French Language Blog

Le Passé Simple…in Action! Posted by on Apr 11, 2016 in Grammar

Now that you’ve learned about what the simple past tense in French does and how to conjugate regular and irregular verbs, let’s take a look how it is used in classic works of literature.

Here’s a passage from Guy de Maupassant’s famous short story “Les Bijoux”:

Il chercha longtemps dans le tas de clinquant qu’elle avait laissé, car jusqu’aux derniers jours de sa vie elle en avait acheté obstinément, rapportant presque chaque soir un objet nouveau, et il se décida pour le grand collier qu’elle semblait préférer, et qui pouvait bien valoir, pensait-il, six ou huit francs, car il était vraiment d’un travail très soigné pour du faux.
Il le mit en sa poche et s’en alla vers son ministère en suivant les boulevards, cherchant une boutique de bijoutier qui lui inspirât confiance.Il en vit une enfin et entra, un peu honteux d’étaler ainsi sa misère et de chercher à vendre une chose de si peu de prix.
– Monsieur, dit-il au marchand, je voudrais bien savoir ce que vous estimez ce morceau.
L’homme reçut l’objet, l’examina, le retourna, le soupesa, prit une loupe, appela son commis, lui fit tout bas des remarques, reposa le collier sur son comptoir et le regarda de loin pour mieux juger de l’effet.
M. Lantin, gêné par toutes ces cérémonies, ouvrait la bouche pour déclarer : “Oh ! je sais bien que cela n’a aucune valeur,” – quand le bijoutier prononça :
– Monsieur, cela vaut de douze à quinze mille francs ; mais je ne pourrais l’acheter que si vous m’en faisiez connaître exactement la provenance.

Take a look at this passage: Can you identify verbs conjugated in the past simple tense? Identify all simple past verbs and leave them in the comments below. When you’ve read the passage several times and feel you have a good idea of what it is about, scroll down to look at the English translation below.



“He looked for a while in the pile of tinsel that she had left behind from when she had continued to obstinately buy new gems up until the last days of her life, every day bringing home a new object, and he decided to sell the heavy necklace that she seemed to prefer and which, he thought, would be worth about six or seven francs for it was of very fine workmanship, though only imitation.

He put it in his pocket, and set out along the boulevards in search of a reliable jeweler’s shop. Finally he found one, and went in, feeling a little ashamed tat exposing his misery and searching to sell something that was worth so little.

“Monsieur,” said he to the merchant, “I would like to know what this is worth.”

The man took the necklace, examined it, turned it over, weighed it in his hand, took a loop, called his clerk, and made some remarks in an undertone. Then he put the ornament on the counter, and looked at it from a distance to judge of the effect.

Monsieur Lantin, annoyed at all these ceremonies, opened his mouth to say: “Oh! I know well enough that it’s not worth anything,” when the jeweler said: “Monsieur, it’s worth from twelve to fifteen thousand francs; but I couldn’t buy it unless you can tell me exactly where it came from.”



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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!