Subjunctive in French (le Subjonctif)
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.
- J'aurais aimé qu'il soit là. (I would have liked him to be here)
- Il faut que tu ailles aux urgences. (you need to go to the emergency room)
- 1.Subjunctive vs Indicative
- 1.1.Use of the subjunctive in French
- 1.1.1.After certain conjunctions
- 1.1.2.After verbs and expressions of feeling
- 1.1.3.In circumstantial clauses (propositions circonstancielles)
- 1.1.4.In relative clauses (les propositions relatives)
- 2.Present subjunctive in French (le subjonctif présent)
- 2.1.Formation of the subjunctive present in French
- 3.Subjunctive past in French (le subjonctif passé)
- 3.1.Formation of the perfect subjunctive in French
- 4.Subjunctive imperfect in French (l'imparfait du subjonctif)
- 4.1.Formation of the subjunctive imperfect in French
- 5.Pluperfect subjunctive in French (le subjonctif plus-que-parfait)
- 5.1.Formation of the pluperfect subjunctive in French
- 6.1.Exercise for the Subjunctive in French
- 6.2.Exercise for the imperfect subjunctive in French
- 6.3.Exercise for the pluperfect subjunctive in French
Subjunctive vs Indicative
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.
Use of the subjunctive in French
You use the subjunctive in French under the following circumstances:
After certain conjunctions
- afin que (in order to)
- pour que (for)
- quoique (though)
- avant que (before)
- bien que (although)
- jusqu'à ce que (to)
- sans que (without)
- pourvu que (may)
- á condition que (until)
After verbs and expressions of feeling
We use the subjunctive in the "que" sentence for verbs that denote a personal opinion or subjective feeling:
- aimer (love)
- vouloir (want)
- désirer (wish)
- admirer (admire)
- préférer (prefer)
- eviter (avoid)
- interdire (forbid)
- accepter (agree)
- proposer (suggest)
- aimer mieux (refer)
- douter (doubt)
- contester (deny)
- qui que, quoi que and quel que
In circumstantial clauses (propositions circonstancielles)
It is used with the expression of:
- purpose (le but = pour)
- consequence (la conséquence = assez)
In relative clauses (les propositions relatives)
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:
- le seul (the only)
- le premier (the first)
- le dernier (the last)
The subjunctive has 4 tenses: the present and the past, the imperfect and the pluperfect which are barely used.
Present subjunctive in French (le subjonctif présent)
The subjunctive present expresses an uncertain action, not realized at the moment we are talking.
- Je veux qu'il vienne me voir au bureau. (I want him to come at my office.)
- J'aimerais que vous preniez des photos lors de notre visite. (I would like you to take pictures during our visit.)
- Je regrette que tu sois malade. (I regret that you are sick)
Formation of the subjunctive present in French
All verbs have the same endings in the present subjunctive except the verbs 'avoir' and 'etre':
- in conjunction with the bind word que
- -e, -es, -e, -ions, -iez, -ent
- with the tribe of 3rd person plural in the indicative present
|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
Subjunctive past in French (le subjonctif passé)
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.|
Formation of the perfect subjunctive in French
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.
Subjunctive imperfect in French (l'imparfait du subjonctif)
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.
- Je voulais qu'il vînt me voir. (I wanted him to visit me.)
- Je voudrais qu'il fût à l'heure. (I want him to be on time.)
- Elle était heureuse qu'il écrivît la lettre. (She was happy that he wrote the letter.)
Formation of the subjunctive imperfect in French
The subjunctive imperfect in French is formed :
- verbs on -ER with: -asse, -asses, -ât, -assions, -assiez, -assent
- verbs on -IR: -isse, -isses, -ît, -issions, -issiez, -issent
- 3rd groupverbs have 2 models of endings: -isse -isses -ît -issions -issiez -issent and -usse -usses -ût -ussions -ussiez -ussent
|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|
Pluperfect subjunctive in French (le subjonctif plus-que-parfait)
The pluperfect subjunctive expresses an uncertain action, supposedly realized at the moment when the speaker spoke. It is especially used in literature.
- Je ne pensais pas qu'il eût rendu son devoir à temps. (I did not think he should have done his homework on time.)
- Ils fussent partis avant son retour. (they should have left before he came back)
Formation of the pluperfect subjunctive in French
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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