Uncommon French Tenses

There are a number of uncommon French tenses that are not used much at all in modern conversation.

These are of little interest to the majority of people who simply want to converse in French with real, live modern French-speaking folk, read the newspaper, watch French television and French movies.

These somewhat archaic French verb tenses are however, of interest to the academic, the university student, the person who is studying old French literature, and the historian that is unravelling the meaning of ancient documents.

The Uncommon French tenses no longer in use

There are two simple French verb tenses no longer in use, and three compound tenses.

Simple Tense - two rarely used French tenses

Compound verb tenses - three uncommon French tenses

  • Past anterior - passé antérieur
  • Past subjunctive - passé du subjonctif
  • Pluperfect subjunctive/Past Perfect subjunctive - plus-que-parfait du subjonctif

French Simple Tenses not used much in conversation these days...

The French Simple Past tense is also called the past definite tense, passé simple.

This tense is generally used in formal literature and historic writing. It is used very infrequently nowadays except for the verbs:

These two verbs should be learned in the past simple tense (passé simple) because there are expressions that employ these tenses from time to time. Once you get to an intermediate level of French, then you can look at these tenses for être and avoir, but there is no big rush. Build your vocabulary and grammar first.

The passé composé is used in place of the simple past tense these days. Some examples of the passé composé verb tenses are:
  • j'ai fait - I have done.
  • tu est allé - you have gone.
  • nous avons fini - we have finished etc.
Imperfect Subjunctive - imparfait du subjonctif. This tense is used in formal writing and old literature and is not used in modern writing or conversation. The present subjunctive is used nowadays.

French Compound Verbs Tenses not used in modern conversation

  • Past Anterior - passé antérieur
  • Past Subjunctive - passé du subjonctif
  • Pluperfect Subjunctive/Past Perfect subjunctive - plus-que-parfait du subjonctif
Again these three tenses are mainly found in old French literature, and in very formal writing.

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