I learned that in French, there are seven simple tenses and seven corresponding compound tenses. A typical list would be like enter image description here

According to this article, the French imperfect subjunctive (imparfait du subjonctif) is a literary verb form used in formal writing, such as literature, journalism, and history. Like all literary verb forms, you really only need to be able to recognize it, not use it.

Are there any other tenses that are used only in formal writing? What are the tenses that are used (only?) for informal writing, speaking?

1 Answer 1


These tenses are used everyday in informal as well as formal writing and speaking (in no order):

  • présent de l'indicatif
  • passé composé
  • imparfait de l'indicatif
  • plus-que-parfait de l'indicatif
  • futur simple
  • futur antérieur
  • conditionnel
  • conditionnel passé
  • présent du subjonctif
  • passé du subjonctif.

These tenses are used only in literary works (most modern novels and non-fiction books, some, but very few, speeches):

  • passé simple
  • passé antérieur.

These tenses are used only in very formal writing and seldom used orally at all (except ironically or when insisting on formality):

  • imparfait du subjonctif
  • plus-que-parfait du subjonctif.

Most people do not know when or how to use them. They are also used in some fixed expressions ("fût-il").

I only skimmed through it but this blog post looks like it could be helpful.

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