Mur pourrit, trou s’y fit, rat s’y mit…

Mur pourrit, trou s’y fit, rat s’y mit;
chat l’y vit, rat s’enfuit;
chat suivit, rat fut pris.

mewr poo-REE, troo see FEE, rah see MEE,
shah lee VEE, rah sah-FWEE,
shah swee-VEE, rah few PREE.  Click below to hear this pronounced!  

Wall crumbled, hole got made, rat went in;
cat saw him, rat fled;
cat followed, rat got caught.

Wow, it’s a whole story in 22 words! I’ll let you decide whether it’s a cautionary tale, a tragedy, or what. I’m not a big fan of rats (ask my sons about the brick, the floor drain, the fireplace tongs, and the paint can), so I think I’ll stick to the French.

If you’re a learner of French, you probably don’t recognize the form of the verbs (and there are lots of verbs here to play with!). That is called le passé simple (luh paa-say SAA-pluh, the simple past), or sometimes the historical past.

It’s a literary past tense, never used in conversation except to be funny or to quote a proverb or similar saying. Not so long ago it was still used for oral storytelling, but I haven’t heard it used for years, and it isn’t even always used in novels anymore, so I suspect it is dying out. You don’t need to learn it unless you are serious about being fluent in French–just recognize the verbs you see in that form.

Just so you can recognize them, here are the verbs (in their infinitive form) used in this little tale:

pourrir, faire, mettre;
voir, s’enfuir;
suivre, prendre.

Every one of them, except pourrir, irregular!

See that y before several of the verbs? That’s a word with many meanings, since it replaces any preposition (except de) + a noun. So it’s normally an expression of location. Depending on the preposition it replaces, in might mean in it, at it, on it, in there, under it, beside it…you get the idea. It goes before the verb, like a pronoun.

Have fun reciting this to your unsuspecting friends!

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