Table of Contents
- Commentary §§66-69
- Essential Word Review III pp126-27
§66. Past Definite Tense (Passé simple)
In French this tense is usually called le passé simple: simple (one-part) being opposed to composé (compound), i.e., it is contained in just one word (parlai), unlike the passé composé, made up of an auxiliary and a past participle (ai parlé). Otherwise, these two past tenses overlap a great deal, and their translation will usually be the same: a simple past, or preterite, in English: je parlai, j’ai parlé = “I spoke.”
The one thing the passé simple cannot do, and the passé composé can, is function as the (English) present perfect does, to indicate a recently completed action or a past action with present effect. That is, the passé composé can sometimes be translated as “have (done something),” whereas the passé simple never can. However, the passé composé normally has the force of just an ordinary, simple past. Hence, always translate a passé composé first as a simple past; only if it sounds wrong should you try out translating it as a present perfect.
Rule for Translating the Passé composé
E.g., Il a couru.
- First, try simple past: “He ran.”
- Only then try present perfect: “He has run.”
Since the passé composé can have this second function, it is sometimes called the passé indéfini, meaning, “past which may have some connection with the period we are currently in.” Correspondingly, the passé simple is sometimes called the passé défini, meaning, “past which has nothing to do with the period we are currently in.”
The passé simple is, for the most part, easy to recognize. It has a few overlaps with other tenses. With the present for regular (and some irregular) –ir verbs, the singular passé simple is identical to the present: -is –is –it.
The passé simple of regular –er verbs may be confused with future forms, but only if you are not paying attention to the stem: future uses the future stem, i.e., the infinitive, while simple past uses the present stem [infinitive minus the –er]. Parts liable to cause confusion I have made bold.
Note that the future and simple past forms of the 3rd person plural end with a similar (not identical) sequence of letters, but are pronounced very differently.
For the formation of the passé simple, see the Language File Simple Past.
Aim at being able to recognize regular and irregular passé simple verbs on sight.
§67A. Adverbs of Time
By all means learn this list of adverbs, if you haven’t already. You do not want to be looking them up all the time.
Three Temporal “Then”s: Puis, Ensuite, Alors
Puis and ensuite indicate pure succession: One thing happened, then another happened. Puis will occur only at the beginning of a clause; ensuite can also occur after the verb. Otherwise, they are the same.
- Tu dînereras avec moi; ensuite, je te ferai voir le laboratoire. (You are going to dine with me; then I will show you the laboratory.)
- Elle fouilla dans son sac et puis elle m’adressa la parole. (She looked in her purse and then spoke to me.)
Alors can mean “at that time”; it can also mean “then” in the sense of “that being the case.”
- Il arrive que les portes se ferment d’elles-mêmes. Alors, il faudra les rouvrir. (It may happen that the doors close by themselves. In that case, it will be necessary to open them again.)
Sometimes alors can be translated as “and so.”
- Gertrude refusa d’ouvrir la porte. Alors, je l’ouvris moi-même. (Gertrude refused to open the door. And so I opened it myself.)
Donc, meanwhile, means “then” in the sense of “therefore,” and not in a temporal sense.
Learn the Fois Words
If you haven’t already, learn the meaning of fois in all its forms:
Basic meaning: une fois is a “time” in the sense of a repetition.
une fois = “once”
deux fois = “twice”
trois fois = “thrice”
des fois = (an indefinite number of) “times” = “repetitions”
quelquefois, parfois = sometimes
toutefois = “nevertheless, all the same”
Two Words That Sound Exactly Like Fois But Have Completely Different Meanings!!
Three words, la fois, la foi, and le foie, are pronounced the same way: [fwa]. You might as well learn all three homophones at the same time.
- la foi (< Latin fides) = “faith”
- le foie (< Latin ficatum [*fecatum]) = “liver”
- la fois (< Latin vices) = “time=repetition”
What the Author says is true. Note that depuis will be translated differently, depending on whether it followed by a point in time or a duration:
- depuis 1946 = “since 1946”
- depuis des années = “for years”
In either case, the present-tense verb means that the action or state began in the past and is still going on in the present. Hence, if the verb is an action verb, it will be translated by a present perfect progressive:
- Il travaille pour la C.I.A. depuis 1946. (He has been working for the CIA since 1946.)
