Subjunctive in French

Subjunctive in French

What is the subjunctive in French?

The French subjunctive (le subjonctif) is a mood. It called a mood because it is used to express the subject’s attitudes, feelings and perceptions. The French language utilizes the subjunctive in order to stress a sentence’s subjectivity (personal perceptions).

The subjunctive is formed with a dependent clause that starts with que. It is used to express the subject’s wishes, emotions, doubts, fears regarding the other person.

In the examples below, notice that the verb forms are different form the present tense (indicative). Also notice that each sentence has two people on both sides of the word “que”, meaning “that”.

  • Wish: Je veux que tu fasses tes devoirs. I want you to do your homework.
  • Emotion: Je suis heureux que tu sois ici. I’m happy you’re here.
  • Doubt: Je doute qu’il vienne. I doubt he’s coming.

The “dreaded” subjunctive?

Many students strongly dislike the subjunctive, referring to it as the “dreaded” subjunctive. In fact, many people stop come to a standstill in their French learning when they reach the subjunctive.

I find that the le subjonctif offers a deeper level of human expression and is definitely worth learning.

French subjunctive conjugations

For most French verbs, the subjunctive is formed by removing the -ent from the third-person plural (ils/elles) form in the present tense and adding the following subjunctive endings: -e, -es, -e, ions, -iez and -ent.

Furthermore, the pronunciation of the subjunctive is mostly based on the the pronunciation of the present tense ils forms.

Thus, if you can recall the present tense ils pronunciation, your job coming up with the subjunctive is basically done.

Conjugation patterns for most regular and irregular verbs

PARLER TO SPEAK
ils parlent
FINIR TO FINISH
ils finissent
VENDRE TO SELL
ils vendent
que je parle
que tu parles
qu'il/elle parle
que nous parlions
que vous parliez
qu'ils/elles parlent
que je finisse
que tu finisses
qu'il/elle finisse
que nous finissions
que vous finissiez
qu'ils/elles finissent
que je vende
que tu vendes
qu'il/elle vende
que nous vendions
que vous vendiez
qu'ils/elle vendent

For most irregular verbs, follow the same steps. Ask yourself, “What’s the present tense ils pronunciation?” Then, add your subjunctive endings.

ÉCRIRE TO WRITE
ils écrivent
LIRE TO READ
ils lisent
CONDUIRE TO DRIVE
ils conduisent
DORMIR TO SLEEP
ils dorment
que j'écrive
que tu écrives
qu'il écrive
que nous écrivions
que vous écriviez
qu'ils écrivent
que je lise
que tu lises
qu'il lise
que nous lisions
que vous lisiez
qu'ils lisent
que je conduise
que tu conduises
qu'il conduise
que nous conduisions
que vous conduisiez
qu'ils conduisent
que je dorme
que tu dormes
qu'il dorme
que nous dormions
que vous dormiez
qu'ils dorment

Dual-stem subjunctive conjugations

Some verbs has dual-stem subjunctive conjugations.

This means that the je, tu, il, elle and ils subjunctive forms are made from the present tense ils form and the nous and vous subjunctive from are made from the present tense nous form.

In the table below, note that the je, tu, il, elle and ils subjunctive forms of boire (to drink) are based of the present tense ils form “boivent” and the nous and vous subjunctive forms are based off of the present tense nous form (buvons).

BOIRE TO DRINK
nous buvons
ils boivent
VENIR TO COME
nous venons
ils viennent
PRENDRE TO TAKE
nous prenons
ils prennent
que je boive
que tu boives
qu'il boive
que nous buvions
que vous buviez
qu'ils boivent
que je vienne
que tu viennes
qu'il vienne
que nous venions
que vous veniez
qu'ils viennent
que je prenne
que tu prennes
qu'il prenne
que nous prenions
que vous preniez
qu'ils prennent

The subjunctive conjugations for the verbs aller (to go), avoir (to have), etre (to be) and vouloir (to want) are irregular. They are not related to the present tense forms. In addition, they all have dual-stems.

ALLERAVOIRÊTREVOULOIR
que j'aille
que tu ailles
qu'il aille
que nous allions
que vous alliez
qu'ils aillent
que j'aie
que tu aies
qu'il ait
que nous ayons
que vous ayez
qu'ils aient
que je sois
que tu sois
qu'il soit
que nous soyons
que vous soyez
qu'ils soient
que je veuille
que tu veuilles
qu'il veuille
que nous voulions
que vous vouliez
qu'ils veuillent

The verbs faire (to make, do), savoir (to know) and pouvoir (to be able, can) are irregular in that the subjunctive forms are not related to the present tense. Unlike the table above, they have a single subjunctive stem.

