Passé simple and passé composé mixed in literature?

Answered! Jump to accepted answer.


Kwiziq community member

1 February 2019

2 replies

Passé simple and passé composé mixed in literature?

 I am reading "Le Petit Prince" and noticed that sometimes, passé composé is used in the description (NOT the dialogue)  instead of passé simple. In simple sentences like "J'ai ainsi vécu seul" and "J'ai vu un petit bonhomme tout à fait extraordinaire". 

There are instances where you can (or *have to*???) use passé composé in literature? I can't find any pattern so can someone explain this to me?  

This question relates to:
French lesson "Recognising être in Le Passé Simple"


Kwiziq language super star

2 February 2019


Hi Michelle,

This is well spotted and I hope you are enjoying ‘Le Petit Prince’ which, I think is a delight...

In literature the rules are different and authors use different methods to stand out from the rest, the use of tenses in the narrative being one of them.

This is what I have retained from my literary studies at Warwick University (a few decades ago) :

Up to the 19th century, I believe that the passé simple would have been used to describe events and Flaubert was the  first  author to try and break the mould. Modern authors can even use narratives in the present tense which can sound very strange but all done for effect...

Going back to the Petit Prince, I remember the line “ S’il te plaît , monsieur , dessine-moi un mouton “ which is incorrect as you wouldn’t use the ‘tu’ form with ‘monsieur’ ..that’s probably why it stuck in my mind and all done for effect...

Hope this helps!


Kwiziq community member

2 February 2019


Ah, a literature thing.  I'm just glad to hear that there are no rules for me to remember here, just books to enjoy.

Now that I think of it, music does it too. Like the famous famous Champs Elysées song--> "N'importe qui et ce fut toi, je t'ai dit n'importe quoi". Though I never really wondered about this until I started reading "Le Petit Prince". 

This is the first time I am reading this book in any language (though I always heard of it) and yes, so far, it is a delightful, creative little story.

That line seemed a bit like a "kid mistake" to me. I live in a formal and non formal you culture and sometimes little kids, when excited and speaking quickly, will slip up and say things like "You know?" (in the informal, tu equivalent) to say, a teacher. Though he is likely not that young of a child (if he is a child at all). But it does all play into this strange little creature just not knowing how to interact with people and the world because he lived alone on his planet all that time. 

Your answer

Login to submit your answer

Don't have an account yet? Join today

Think you've got all the answers?

Test your French to the CEFR standard

find your French level »
Getting that for you now.