- Il travaille pour la C.I.A. depuis des années. (He has been working for the CIA for years.)
If the verb indicates a state, a simple present perfect will do.
- Nous nous connaissons depuis 1946. (We have known each other since 1946.)
- Nous nous connaissons depuis des années. (We have known each other for years.)
Normally, the only other tense depuis can be used with is the imperfect, in which case you move the tense back a notch (to a pluperfect progressive, or a pluperfect):
- Action verb.
- Il travaillait pour la C.I.A. depuis 1946. (He had been working for the CIA since 1946.)
- Il travaillait pour la C.I.A. depuis des années. (He had been working for the CIA for years.)
- State Verb.
- Nous nous connaissions depuis 1946. (We had known each other since 1946.)
- Nous nous connaissions depuis des années. (We had known each other for years.)
For another account of depuis, see the French Language File Temporal Expressions and Their Tenses, part I.
§67C&D. Il y a: Its Two Uses
Il y a usually means “There is… / There are…,” that is, it is the French way of positing the existence of something. But it is also used as a kind of temporal preposition, in two different ways. In the first, it is an alternative for depuis meaning “for” (i.e., with an amount of time). Used this way, it comes at the head of the clause, and the verbs used with it are in the present (or imperfect), just as with depuis. I have emboldened the verbs.
- Il y a trois ans que je cherche cette dame. (I have been looking for this lady for three years.)
- Il y avait trois ans que je cherchais cette dame. (I had been looking for this lady for three years.)
In its other temporal use, il y a appears at the end of the clause, after a verb in the passé composé, and it means “ago.”
- Je l’ai trouvée il y a trois ans. (I found her three years ago.)1
The above merits a rule-box:
The Two Temporal Meanings of Il y a
- il y a + time at end of clause, verb in passé composé: il y a = “ago“
- il y a + time + que at beginning of clause, verb in present: been doing something “for” (amount of time)
(OR verb in imperfect: had been doing something…)
Unfortunately, the Author rather confuses things in the exercises with two sentences that fit neither pattern:
26. Nous étions à Avignon il y a quinze jours, apparently meaning: “We were in Avignon two weeks ago.”
36. Il n’aime plus cette personne qu’il aimait il y a dix ans, apparently meaning: “He no longer loves this person whom he loved ten years ago.”
See the Language File Temporal Expressions & Their Tenses, Parts I.C, III, and V. While you’re at it, studying this entire Language File.
§68. The Verb Venir
The conjugation of venir is highly similar, not to say identical, to that of tenir.
I recommend your learning all the derivatives the Author gives.
Check out, in the French Language File “Irregular Verb Groupings,” the section on Venir and its Derivatives.
§69. Immediate Past
Learn this construction and retain your understanding of it, in the words of Eugène Ionesco’s Professor, « jusqu’au jour de votre mort! »
Do yourself and me a favor, and re-learn the English idiom of the recent past as: “(He) has just (done something),” not as “(He) just did (something).” I have put the all-important auxiliary verb in red.
- Je viens de voir la lumière. = “I have just seen the light.”
That way, when you come across this same construction with the verb venir in the imperfect, you will know to translate it with a pluperfect verb (and the adverb “just”).
- Je venais de déclencher la Troisième Guerre mondiale. = “I had just started World War Three.”
1. he obtains / they will maintain / he retained (held back, restrained) / he perfected (focused, finalized, settled)
2, he held (has held) / he will have obtained / they held / he puts
3. he took (he has taken) / he took / he understands (OR: it includes) / we were taking
For three important meanings of comprendre, see, in Language File “Irregular Verb Groupings,” section on this verb under Prendre and its Derivatives.
4. we undertook (we have undertaken) / he is learning (learns) nothing) / he took
5. he had a house built / he will see / in-by-while seeing / he was (OR he went = he has been)
Être in the passé composé can two values: a été = 1) “was”; 2) “has been.” Now, “has been,” in English, can have the meaning “has gone,” and so can a été in French.
