French Subjunctive Uses

Le subjonctif: When to use the French subjunctive

In another lesson we covered the French subjunctive endings. Here we will look at its usages. The subjunctive is used in very specific situations, whereas other situations require the use of the present tense.

To recap from the other page, the subjunctive demands that there be a main clause and a dependent clause with two subjects separated by the word que. When using the subjunctive there is always an underlying element of wish, emotion or doubt (W.E.D.). We’ll go into greater detail here.

1) WISH: Using the subjunctive with wishing or want

In all of the example sentences below there is an underlying element of wishing or want.

  • Je veux que tu sois plus polis. I want that you be more polite.
  • J’exige que vous arriviez à l’heure. I demand that you arrive on time.
  • Il faut que tu sois plus patient. You need to be more patient.
  • Il vaut mieux que tu viennes avec nous. It’s better that you come with us.
  • Je désire que tu suives ce cours de francais. I want you to take this French course.
  • Je souhaite que tu ailles en Italie. I want you to go to Italy.
  • je préfère que tu aies la prochaine fois. I prefer that you go next time.
  • j’ai besoin que tu sois là. I need you to be there.
  • Je suggère que nous commandions le filet mignon. I suggest we order the filet mignon.

The following verbs use the subjunctive and fall into the wish category:

  • aimer meiux que to prefer
  • avoir besoin que to need
  • demander que to request, ask for
  • désirer que to want, wish, desire
  • exiger que to demand
  • ordonner que to order
  • préférer que to prefer
  • recommander que to recommend
  • souhaiter que to wish
  • suggérer que to suggest
  • vouloir que to want

The following are impersonal expressions that are in the wish category and take the subjunctive. The expression, il faut que, is used very frequently.

  • il faut que it’s necessary that, you have/one has to
  • il est necessaire que it’s necessary that
  • il est essentiel que it’s essential that
  • il est important que it’s important that
  • il est utile que it’s useful that

Examples:

  • Il faut que tu sois ici avant 18h00. You need to be here before 6pm.
  • Il est imporant que tu apprennes le francais avant ton voyage. It’s important you learn French before you trip.
  • Il est necessaire que tu fasses tes valises avant lundi. You need to pack your bags before Monday.

Note that espérer (to hope) does not take the subjunctive and takes the indicative.

  • J’espère que tu comprends. I hope you understand.
  • J’espère qu’elle va mieux. I hope she’s doing better.
  • J’espère qu’ils vont bien. I hope they’re doing well.

2) EMOTION: Using the subjunctive with feelings and opinion

The second big category for French subjunctive usage is emotion. Examples:

  • Je suis content qu’elle vienne ce soir. I’m happy she’s coming tonight.
  • Je regrette que tu ne puisses pas venir. I’m sorry you can’t come.
  • Je suis déçu que la saison de ski soit terminé en raison du Covid 19. I’m sorry the ski season ended because of Covid 19.
  • J’ai peur qu’elle ne comprenne pas. I’m afraid she doesn’t understand.
  • Je suis ravi que vous nous accompagniez. I’m delighted you’r coming with us.
  • Ça m’ennuie que vous continuiez à faire des bêtises. It bothers me that you keep on messing up.

The following verbs require the usage of the subjunctive and fall into the emotion category:

  • avoir peur que to fear that
  • craindre que to fear that
  • s’étonner que to be surprised that
  • être content, heureux que to be happy that
  • être triste que to be sad that
  • regretter que to be sorry that
  • se plaindre que to complain that
  • se fâcher que to be angry that
  • être faché, fureux que to be angry that
  • avoir honte que to be ashamed that

The following impersonal expressions use the subjunctive and fall into the emotion category:

  • il est étonnant que it’s surprising that
  • il est bizarre que it’s strange that
  • il est curieux que it’s strange that
  • il est ennuyeux que it’s annoying that
  • il est énervant que it’s annoying that
  • il est embêtant que it’s annoying that

Examples:

  • Il est énervant qu’il fasse tant de bruit. It’s annoying that he’s making so much noise.
  • Il est curieux qu’elle n’aille pas en France. It’s strange that she’s not going to France.
  • Il est étonnant vous ne comprenniez pas. It’s surprising that you don’t understand.

3) DOUBT: Using the subjunctive with doubt and uncertainty

The final big category which demands the use of the subjunctive is doubt. Examples:

  • Je doute qu’elle vienne avant 18h00. I doubt she’ll come before 6pm.
  • Je ne pense pas qu’il comprenne ce qui se passe. I don’t think he knows what’s happening.
  • Je ne suis pas convaincu que tu aies raison. I’m not convinced you’re right.
  • Je ne crois pas qu’elle soit honnête. I don’t think she’s honest.

The following verbs are associate with doubt and require the subjunctive:

  • nier que to deny that
  • douter que to doubt that
  • ne pas penser que to not think that
  • ne pas croire que to not believe that
  • ne pas etre sûr(e)/certain(e) que to not be sure that

The following impersonal expressions require the subjunctive and fall into the category of doubt.

  • il n’est pas certain que it’s not certain that
  • il n’est pas sûr que it’s not sure that
  • il n’est pas évident que it’s not obvious/evident that
  • il n’est pas clair que it’s not clear that
  • il n’est pas exact que it’s not accurate that
  • il n’est pas vrai que it’s not true that

Example sentences:

  • Il n’est pas évident que la situation soit revolue. It’s not evident that the situation has been resolved. 
  • Il n’est pas exact que ils fassent la même chose que nous. It’s not accurate that they’re doing the same thing as us.
  • Il n’est pas vrai qu’il dise la verité tout le temps. It’s not true that he tells the truth all the time.

It’s video time! Watch Alexa teach about the le subjonctif:


Video source: Learn French With Alexa (YouTube channel)

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