It looks like there's no difference to these two in actual meaning? I'm guessing it's kind of equivalent to “I was” and “I have been” but seem to be more interchangeable in French?

  • Slight difference, actually this question already has an answer. Différence entre le passé simple et le passé composé but it's in French, I'm sure someone can translate it if necessary. Both sentences you give are passive, j'ai été accueilli is the "passé composé" and Je fus accueilli is the "passé simple".
    – None
    Commented Sep 16, 2017 at 14:45
  • 1
    Yes I can reach French of course. I noticed one of the answers to the question you linked to states that the passé simple is normally only used in writing - is that correct? I've listened to a lot of French and only in one TEDx video was the first time I heard the passé simple in spoken form. Whch lead me to post the question in the first place. Or at least the first time I've noticed it.
    – Hasen
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 0:32
  • Yes, this is definitely true! Unless you are planning on writing your own literature or doing journalism, there is no reason to learn how to conjugate the passé simple, or quite frankly any of the literary tenses. (L'imparfait du subjonctif, passé simple, passé antérieur, Conditionnel 2e Forme, ou le plus-que-parfait du subjonctif) All of those tenses are only used in very formal language or literature. The only time that I have been told that the passé simple is used in spoken French is to show disdain, or like have a condescending attitude; I've never experienced this though. @Hasen Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 1:48
  • @Hasen Also, there are actually a lot of French people, or so I have been told, who are not great at conjugating any of the literary tenses/moods. Note: If you do plan on ever wanting read French literature or older texts you may want to at least look into being able to recognize it. Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 1:51
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    OK I see, thanks for clarifying that - no wonder I've barely come across it so far then. To be honest I never try to learn any conjugation or grammar, however I do need to understand all the meaning of what I'm listening to or reading so that was the reason for the question.
    – Hasen
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 4:52

2 Answers 2


The biggest difference is that you would say "J'ai été accueilli" in a conversation but you would never say "Je fus accueilli" except in a (posh) book.


I think there is a slight difference in meaning or emphasis.

  • "Je fus" seems to me like "I am now, with my attention remaining now in the present, talking about a past and finished (accomplished) event".

  • "J'ai été" seems to me like "I personally was then, in the past" and "reminiscing (or developing a story) I still see in my mind's eye as if it were yesterday".

I think my answer here agrees with this one.

  • I say "accomplished", and it says s'est produite dans un temps défini et n'a pas de conséquence dans le présent.
  • I say "reminiscing as if it were yesterday", and it says généralement récent, et peut avoir des conséquences

If you're willing to read an essay about "English language" I might characterize them as Father tongue (impersonal history, formal) and Mother tongue (personal story, oral) as told here: Ursula K. Le Guin Bryn Mawr Commencement Address

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