- Il a été à l’épicerie = “He has been / He has gone / to the grocery-store.”
Recall, however, that the French passé composé is also used where in English we would use simple past. Hence, a été could mean “went”:
- Il a été à l’épicerie = “He went to the grocery-store.”
The passé simple of être can also be used in this way:
- Il fut à l’épicerie = “He went to the grocery-store.”
6. I will have seen / he wanted (at a particular point [=he chose]; OR he tried [and failed]) / he saw / he knows / he had
On the values of voulut in 6, see the note to sentence 3 of Exercise A in Chapter 11.
7. we recognized / he had to leave (OR he must have left) / he has work
8. he should leave / he left / he is in the society (he is part of, a member of, the society)
9. (in order) to put / somebody put / he learned / he will know (OR he will learn OR he will be able) / they were
10. he shows / he will remark (= he will cause someone to notice) / he wanted (see sentence 6 above) / they were doing
11. he pays attention / it is fitting (OR he agrees) / it may be / perhaps he is coming
12. that suits me / in-by-while finding / they came / he has just left
13. I think (I believe) / he believed 2 / she became / she was becoming / she learned
Regarding il crut in 13, recall that verbs indicating a mental state in the past are usually in the imperfect. When such a verb is occurs in the passé composé or the passé simple, something unusual may be afoot.
14. it is necessary to return / (in order) to understand / a year ago / he permitted (OR: it allowed)
15. I remember that / I remembered that / he was born in Paris
16. somebody discovered (somebody has discovered) / he discovered / (in order) to warn (OR: see to (a need); do something (before somebody else does) = prevent; predispose)
Regarding il découvrit: a nice thing about verbs like découvrir, in contrast to regular –ir verbs, is that there is no confusion between singular present and singular passé simple forms. See conjugation of découvrir; also, the Language topic Verbs Like Ouvrir.
For the meanings of prévenir, check out once again, in the French Language File “Irregular Verb Groupings,” the section on Venir and its Derivatives.
17. he reflected (was reflecting) / he was writing / he wrote / he wrote (he has written)
18. in-by-while working / (in order) to travel / knowing / we had just arrived
19. We have been examining these data for two months.
20. The class have been studying this novel for a week.
21. Duranger had been using this device for a week.
22. The class discussed this tale a week ago.
23. This is (Behold) a fact that we have known for a long time.
24. I finished this work twenty minutes ago.
25. We have been traveling in Europe for three weeks.
26. We were in Avignon two weeks ago.
27. They have been waiting for the results for two weeks.
28. They have just learned the news.
29. I have just bought a new car.
30. Rimbaud had just left London when he arrived in Brussels.
31. Descartes discovered the law of refraction.
See the Quick Tip to sentence 16 above.
32. He believed, along with Galileo, in the movement of the earth around the sun.
33. Pascal created the calculation of probabilities to help his friend, the chevalier de Méré, to win at games of chance.
34. Pierre Fermat was perhaps the most powerful mathematical mind of his century.
35. A Frenchman named Denis Patin perfected the steamship.
36. He no longer loves this person whom he loved ten years ago.
37. He has been studying medicine for three years.
38. One day the fair Cunegonde met the young Candide while returning to the château, and she blushed.
Being a regular –ir verb, rougir has identical singular forms for present and passé simple (see its conjugation). The form rougit could be a past or a present. Even if it were present, however, you are free to interpret it as an historical present, and to translate it as if it were a past.
39. She dropped her handkerchief, and Candide picked it up.
The American War p122
 The Seven-Years’ War, while politically favorable to England, had ruined its finances by increasing3 its debt to the sum of two and a half billions, which required an annual interest of 99 million francs.  The mother country thought of discharging a part of this heavy burden onto the colonies.  It placed a tax on stamped paper(s), later on glass, paper, and tea.  Riots forced it to do away with these taxes: only the last of them was kept.  But the inhabitants of Boston, invoking the great principle of the English constitution, according to which no one is obliged to submit to taxes which were not voted (upon, on) by his representatives, cast into the sea a cargo of tea (come) from London, rather than pay the duty, and (the) war broke out (1775).  The insurrection spread to all the provinces; the following year, their deputies, assembled in a general congress in Philadelphia, published the Declaration of Independence, in which one remarked the following principles,4 which seemed to come straight out of French philosophy5 :  “All men have been [were] created equal; they have been [were] endowed, by the Creator, with certain inalienable rights; to insure (for themselves) the enjoyment of these rights, men have established among themselves governments, whose just authority emanates from the consent of the governed;  whenever any form of government whatever becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, the people have the right to change [=modify] it and to abolish it.”
