Passé simple (simple past tense in French)

Passé simple is one of the three French past tenses that correspond to past tense (the other two are Passé passé composé and Passé imparfait). The differences between the three past tenses are explained in more detail at the end of this article.

The passé simple is not used in spoken language, but more in written language (e.g. stories and narratives) and in very formal speeches. Therefore, you will probably never use the passé simple in practice, but it is still useful to be able to recognize it when you come across it.


Verb endings in passé simple

In the passé simple, the inifinitive ending of the verb is replaced by the passé simple ending. There are two sets of endings in passé simple:

  • one set for regular verbs in the 1st conjugation (i.e. those ending in -er) and
  • one set for 2nd and 3rd conjugations (i.e. those ending in -ir and -re)


1st conjugation

All verbs in the 1st conjugation get these endings in the passé simple:

1. conjugation Examples
pronoun ending parler trouver
je -ai parlai trouvai
tu -as parlas trouvas
il/elle/on -a parla trouva
nous -âmes parlâmes trouvâmes
vous -âtes parlâtes trouvâtes
ils/elles -èrent parlèrent trouvèrent


2nd and 3rd conjugation

All verbs in the 2nd and 3rd conjugation get these endings in the passé simple:

2. og 3. conjugation Examples
pronoun ending finir vendre
je -is finis vendis
tu -is finis vendis
il/elle/on -it finit vendit
nous -îmes finîmes vendîmes
vous -îtes finîtes vendîtes
ils/elles -irent finirent vendirent


Irregular verbs

Irregular verbs change their stem when conjugated in the passé simple. They have roughly the same endings as verbs in the 2nd and 3rd conjugations.

Here are some examples of irregular verbs in passé simple:


Irregular verbs ending in -ir

je m’assis
tu t’assis
il/elle/on s’assit
nous nous assîmes
vous vous assîtes
ils/elles s’assirent
je fuis
tu fuis
il/elle/on fuit
nous fuîmes
vous fuîtes
ils/elles fuirent


Irregular verbs ending in -re

je conduisis
tu conduisis
il/elle/on conduisit
nous nous conduisîmes
vous vous conduisîtes
ils/elles conduisirent
je mis
tu mis
il/elle/on mit
nous miîmes
vous miîtes
ils/elles miirent

In addition, for irregular verbs, the majority of verbs ending in -u in the past participle (the tense used to construct the passé composé) use their past participle as the stem of the passé simple. Here are some examples:

avoir (eu-)
je eus
tu eus
il/elle/on eut
nous eûmes
vous eûtes
ils/elles eurent
courir (couru-)
je courus
tu courus
il/elle/on courut
nous courûmes
vous courûtes
ils/elles coururent
boire (bu-)
je bus
tu bus
il/elle/on but
nous bûmes
vous bûtes
ils/elles burent
connaître (connu -)
je connus
tu connus
il/elle/on connut
nous connûmes
vous connûtes
ils/elles connurent


The differences between the 3 dates

As mentioned in the introduction to this article, there are three forms of the past tense in French, which together correspond to past tense. The three tenses are:

  • Imparfait
  • Passé simple
  • Passé composé



Imparfait indicates the existence of an indefinite act:

  • Si je buvais moins, je serai un autre homme = If you drank less, you would be a different man
  • Tu buvais tout le temps = You drank all the time
  • Il buvait seule, pour oublier le boulot = He drank alone to forget work

Imparfait indicates that a past action is ongoing.


Passé simple and passé composé

Passé simple and passé composé indicate that the action is limited:

  • Je bus une troisième tasse, puis une quatrième = I drank a third cup and then a fourth (passé simple)
  • Je ne suis pas malheureux, mais quand j’ai bu, je pleure = I am not unhappy, but when I have been drinking, I cry (passé composé)

Passé simple and passé composé indicate that a past action has been completed.

It should also be mentioned that:

  • Passé simple is used exclusively in neat or narrative writing and in very formal speeches
  • Passé composé is used both in speech and writing

In addition, you should be aware that you cannot alternate between the two times in the same passage.