited
tu attendis=you waited
il/elle/on attendit=he/she/one waited
nous attendimes=we waited
vous attendîtes=you waited
ils/elles attendirent=they waited

tenir (to hold)
je tins=I held
tu tins=you held
il/elle/on tint=he/she/one held
nous tînmes=we held
vous tîntes=you held
ils/elles tinrent=they held

NB: You may see these irregular stems and endings spelled various ways in different text books or sites because there are many different methods of describing them, so just be consistent in adding the adding the endings to the stems the way each individual text or site describes so you conjugate correctly.

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