French/Grammar/Tenses/Past historic

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Usage of the Simple Past[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • The conjugations for être, mourir, and venir are entirely irregular, and are not based on past simple stems or endings.

Être

Subject

Conjugation

je

fus

tu

fus

il

fut

nous

fûmes

vous

fûtes

ils

furent

Mourir

Subject

Conjugation

je

mourus

tu

mourus

il

mourut

nous

mourûmes

vous

mourûtes

ils

moururent

Venir

Subject

Conjugation

je

vins

tu

vins

il

vint

nous

vînmes

vous

vîntes

ils

vinrent