FAIRE TO MAKE, DOPOUVOIR TO BE ABLE, CANSAVOIR TO KNOW
que je fasse
que tu fasses
qu'il/elle fasse
que nous fassions
que vous fassiez
qu'ils/elles fassent
que je puisse
que tu puisses
qu'il/elle puisse
que nous puissions
que vous puissiez
qu'ils/elles puissent
que je sache
que tu saches
qu'il/elle sache
que nous sachions
que vous sachiez
qu'ils/elles sachent

French subjunctive examples and phrases

In this section we will look at some example sentences and phrases which require the usage of the subjunctive. The subjunctive usage can be broken down into three categories: Wish, emotion and doubt.

Examples of wish

In the example sentences, below, the subject is expressing a feeling of wishing or wanting, or making a demand.

  • 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.
  • Elle souhaite que je fasse mes devoirs. She wants me to to do my homework.

The following verbs require the subjunctive and fall in this “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 impersonal expressions (an expression that starts with “il”, meaning “it”) require the subjunctive.

  • 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

“Il faut que” is very common. It translates to “It’s necessary that” or “You have to”. This lesson covers il faut in detail.

  • Il faut que tu sois à l’heure. You have to be on time.
  • Il faut que je fasse attention. I need to pay attention.

Examples of emotion

The second group of phrases which require the subjunctive fall into the category of emotion (happy, sad, fearful, etc.).

  • Je suis content qu’elle vienne. I’m happy she’s coming.
  • Je suis triste qu’il ne soit pas avec nous. I’m sad he’s not with us.
  • Elle a peur qu’il ne fasse pas son travail. She’s afraid he’s no doing his work.

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:

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  • 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.

Examples of doubt

The following example sentences require the usage of the subjunctive and fall into the category of doubt.

  • 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.

The following verbs are associated 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

Two subjects vs. one subject

As previously mentioned, the subjunctive requires two subjects on both sides of the word que. However, when there is only one subject an infinitive is used.

For example, you cannot say, “Je veux que j’aille au magasin” for “I want that I go to the store”. In this situation use the infinitive of the verb: “Je veux aller au magasin” (I want to go to the store).

Verbs which take the indicative

There are some verbs which take the indicative. This is because there is no element of subjectivity, meaning they are not based on subjective personal or individual perceptions.

In other words, the topic that’s being discussed is known to be a reality.

Penser

The verb penser (to think) can take both the subjunctive or the indicative.

  • Je pense que Paul est en retard. I think Paul is late.
  • Je ne pense pas que Paul soit en retard. I don’t think Paul is late.

The first sentence starting with “Je pense que” (I think that), the indicative because what’s being expressed is believed to be a reality. Paul is late.

In the second sentence starting with “Je ne pense pas que” (I don’t think that), the subjunctive is used because whether Paul is late or not is subjective, meaning the topic is open for discussion.

Espérer

The verb espérer (to hope) take the indicative. This verb is often followed by the futur simple.

  • J’espère qu’elle viendra. I hope she’ll come.
  • J’espère que tu comprendras. I hope you’ll understand.

Impersonal expressions which take the indicative

The following impersonal expressions take the indicative as they suggest no element of subjectivity.

  • Il est certain que it is certain that
  • Il est évident que it is obvous that
  • Il est probable que it is probable that
  • Il est sûr que it is sure that
  • Il est vrai que it is true that
  • Il me semble que It seems to me that

Here are some example sentences.

  • Il est certain que le subjonctif est très utile. It’s certain that the subjunctive is very useful.
  • Il me semble que vous comprenez la leçon. It seems to me that you understand the lesson.

Past subjunctive

The past subjunctive is formed by coming the auxiliary verb (avoir or être) in the present subjunctive with the verb’s past participle.

The past subjunctive is used to create anteriority. The dependent clause (what comes after the que) occurs before the action of the main clause. 

Past subjunctive conjugation and examples

For the past subjunctive, the auxiliary verb is expressed in the present subjunctive.

PARLER TO SPEAKVENIRSE SOUVENIR
que j'aie parlé
que tu aies parlé
qu'il/elle ait parlé
que nous ayons parlé
que vous ayez parlé
qu'ils aient parlé
que je sois venu(e)
que tu sois venu(e)
qu'il/elle soit venu(e)
que nous soyons venu(e)s
que vous soyez venu(e)(s)
qu'ils/elles soient venu(e)s
que je me sois souvenu(e)
que tu te sois souvenu(e)
qu'il/elle se soit souvenu(e)
que nous nous soyons souvenu(e)s
que vous vous soyez souvenu(e)(s)
qu'ils se soient souvenu(e)s

Here are some example sentences using the past subjunctive.

  • Je suis triste que tu sois tombé maladeI’m sorry you fell ill.
  • Je suis ravi que vous soyez venusI’m delighted you came.
  • J’ai peur que tu aies manqué la réunion. I’m afraid you missed the meeting.
  • Je suis content que tu sois revenuI’m happy you came back. 

More lessons:

More resrouces:

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