 La métropole – How did this word, “metropolis,” come to have the meaning “mother country” in French? Well, back when this word was first used (in the B.C. period), cities were entire states, and some of these states were empires with colonies. Hence, beginning in 1798, the Dictionnaire de l’Académie française began giving this definition: “is also said of a State, relatively to the colonies it possesses” (see here). This usage seems to have been current in the 18th century, when France still possessed its first colonial empire.
 Note the wording le grand principe…selon lequel… and my close but awkward rendering of it: “the great principle…according to which…” A simpler translation would be: “the great principle that…” This is another instance of the French reluctance to have a noun followed by anything other than an adjective or the preposition de, or a relative clause (which is what we have here).
 France greeted enthusiastically a revolution in which she recognized [i.e., thought she recognized] herself.  During their stay in Paris, the three American envoys, Arthur Lee, Silas Deane, and above all old Franklin, already so famous as a physicist, were continuously lionized.  The Marquess de Ia Fayette, scarcely twenty, chartered a boat on his own (=”himself”) which he loaded with weapons.
For accueillit in , see the Language topic Verbs Like Cueillir.
 However, the government feared a rupture with England. Turgot had asked that they should [for them to] remain neutral, believing that England would gain more from recognizing the independence of its colonies than from holding them trembling under the yoke.  De Vergennes went no further than sending indirect help to begin with, in the form of weapons, money, and ammunition, which Beaumarchais took the responsibility of getting there.
The form restât in  is an imperfect subjunctive. If you feel you must know about the subjunctive right now, consult the Language Files on Formation of the Present Subjunctive and French Subjunctive, Main Uses of, neither of which will tell you about the imperfect subjunctive.
 Louis XVI didn’t like the war6; above all he did not wish to look like the aggressor. And yet he signed a commercial treaty with the US, backed up7 by an offensive and defensive alliance, if England declared war on France.  The English ambassador was at once recalled.
 The year 1781 was, for France, the happiest of this war. The count de Grasse carried off a series of brilliant successes.  His victories contributed to those that Washington, Rochambeau, and La Fayette won on the American continent.  On October 11th 1781, they forced General Cornwallis to capitulate in Yorktown, with 7000 men, 6 war vessels, and 50 merchant ships.  This feat of arms was decisive for American independence.  The English, who still occupied New York, Savannah, and Charleston, could do nothing henceforth but hold their own there [did nothing anymore than defend themselves there].
 remporta,  remportèrent – I recommend your learning the verb remporter, used regularly with words like victoire. It works this way: re (= back OR again) + em (= from a place) + port (= carry). So, you go to a place, have a battle, and carry a victory back from it.
 ce fait d’armes – Our word “feat” is in fact the French word fait < Latin factum, with the meaning not of “fact” but of “deed.”
The Sciences in the Seventeenth Century p123
 In the sciences, France was on a level with the scientific movement, but not at the head of it.  For, while she had Descartes and Pascal, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Leibnitz belonged to other countries.
On the use of si (if) to mean “while,” see the Language File French Concessions. Part II.
 Antiquity and the Middle Ages had been able successfully to cultivate the sciences of reasoning, but the study of the physical world was afflicted (“struck”) with sterility, as long as (the) true methods of experimentation were not discovered.  And they could be discovered only after people were convinced that the universe is governed by immutable laws and not by the arbitrary wishes of capricious powers.  Alchemy, magic, astrology, all the follies of the Middle Ages became sciences,8 as soon as man attempted to grasp the laws that produced them.  This time began with Copernicus, in the 16th century; but it is only in the 17th that the revolution is completed and its triumph assured with Kepler, Bacon, and Descartes.
