The subjunctive (French: le subjonctif) in French is a mode and is used to express a doubt, a desired fact, an uncertain action that has not been realized at the moment we express ourselves. The subjunctive is used with verbs expressing envy, wishes, desire, emotion, obligation, doubt or uncertainty.
Although, the subjunctive is a mode and the indicative a tense, French differentiate the two:
|prendre||je prends||que je prenne|
|aller||je vais||que j'aille|
|voir||je vois||que je vois|
Note that the indicative is used for verbs expressing one's own opinion, probability or certainty.
You use the subjunctive in French under the following circumstances:
We use the subjunctive in the "que" sentence for verbs that denote a personal opinion or subjective feeling:
It is used with the expression of:
The subjunctive insists on the potentiality on a desired goal but without verifying its realization. Relatives with a superlative (most ..., least ...) are often used in the subjunctive. It is also common when the main clause contains terms such as:
The subjunctive has 4 tenses: the present and the past, the imperfect and the pluperfect which are barely used.
The subjunctive present expresses an uncertain action, not realized at the moment we are talking.
All verbs have the same endings in the present subjunctive except the verbs 'avoir' and 'etre':
|aller (to go)||finir (to finish)||partir (to leave)|
|que j'aille||que je finisse||que je parte|
|que tu ailles||que tu finisses||que tu partes|
|qu'il/elle/on aille||qu'il/elle/on finisse||qu'il/elle/on parte|
|que nous allions||que nous finissions||que nous partions|
|que vous alliez||que vous finissiez||que vous partiez|
|qu'ils/elles aillent||qu'ils/elles aillent||qu'ils/elles partent|
When using the subjunctive present in a subordinate clause, then the verb of the main proposition is in the present tense
The past subjunctive expresses an uncertain action, supposedly realized at the moment when we are talking.
|Je regrette qu'il n'ait pas trouvé un travail.||I regret that he had not found a job.|
|Il est content que je soit venue le voir.||he is happy that I came to see him.|
The subjunctive perfect in French is formed with the auxiliary verb avoir or être in the subjunctive present + the past participle.
Subjonctif passé with avoir
voir (to see)
Subjonctif passé with être
aller (to go)
|que j'ais vu||que je sois allé(e)|
|que tu ais vu||que tu sois allé(e)|
|qu'il/elle/on ait vu||qu'il/elle/on soit allé(e)|
|que nous ayons vu||que nous soyons allé(e)s|
|que vous ayez vu||que vous soyez allé(e)s|
|qu'ils/elles aient vu||qu'ils/elles soient allé(e)s|
Most French verbs make their compound times with avoir. However, there are some verbs that are formed with être, which you should memorize well.
The imperfect subjunctive is especially used in literature. It is a simple time that expresses an uncertain action, not realized at the moment when the speaker spoke.
The subjunctive imperfect in French is formed :
|que j'aimasse||que je finisse||que je prisse||que je courusse|
|que tu aimasses||que tu finisses||que tu prisses||que tu courusses|
|qu'il/elle/on aimât||qu'il/elle/on finît||qu'il/elle/on prît||qu'il/elle/on couût|
|que nous aimassions||que nous finissions||que nous prissions||que nous courussions|
|que vous aimassiez||que vous finissiez||que vous prissiez||que vous courussiez|
|qu'ils/elles aimassent||qu'ils/elles finissent||qu'ils/elles prissent||qu'ils/elles courussent|
The pluperfect subjunctive expresses an uncertain action, supposedly realized at the moment when the speaker spoke. It is especially used in literature.
The pluperfect subjunctive is formed:with the imperfect subjunctive of the auxiliary of 'être' or 'avoir' + the past participle.
Subjonctif plus-que-parfait with avoir
écrire (to write)
Subjonctif plus-que-parfait with être
partir (to leave)
|J'eusse écrit||je fusse parti|
|tu eusses écrit||tu fusses parti|
|il/elle/on eût écrit||il/elle/on fût parti|
|nous eussions écrit(e)s||nous fussions parti(e)s|
|vous eussiez écrit(e)s||vous fussiez parti(e)s|
|ils/elles eussent écrit(e)s||ils/elles fussent parti(e)s|
You want to know more about the subjunctive in French? Then have a look at our respective continuing chapters of the most used tenses of the subjunctive: "le subjonctif présent" and "le subjonctif passé".
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