Le passé antérieur

French Grammar (see all)

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Le passé antérieur

Le passé antérieur is a very formal tense, used mainly in literature. It corresponds often to the English past perfect.
« Quand ils eurent revêtu leurs habits, on les mena à l’autre coin du préau. » "Once they had put on their clothes, they were taken to the other corner of the (prison) yard. (Victor Hugo, Le Dernier Jour d’un condamné)

Le passé antérieur is formed with the verb être or avoir in le passé simple tense + the past participle of the main verb.
manger j’eus mangé to eat I had eaten
finir ils eurent fini to finish they had finished
aller nous fûmes allés to go we had gone
se coucher vous vous fûtes couchés to go to bed you had gone to bed

Le passé antérieur is often used:
•  after terms like quand, après que, dès que, lorsque, etc. (when / once, after which, as soon as, etc).
« Quand ma mère eut bordé le petit Paul, elle vint me donner le baiser du soir. » Once my mother had tucked in little Paul, she came and gave me my evening kiss.
« Lorsque j’eus fait vingt mètres, je m’arrêtai. » Once I had gone twenty meters, I stopped.
(Marcel Pagnol, La Gloire de mon père)

•  to indicate a past action that occurred before another when the main verb uses le passé simple.
Il sortit précipitamment de chez lui une fois que son frère l’eut appelé. Marcel left his place immediately once his brother had called him (his brother called, then Marcel left his place).



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