 Descartes caused algebra to take an enormous step forward by inventing a notation for powers using numerical exponents, and did the same thing for the geometry of curves,9 which made it possible for him to solve problems hitherto10 believed insoluble.  He discovered the law of refraction; he believed, along with Galileo, in the movement of the earth around the sun, and his fanciful system of eddies (according to which the sun and fixed stars are the centers [note plural] of so many eddies of subtle [rarefied, refined] matter, which cause the planets to circulate around them) was the germ of the famous Newtonian hypothesis of attraction.  For Descartes, as for Newton, the problem of the physical universe was a problem of mechanics, and Descartes would be the first to teach, if not the solution, at least the true nature of the problem.
 Descartes fit faire un pas immense à l’algèbre…et à la géométrie des courbes – In this faire causatif construction, since both the subject and the direct object of the infinitive are expressed, the subject (l’algèbre and la géométrie) has to be treated as an indirect object. Review, if needed, the Language File on the Faire causatif.
 ce qui – “that which” = here, “which.” The indefinite relative pronoun once again, for which the usual translation will be “what” (but not in this case).
 autant – Autant means, in its pieces (à + le + tant), “to the same amount.” In le soleil et les étoiles fixes sont le centre d’autant…, the word centre, which is in the singular, logically I think has to be plural, which is how I have translated it.
 le problème…est… Descartes enseignera… – I take est here to be an historical present, which I translate as a past; enseignera is thus an “historical future,” which I translate as a conditional (= a future in the past).
 Descartes enseignera le premier – Literally, “Descartes will teach first,” but a more English formulation is “Descartes will be the first to teach.” See also  below: Denis Patin…pensa le premier…
 Pascal, at the age of 12, was [already] reading the Elements of Euclid; at 16, he composed his treatise On conical sections. A little later he created the calculation of probabilities, demonstrated the weight of air with the famous Puy-de-Dôme experiment, conceived of the dray and perhaps the hydraulic press. He certainly invented the calculating machine.
 Pierre Fermat (1601-1665), a member of the Toulouse parliament, did not publish anything, but was perhaps the most powerful mathematical mind of his time.  He shared with Descartes the glory of having applied algebra to geometry, and conceived of the method of de maximis et minimis, at the same time as Pascal created the calculation of probabilities.11
 The abbé Mariotte (1620-1665) recognized that the volume of a gas, at a constant temperature, varies in inverse proportion to the pressure it is subjected to.
Didn’t I tell you that you were going to need to know this meaning of raison (= “proportion”)? Didn’t I? Way back in chapter 5, in the reading “Gravity,” sentences  and . Go here, and scroll down to the note box.
 Denis Patin, born in Blois in 1647, created or perfected several machines and was the first to think of using condensed vapor as a propulsive force.  In Germany, on the Fulda, he performed experiments with a steamboat that climbed upstream.  Ignorant sailors destroyed the machine of the great physicist, who died in London in great poverty.
 Three foreigners invited to France by Colbert justified the king’s favors by their efforts.  The Dane Roemer determined the speed of the sun’s rays; the Dutchman Huygens discovered the ring[s] and one of the satellites of Saturn; the Italian Dominico Cassini saw four others.  We also owe to Huygens the invention of pendulum clocks, and to Cassini the first (mathematical) operations which were to help measure the earth;  he performed them with the abbé Picard, a/the professor of astronomy at the College de France, and both began in 1669 the meridian that was later continued as far as Roussillon.  It was thanks to the measure of the degree provided by Picard that Newton was finally able to calculate the force that keeps the moon in its orbit.
 devaient – On this use of devoir, see the Language File on this verb, Part III Section C. Expectation, and scroll down to “Imperfect. 2.” If you feel the need, review the rest of this file.
 servir à – On the uses of this verb, go to the Language topic Dormir-type Irregular Verbs and scroll down.
Essential Word Review III pp126-27
- agir – It is a regular -ir verb (conjugated here).12 Remember that agir also has an important use as an impersonal pronominal verb.
- Dans cette histoire tragique, il s’agit du meurtre d’un professeur de langues. (This tragic story is about the murder of a language teacher.)
