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When reading an ancient text—-I have a book of old French Fairy tales for kids-—how is one to pronounce out loud the historical past tense. Say, for example, the form -èrent in the 3rd P indicative, and so forth…

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-ai /e/, -as /a/, -a /a/ are all as expected — like the forms of avoir they happen to resemble.

-âmes /am/, -ûmes /ym/, -îmes /im/ also follow the rules of standard pronunciation.

Slightly surprising is -inmes /ɛ̃m/ which manages to have a nasal consonant after a nasal vowel. (This is a similar case to the /m/ of -isme which strikes Anglophones as hard to pronounce.)

The vous endings are parallel to the nous ones with /t/ instead of /m/. And /ɛ̃t/ sounds much less strange than /ɛ̃m/ :)

-èrent /ɛʀ/, -urent /yʀ/, -irent /iʀ/, -inrent /ɛ̃ʀ/ ... Here the answer anonymous2 linked to is correct, aside from the slightly different phonetic symbols Brennan chose.

You can also state a rule not only for the passé simple but for all tenses: The -ent of a third person plural verb is never pronounced. But it does count as vowel for the purposes of pronouncing what comes before it. So if you erased the -nt you would get a pronunciation that sounds like it looks.

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    Le -ai du passé simple peut aussi se prononcer [ɛ] chez certains locuteurs (mais d'autres considèrent que seul [e] est correct). La conjugaison j'ai de avoir est assez fluide entre [e] et [ɛ] chez beaucoup de locuteurs. Dec 15, 2022 at 18:40

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