French/Grammar/Tenses/Past historic

< French‎ | Grammar‎ | Tenses

Usage of the Simple Past (Past Historic, Past Definite)


The simple past is mostly a literary tense, used in fairy tales, and perhaps newspapers. It is one that native French students are expected to recognize but not use.

Formation of the Simple Past


To conjugate in this tense, one finds the stem and appends the following, as according to the table:

Subject Add ending Conjugated verb
je -ai dansai
tu -as dansas
il / elle / on -a dansa
nous -âmes dansâmes
vous -âtes dansâtes
ils / elles -èrent dansèrent

It should be noted that être, along with a few other verbs are consistent in their irregularities in the passé simple as well.

Simple Past Stems

  • For normal verbs (not irregular);

-er, changes it to é (manger = mangé)
-ir, take off the r (choisir = choisi)
-re, take off the re and add a u

  • Certain verbs (-cer and -ger verbs) are stem-changing in the nous form of the present indicative; these are stem-changing the simple past also. The stem change that applies in the present indicative is retained when conjugating the je, tu, il, nous, and vous forms of the simple past. That stem change is reversed when conjugating the ils form of the simple past.
  • For irregular verbs whose past participle end in -u, (but not for regular -re verbs, whose past participle also end in -u), that past participle is also the simple past stem.
  • Some verbs have irregular simple past stems.
Irregular stems
Verb Simple past stem
s'asseoir s'ass-
conduire conduis-
dire d-
écrire écriv-
faire f-
joindre joign-
mettre m-
naître naqu-
peindre peign-
prendre pr-
rire r-
voir v-

Simple Past Endings

  • To conjugate in the past tense, add the appropriate ending to the past participle. There is one set of endings for irregular verbs whose past participles end in -u ("irregular endings"), and another set for all other verbs ("regular endings").
Regular endings
Subject Ending
je -ai
tu -as
il -a
nous -âmes
vous -âtes
ils -èrent
Irregular endings
Subject Ending
je -s
tu -s
il -t
nous -^mes
vous -^tes
ils -rent

Irregular Conjugations

  • The conjugations for être, mourir, and venir are entirely irregular, and are not based on past simple stems or endings.
Subject Conjugation
je fus
tu fus
il fut
nous fûmes
vous fûtes
ils furent
Subject Conjugation
je mourus
tu mourus
il mourut
nous mourûmes
vous mourûtes
ils moururent
Subject Conjugation
je vins
tu vins
il vint
nous vînmes
vous vîntes
ils vinrent