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Last Updated: 8 March 2023

Passe passe passera (also known as La P'tite Hirondelle) is a traditional French song whose origin probably dates back to the 17th century, during the reign of Louis XIV.

The story of the song

Today considered a nursery rhyme, La p'tite hirondelle (The little swallow) actually evokes circumstances that are hardly relevant to children. 

The swallow is the name given to the soldiers of the French army of the Ancien Régime because of their uniforms, which resembled the plumage of swallows: black tricorns, royal blue uniforms with white lining, scarlet facings and collars, white jackets and breeches.

Thus, the song does not tell the story of a little bird that helped itself to the wheat reserves of those who sing the song. Instead, it tells of the robberies carried out by soldiers in the countryside and promises these same dishonest soldiers a few strokes of vengeance.

Passe passe passera. Swallows Photo Westend61 via Envato Elements

Swallows. Photo: Westend61 via Envato Elements

Passe passe passera

Lyrics, music, free download... let's learn more about the popular song:

The lyrics in French

The original song of Passe passe passera has 2 verses and a chorus.


Passe, passe, passera
La dernière, la dernière,
Passe, passe, passera
La dernière restera.

Couplet 1

Qu'est-ce qu'elle a donc fait
La p'tite hirondelle ?
Elle nous a volé
Trois p'tits sacs de blé.

Couplet 2

Nous la rattraperons
La p'tite hirondelle,
Et nous lui donnerons
Trois p'tits coups d'bâton.

Translation of the lyrics into English

Here is an approximative translation into English:


Pass, pass, will pass
The last one, the last one,
Pass, pass, will pass
The last one will stay.

Verse 1

What has the little swallow done?
The little swallow?
She stole from us
Three little bags of wheat.

Verse 2

We'll catch up with her
The little swallow,
And we'll give it
Three little strokes of the stick.

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Passe passe passera © French Moments

French Nursery Rhymes

My challenge for the year 2023 is to publish 80 French Nursery Rhymes lyrics and descriptions (list below). Come back as time goes by to discover the new articles:

About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of Discovery Courses and books about France.

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