- attendre – See, on this verb, the French Language topic attendre.
- pouvoir – One of the mighty semi-auxiliaries (along with devoir, savoir, vouloir…). I do not currently have a file on it, but you can read about the contrast between savoir and pouvoir, both meaning “can,” here. The form can also be used as a masculine noun: le pouvoir = “power.”
- recevoir – Why not use this opportunity to nail down all the verbs of this type? (There aren’t that many.) Go to Devoir/Concevoir Type Verbs and scroll down to “3. Concevoir Type.”
- se servir de – On the uses of servir, I direct you, once again, to Irregular Verb Groups. Dormir Type; scroll down.
- venir – For derivatives of venir, see here. The near future construction with venir is absolutely essential.
- la mise en évidence – This is not the only expression with mise worth knowing. Check out here (scroll down to note box).
- le mot – The basic word for “word.” Fancier is la parole. Both can also mean a statement (i.e., more than just one word). Mot is also used for “a short written message”:
- Je vais lui laisser un mot. (I’m going to leave hurrim a note.)
- le pays – The word is pronounced in two syllables, with emphasis, of course, on the second: [pei]. It also gives us le paysage (landscape, countryside, scenery, view), pronounced in three syllabes: [peizaʒ]. Pays can have the more restricted meaning of “local area, region,” as in:
- le sens – I repeat what I said once before about this noun: “This noun has three important meanings. 1) meaning; 2) direction (of the compass); 3) one of the five senses. The final -s is always pronounced: [sɑ̃s].”
- étranger, étrangère – is no more to be confused with étrange than “stranger” is with “strange”!
- important – As has been noted elsewhere in passing, important can have the meaning “of a large size or quantity,” hence translatable at times as “considerable” or “significant” (or simply as “large”). Such is actually the first meaning (A1) given in the TLFi entry, with examples (my translations): héritage important (a large inheritance), retard important (a signicant delay), foule importante (a considerable crowd), ville importante (a sizeable city).
- tous – The Author will introduce the word in the next chapter, at which time I will direct you to the Language File Tout sur tout.
- d’ailleurs – In addition to “moreover” and “anyway,” d’ailleurs is sometimes translatable as “for that matter.” It is used a great deal in both conversational and written French, much more than our “moreover.” — Of course, once in a great while d’ailleurs is actually de (from) + ailleurs (elsewhere):
- Celui qui vient d’ailleurs (The one who comes from elsewhere)
- dedans – I have written about this word in a Quora answer.
- dehors – The word can be used as an adverb, as part of a prepositional phrase, or as a noun.
- dehors (adverb) = “outside” (adverb).
- Je vais jouer dehors. (I’m going to play outside.)
- Dehors, tout était silencieux. (Outside, everything was silent.)
- en dehors de means not only “outside of” (physically) but “in addition to, apart OR aside from.”
- le dehors (noun)
- le dehors et le dedans de la coupe (the outside and the inside of the bowl/goblet/cup)
- dehors (adverb) = “outside” (adverb).
- désormais – It is easy to remember that this word means “henceforth” if you keep in mind its parts: dès (from this point on) + or (now, this point in time) + mais (in its original meaning, from Latin magis = more).
- Such is the current common usage. But there is no inherent reason why you couldn’t say Il y a trois ans que je l’ai trouvée meaning “I found her three years ago,” and once in a while you will find this kind of formulation.
- He believed at a particular point; momentarily. Presumably, he does not believe this thing any more.
- Literally, en portant = “by carrying”
- Literally, “in which the following principles were remarked/noted [noted themselves]”
- Literally, “which seemed to emerge from the entrails of French philosophy”
- If you take la guerre to mean “this particular war”; but if la guerre is meant generally, the translation should be: “Louis XVI didn’t like war.”
- The French word corroboré has its original meaning here, from Latin robur meaning “strength.”
- In the words of a friend: “I could say something right now, but I won’t.”
- In English, we also say “curve geometry” and “curved geometry.”
- I added the “hitherto,” which I consider implied by the verb in the imperfect (croyait).
- Or: “the calculus of probabilities.”
- But you really should know how to conjugate a regular -ir verb and not need to look this one up.