Passé Simple

J'ai horreur du passé simple.  Translation: I absolutely hate the simple past.

The simple past, or passé simple, is a verb tense in French used mainly for literature or extremely formal  speech.  When I was learning the basics of French in high school, my professeur told us that we didn't really need to learn it because it wasn't used in everyday speech.  Little did she know that I would go on to live in France and want to maybe, sorta, kinda read a book in French someday.

Marianne knows I've tried, but I just cannot get through an entire book in French because of the stupid, stupid, stupid passé simple.  It sounds NOTHING like the French I know and I just can't get into a story when I'm constantly trying to remember that this or that verb is actually an action in the past.  

My Very Parisian Friend has given me books to try - itty bitty books by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, that should be easy to get through, but nope. nada. can't do it. Passé simple.

I'd like to improve my French, especially with all of the English that is spoken in the Cannes Cannes household upon Copain's request, but this whole not being able to read a full novel in French situation has really put on damper on my goals.

However, ever since last week, I think there's as glimmer of hope for me....

I was killing time on Grands Boulevards, poking around the Virgin Mega Store waiting for friends to show up to a theatre performance, (yes, I saw How to Become Parisian in One Hour for the fifth time), when I happened upon a familiar author...

I felt a wave of happy wash over me and all of my childhood reading came flooding back - Matilda, The Witches, Boy, Esio Trot, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, The BFG...and of course, James and the Giant Peach. And here is was, in French - James et la grosse pêche.

I had to have the book! What better way to get over my issue with passé simple, than to read one of my childhood favorites? I knew the story, so I would only need to focus on the language. For the first time in a long time, I was excited to go to bed and cuddle up with a book. 

So far I'm on page 36 - a vast improvement compared to my other failed attempts to read a book in French. I love Roald Dahl! And while the passé simple is still not making this book challenge easy for me, reliving a moment of my own past makes it much more simple :-)


  1. I Love this book too! Tell me if it is good and maybe I'll read it too. I read a very sweet Brazilian book about a boy with his orange tree in French. I think it is called the Bel Orangier. It was in Passe' Simple also but the story was so good I stopped minding.

  2. I understand your difficulties with the passé simple. But, maybe I can help you, because it's not as hard as it seems:

    for the verbs ending with -er (the simplest 1st group), it never changes:

    je parlai / tu parlas /il parla / nous parlâmes / vous parlâtes (I know it sounds ugly) / ils parlèrent

    for the verbs ending with -ir (2nd group), same:

    je finis (same as present) / tu finis / il finit / nous finîmes (weird again) / vous finîtes / il finirent

    for the other verbs, usually (but not always, that's the beauty of French;) it sounds like the "participe passé" that you use in the "passé composé", use that as a help.

    prendre - j'ai pris - p.simple: je pris... nous prîmes...
    croire: j'ai cru - p. simple: je crus... nous crûmes...
    devoir: j'ai dû - p.simple: je dus... nous dûmes...
    pleuvoir: il a plu - p.simple: il plût
    and of course, pouvoir - j'ai pu - p.simple: vous pûtes (easy to remember that one...)

    so you see, you always stay on the same tone: je pris... nous prîmes / je fus... nous fûmes, etc...

    you need to learn "être" "avoir" and other annoying verbs like "venir", "voir" etc though

    Hope it will help (I don't know if this is clear at all, teaching a French class on a comment is tough!), and that you can read lots of books in French!!

    I love Roald Dahl too (I read his books thanks to my daughter!)

  3. Thanks AT! This is exactly what I need! I just have a hard time wrapping my head around it and having it sound natural when I'm reading...I still have to really think or say it in the passé composé so that it sounds right. It's irritating!

    M - let's book swap! xx


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