Good day,

I'm reading Le Petit Prince, and I stumbled upon a statement in chapter 5 that goes "ce fut grâce au mouton, car brusquement le petit prince m'interrogea, comme pris d'un doute grave."

I don't know why "fut" was used instead of "était" and "m'interrogea" indicates something in the past, however, I cannot see the forms used in imparfait or passé simple. What kind of form is fut, courus and interrogea? And how to use them?

Thanks in advance.

1 Answer 1


C'est ainsi que, le troisième jour, je connus le drame des baobabs. Cette fois-ci encore ce fut grâce au mouton, car brusquement le petit prince m'interrogea, comme pris d'un doute grave: ...

There are three verbs in the passé simple here: connus, fut, interrogea.

There are basically two factors here that explain their usage:

  1. The difference between the passé composé and the imparfait.

  2. The fact that in literary usage, at least 70 years ago when this was written, the passé simple is used more or less exactly where the the passé composé is used in speech.

The reason these aren't in the imparfait in this case is because they talk about discrete, finished actions.

  • connus refers to a sense of connaître meaning "learned, became acquainted with" rather than the more general "knew about".

  • fut is the hardest of the three, because "was" can be either a stative, ongoing verb or a one-time action depending on the sentence. In this case, "it was thanks to the sheep" in practice means "the sheep caused me to learn about the drama", which is a one-time action.

  • interrogea is because the Little Prince asked a definite question, then was silent for a minute. (He then asked another question. For this reason, you might be tempted to call it an ongoing conversation and use interrogeait. But in a narrative context, the use of the imparfait there would imply that while they were in the middle of questioning, something else happened — that's also addressed in the answer linked above.)

Once we establish that these aren't imparfait, it's the literary context that dictates passé simple instead of passé composé.

When you quote courus, I assume it's from this sentence later on:

Mais le danger des baobabs est si peu connu, et les risques courus par celui qui s'égarerait dans un astéroïde sont si considérables, que, pour une fois, je fais exception à ma réserve.

This one isn't a passé simple, but the participe passé used as the voix passive (the risks run by those who...).

  • 1
    Let's put our hands together for simplicity! :)
    – Lambie
    Oct 15, 2021 at 15:50
  • Thank you very much! My knowledge is restricted to the passé simple and the imparfait. I never knew there were other forms of verbs. Do you have any books or links that delved in this topic? Thanks in advance. Oct 16, 2021 at 5:53
  • @PeaceSeeker127eq: You will probably never actually need to write or speak using the passé simple, but if you want to read French literature, you have to learn to recognize it. Probably the best way to do this is to read French literature and look up the forms that you don't recognize. There are actually only a handful that aren't easily recognizable (e.g., fut, fit), even if you don't remember how to form them. Oct 16, 2021 at 17:41

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