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
Passé Simple for Être
Passé Simple for Faire
Passé Simple for Pouvoir
Passé Simple for Dire
Passé Simple for Mettre
Passé Simple for Devoir
Passé Simple for Prendre
Passé Simple for Donner
Passé Simple for Aller
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.