I studied at French class that "passé composé" is used as simple past in French language while it means present perfect. When I visited French sites, they mostly use "passé simple". So my question is when the French want to speak about the past they use which form regularly? For example:

I ate salmon. The fish was delicious.
J'ai mangé du saumon. Le poisson a été délicieux.

Is it correct?

The first sentence is correct.

For the second you say rather "Le poisson était délicieux."; you might still say "a été" and it is not incorrect, but it is not usual to hear French people say it. Let's see about trying to make that somewhat clearer.

When you consider actions or states in the past as ponctual you use the "passé composé" (in theory); in English too, the perfect is used for actions that one considers as ponctual, even if in reality they have a developement over a period of time. (This football team played well in 2013._ Cette équipe de football a bien joué en 2013.). That is the reason why the two tenses correspond.

When the action or state is an action considered over a period of time in the past you use the "imparfait". Then in English you use the perfect progressive.

Il parlait de choses et d'autres, je ne sais pas… (He was talking about one thing or another, I don't know…)
C'était hier, nous sommes arrivés le matin, il se levait. (It was yesterday, we arrived in the morning, he was getting up.) (We see that in this exemple the theory "passé composé/perfect" fails for the verb "être";)

The French just choose to consider certain states as states that have lasted in the past and not as ponctual states; this is true for meals but not just for meals.

La mer était belle, nous nous sommes bien amusés. _ Le déroulement de la réception a été parfait, on était littéralement à nos petit soins en permanence.

An addition on usage concerning the second sentence

To express that the fish is delicious while you are eating the fish you have two possibilities; the first, a plain statement in the present (state present) is "Le poisson est délicieux.". The second consists in using the "futur antérieur": "Le poisson aura été délicieux."; (You expect that it'll be delicious to the end of the meal, which is a safe expectation.)

  • merci à vous. I cannot still understand why we use imparfait when we want express our idea about sth. In your example, la mer etait belle. It means the sea was beautiful. We just express our feeling, there is no action in progress or we didnot doing sth as a habit in the past. In my example, imagine somebody ask me how was the dish you ate at that restuarant? Then I say, it was good! or It was delicious. How should I say this in french language?! – elli Nov 8 at 12:38
  • @elli If you don't want to say something people are not used to hear it's necessary to say "C'était bon!" or "C'était un bon plat!"; as you use the perfect in English and as you apply the rule you find that strange, it should be, you said in your question, "Le repas a été bon!", and I agree with you; however we are dealing with an exception: as I said, people tend to consider that type of event not as a ponctual one but as one that was reckoned with over a period of time. Nevertheless, if it's difficult to change that in this particular case concerning meals and eating, it's not so (continued) – LPH Nov 8 at 12:54
  • @elli so in all cases as show the examples in "La mer…en permanence.". To show you that "a été bon" is hardly found in people's speech but that you can still use it I join an ngram. books.google.com/ngrams/… – LPH Nov 8 at 13:09
  • @elli Here is a more specific ngram: books.google.com/ngrams/… – LPH Nov 8 at 17:36

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