French literary tenses

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by bloop123, Oct 21, 2013.

  1. bloop123 Member

    Hi everyone!

    Would anybody know when the imperfect subjunctive and passé simple were transitioning from being spoken and then written only, in French? This includes old and middle French.

    Any help is greatly appreciated :)
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2013
  2. DOBRA

    DOBRA Senior Member

  3. bloop123 Member

    Dobra: Hi thanks for your help. I have tried hard to look for when it stopped being spoken. Those threads seamed just to say that these arent spoken? but not when they were only written. (Although with my limmited French Im not 100% certain they could have said that Im just not sure).

    My French teacher said they were never spoken, but to me that doesnt make sense. Afterall its spoken in Italian (South to my knowledge) and in Spanish and spoken grammar comes before written.


    What do you guys think?

    Merci beaucoup
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 27, 2013
  4. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    The French Wikipedia gives a good overview of the history of passé simpleé_simple.
    The article states that the decline of use of the tense in the spoken language began in the XVI century, but it was still in use in the first half of the XIX century. It seems that by the end of the XIX century it went out of spoken language altogether.
  5. bloop123 Member

    Thanks a lot that was exactly what I was looking for :)
  6. Yaella Member

    Français - Belgique
    The "imparfait du subjonctif" is rarely used in writing and even more in speech, but still survives. The "passé simple" is used sometimes in writing and used sporadically in speech - depends on the verb.
    I am sure I heard Mitterand and Pompidou use "imparfait du subjonctif" in their speeches so that is way after 1950.
    A frequest expression is "encore eût-il fallu que..." normally followed by the "imparfait du subjonctif" but usually followed by "subjonctif présent".
  7. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Everyday speech, and giving a ceremonial speech are two different things. It's not uncommon to use archaic phrases and gramatical forms on such occasions, but that is not the same as "being used in speech" on everyday occasions.
  8. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    When I was invited to speak at the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres it struck me that everyone (myself included) was reading from a written text and that even the académiciens did not feel comfortable about speaking without a script. The dichotomy between written and spoken language is greater in French than in other modern European languages.
  9. bloop123 Member

    I should have been more clear. I meant used in speech as in fully productive, able to apply to almost every verb in many situations and be understood with the appropriate meaning.

    Even with my limited French I do find the differences between written and spoken French striking. For instance the amount of adjectives and past participles not being distinguished in gender and number in spoken French, not including liaisons.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2013
  10. DOBRA

    DOBRA Senior Member


    First, excuse me for my english. :D
    In Spanish we use the Pretérito perfecto simple (yo bebí-I drank), equivalent to the French Past Simple (je bus). This one is used in everyday Spanish spoken language as well as the written language. Bye!

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