The French Passé Simple, What You Need to Know

The French Passe Simple

The French passé simple (or simple past in English) is a tense that is very important for your French reading skills, but quite unimportant in daily conversation. Because of this, it can be difficult to learn simply because it’s used so infrequently.

The passé simple is a literary tense that is used primarily in formal texts which means that if you want to read anything more than emails and street signs you’ll want to make sure that you at least understand the passé simple when you see it.

What is the Passé Simple?

If you’re familiar with the passé composé (which you should be if you’re learning about the passé simple) then the passé simple should be easy for you to understand. You can think of it as a formal version of the passé composé but only used in literary situations.

Here’s a quick comparison of the two tenses and when to use each.

Passé simple – Only used in formal written situations including literature, historical accounts, journalism pieces and stories (including those for kids.)

Passé composé – Used in everyday speech and in informal written situations such as text messages, emails or notes to a friend. Used much more often than the passé simple.

Frenchplanations has conjugation tables for a variety of French verbs that always include the passé simple, but let’s take a look at how to conjugate the passé simple for 10 of the most important ones.

Passé Simple for Avoir


Tu eus

il/elle eut

Nous eûmes

Vous eûtes

Ils/elles eurent

Passé Simple for Être

Je fus

Tu fus

Il/Elle fut

Nous fûmes

Vous fûtes

Ils/Elles furent

Passé Simple for Faire

Je fis

Tu fis

Il/Elle fit

Nous fîmes

Vous fîtes

Ils/Elles firent

Passé Simple for Pouvoir

Je pus

Tu pus

Il/Elle put

Nous pûmes

Vous pûtes

Ils/Elles purent

Passé Simple for Dire

Je dis

Tu dis

Il/Elle dit

Nous dîmes

Vous dîtes

Ils/Elles dirent

Passé Simple for Mettre

Je mis

Tu mis

Il/Elle mit

Nous mîmes

Vous mîtes

Ils/Elles mirent

Passé Simple for Devoir

Je dus

Tu dus

Il/Elle dut

Nous dûmes

Vous dûtes

Ils/Elles durent

Passé Simple for Prendre

Je pris

Tu pris

Il/Elle prit

Nous prîmes

Vous prîtes

Ils/Elles prirent

Passé Simple for Donner

Je donnai

Tu donnas

Il/Elle donna

Nous donnâmes

Vous donnâtes

Ils/Elles donnèrent

Passé Simple for Aller


Tu allas

Il/Elle alla

Nous allâmes

Vous allâtes

Ils/Elles allèrent

Other than maybe in French class you likely won’t come across a situation where you need to memorize how to conjugate verbs in the passé simple. Nevertheless, if you want to gain any real reading skills you’ll need to at least recognize it when you see it. 

If you’d like to see how other verbs are conjugated in the passé simple then look through the verbs in our French conjugations section where you’ll see how to conjugate verbs in the passé simple along with many other tenses.

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