In French we find many tenses about the past. So when we have to use passé simple and when plus-que-parfait?

2 Answers 2


This is a common issue for learners of French. A thorough answer would need a book chapter. Here are some suggestions:

  1. https://about-france.com/french/past-tenses.htm
  2. https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/verb-timeline/
  3. https://www.cliffsnotes.com/study-guides/french/french-ii/french-ii-past-tenses/using-the-correct-form-of-the-past-tense

Judging from your profile I guess you are Greek. I suggest you look at:

  1. http://brixfax.co/mf/grammaire/verbes/les-temps/
  2. https://www.scribd.com/document/365720056/Χρόνοι-στα-γαλλικά

See also the different links inside the suggested web pages. Speaking very briefly you just need be able to recognize passé simple. It is not used orally (at least in colloquial French). Use passé composé instead.

Plus-que-parfait is like past perfect in English or Ypersyntelikos in Greek language. Hence a typical example would be

Quand je suis arrivé(e), il avait déjà mangé.

In this way plus-que-parfait expresses what is called "antériorité dans le passé".


Another typical example:

Si j'avais su, j'y serais allé(e).

which can be translated in English as:

Had I known, I would have gone there.

See below for more examples and exercises:


  • Passé simple = I did (je fis)
  • Plus que parfait = I had done (j’avais fait)
  • Passe composé = I have done (j’ai fait)
  • Imparfait = I was doing (je faisais)
  • Passé antérieur = I had done (j’eus fait)
  • And honestly - my English teacher told me when I was young that it was not 1:1 match - I still use this trick and it’s working pretty fine since a while... hence I would advise to keep it simple as such
    – Vince
    Nov 29, 2018 at 22:46
  • I am not who downvote but...I don't found that this correspondance makes sense in general. Passé simple and Passé antérieur are almost not used in spoken French. And even in written French, their usage (especially of the latter one) is limited nowadays. Kids become familiar with the Passé simple through fables, récits and the like. So for not an Anglophone, not French native speaker, passé composé renders both I have done as well done I did. Also bear in mind that the French tense will render also the continuous form of the English ones.
    – Dimitris
    Dec 1, 2018 at 23:02

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