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Subjunctive in French (le Subjonctif)

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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.

Examples: 

  • 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)

Subjunctive vs Indicative 

 Although, the subjunctive is a mode and the indicative a tense, French differentiate the two:

InfinitifIndicatifSubjonctif 
prendre je prends que je prenne 
aller je vais que j'aille 
voir je voisque je vois 

enlightenedNote that the indicative is used for verbs expressing one's own opinion, probability or certainty.

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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.

Examples:

  • 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'ailleque je finisseque je parte 
que tu aillesque tu finissesque tu partes 
qu'il/elle/on aillequ'il/elle/on finissequ'il/elle/on parte
que nous allionsque nous finissionsque nous partions
que vous alliezque vous finissiezque vous partiez
qu'ils/elles aillentqu'ils/elles aillentqu'ils/elles partent 

enlightenedWhen 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.

Sample sentencesTranslation 
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 vuque je sois allé(e)
que tu ais vuque tu sois allé(e)
qu'il/elle/on ait vuqu'il/elle/on soit allé(e)
que nous ayons vuque nous soyons allé(e)s
que vous ayez vu que vous soyez allé(e)s
qu'ils/elles aient vuqu'ils/elles soient allé(e)s 

enlightenedMost 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.

Examples: 

  • 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
aimerfinirprendre courir 
que j'aimasseque je finisseque je prisseque je courusse
que tu aimassesque tu finissesque tu prissesque tu courusses 
qu'il/elle/on aimâtqu'il/elle/on finîtqu'il/elle/on prîtqu'il/elle/on couût
que nous aimassionsque nous finissionsque nous prissionsque nous courussions
que vous aimassiezque vous finissiezque vous prissiezque vous courussiez
qu'ils/elles aimassentqu'ils/elles finissentqu'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.

Examples:

  • 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 écrittu fusses parti
il/elle/on eût écritil/elle/on fût parti
nous eussions écrit(e)snous fussions parti(e)s
vous eussiez écrit(e)svous fussiez parti(e)s
ils/elles eussent écrit(e)sils/elles fussent parti(e)s

enlightenedYou 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". 


Exercises

  1. Exercise for the Subjunctive in French
  2. Exercise for the imperfect subjunctive in French
  3. Exercise for the pluperfect subjunctive in French

Exercise for the Subjunctive in French


Exercise for the imperfect subjunctive in French


Exercise for the pluperfect subjunctive in French


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Next lessons

1 Present Subjunctive (Le subjonctif présent) in French Get an overview of the subjunctive present in French and study the topic online
2 Past Subjunctive (le subjonctif passé) in French Get an overview of the past subjunctive in French and study the topic online