Allow me to use English to pose this question please. I am a learner of French, now we are on the subject of "le passé simple". Wish to ask if the people in Midi and in Normandy in fact use le passé simple in daily conversation -- so it is still quite common to recount affairs that happened around them in a more detached voice?

The article that I came across was written 20 years ago by William H. Bryant. I am very much interested in the context that "le passé simple" would be used nowadays in France. Merci beaucoup.

"MYTH NUMBER THREE:"THE PASSE SIMPLE IS A LITERARY TENSE AND IS NOT USED CONVERSATIONALLY."While no one knowledgeable would argue with the first assertion in this sentence, that is, that the passe simple is a literary tense, the last proposition, that it is not used conversationally, simply runs counter to socio-linguistic reality, providing, as it does, another example of a grammatical half-truth. It is still reportedly spoken in the Midi and in Normandy, where, according to the brothers Le Bidois, 'il reste fort en usage."12 Thus, while it is unquestionably true that most Frenchmen, that is, those who live in the northern part of France, especially in and around Paris, do not, in fact, normally use the passe simple conversationally, one simply may not arbitrarily dismiss all those tens of thousands of people living in the South of France and in the western part of France who use and who consider the ect to its literary function, Mauger reports that: "[le passe simple]"a repris une vigueur nouvelle (à la 3e personne) dans cette langue particuliere qui est celle des journaux et de la radio."

Several other researchers come to a similar conclusion; namely, that, "le passe simple demeure toujours en usage dans la langue ecrite: langue litteraire (sauf un parti pris de refus: le nouveau roman), langue orale soutenue (qui releve de la langue ecrite), langue de la presse ecrite (et, par voie de consequence, de la presse parlee, radio et televi- sion)."" Since the passe simple, in written form, is employed not only in literature as such but also in newspapers, magazines, and in news reports on the radio and on television, it would seem more correct to assign it to la langue ecrite, in general, rather than exclusively to la langue litteraire-a vital distinction."

Demythifying French Grammar Author(s): William H. Bryant
Source: The French Review, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Oct., 1984), pp. 19-25 Published by: American Association of Teachers of French
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/392509 .

2 Answers 2


It's the first I've heard about the passé simple being used in spoken French more in Normandy than in other parts of France. I spend a lot of time there and that does not seem to be the case.

A couple of hours ago I'd have told you that yes of course the passé simple is used in oral speech in the south of France. I knew that was the case some forty years back when I lived there.
But I've been doing a little research before answering and that was fortunate because I came across this paper that deals with this issue with what I find are good references*.

Au XXIe siècle on utilise moins le passé simple, à l‟oral on l‟entend dans certains dialectes : « -Dans le midi le passé simple est encore vivant » (Grevisse, 2008, §882a).
Par contre, Claire Blanche-Benveniste écrit dans Approches de la langue parlée en français : « On a souvent dit que le passé simple était plus répandu dans le sud de la France. [...] L‟observation, qui valait sans doute encore au début du siècle, ne vaut plus aujourd‟hui. L‟utilisation du passé simple semble ne plus rien devoir aux régions. » (1997, p. 53)

So it seems that linguists are divided on that issue.

It was a well-known fact though, that in the south of France, in the area of Occitan influence, people have continued using the passé simple well after it had nearly completely died out elsewhere. Probably because the passé simple exists in the Occitan language and until the mid twentieth century quite a number of people still spoke Occitan in everyday life (at least in rural areas).

It is nevertheless still present in written French as this paper concludes, mainly in literature, fairy tales and newspaper articles.

You might be interested in this earlier answer on French Language that has a more historical perspective on the disappearance of the passé simple and its comparative use with the passé composé.

  • Grevisse, Claire Blanche Benveniste and Henriette Walter are linguists that one can trust.
  • 2
    I can confirm that neither my wife (who is from the south and used to spoke provencal at home) and nor the colleagues who are from the south use the passé simple in day to day conversation. Nov 5, 2014 at 16:11

So I will answer you in English too, please excuse some mistakes I will make ;)

I am a 25 years old French guy and lived in Paris, Tours, and Nantes (west of the France, not Normandy neither Midi). I think the following rules apply to all France, except for maybe some old people or really small parts that still speak old French.

The "passé simple" tense is a literary tense as you said. It is rarely used in oral conversations, but it is for special cases: journalists talking about a serious subject or in a discussion that is really REALLY formal.

You will rarely hear something like "hier, j'eu pris mon vélo" or "en sortant de chez le coiffeur, je pris mon vélo". The "passé composé" tense is used way more often and the "passé simple" is considered an old and formal tense. Actually, the last time I heard it in a conversation, it was from an American ;)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.