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French verbs -  The subjunctive

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French grammar and language pages : verbs 

 Using the subjunctive in French 


Although it is not vital for communication, the subjunctive mood is used, and should be used, in a number of everyday grammatical contexts. It is used in everyday language in two tenses, the present and the perfect (composite past); uses of other subjunctive tenses are nowadays confined to very literary, refined, stilted or administrative French.

1.  Forms: the subjunctive tenses

Tenses (subjunctive) :
PersonPresent
(may love may be loving)
Perfect (parfait)
(may have loved)
preterit
(might love)
1st singular.j'aimej'aie aiméj'aimasse
2nd singulartu aimestu aies aimétu aimasses
3rd singularil, elle... aimeil ait aiméil aimât
1st pluralnous aimionsnous ayons aiménous aimassions
2nd pluralvous aimiezvous ayez aimévous aimassiez
3rd pluralils aimentils aient aiméils aimassent
Notes(very rare)

The example above is for a classic group 1 -er verb; but the -e, -es, -e, -ions -iez, -ent endings of the present subjunctive are more or less constant, and can be added to the stem (or one of the stems in the case of some irregular verbs) of most French verbs.

Click for subjunctive forms of the main Group 2 -ir verbs, and the many Group 3 -re verbs, of être or of avoir.

The preterite and other possible subjunctive tenses, such as the pluperfect, are hardly ever heard in modern French, and indeed many French speakers would not think of using them.
 
Passive subjunctive tenses exist too; they are formed using the appropriate subjunctive tense of the auxiliary être, instead of the indicative form used for notmal indicative passive tenses:
Example:  Aimer

Tenses (subjunctive) :
PersonPresent
(may be loved)
Perfect (parfait)
(may have beenloved)
preterit
(may have been loved)
1st singular.je sois aiméj'aie été aiméje fusse aimé


2.  Uses of the subjunctive    

The subjunctive is used in French in a number of quite common circumstances. Generally speaking, the subjunctive is used in dependent clauses following expressions that imply doubt, emotion, subjectivity, or conjecture.
After many verbs expressing fear, doubt or negative feelings, and after avant que, the verb in the dependent clause is preceded by "ne" (the "ne explétif"); this is not a marker of negation.
See examples 2, 4 & 10 below.

The main uses of the subjunctive are:

► 1.  In complement clauses after Il faut que.....  Example: Il faut que tu viennes !
In this case, the subjunctive adds a note of uncertainty; even if the action is seen to be essential, the speaker - by saying il faut que - is admitting that there is some doubt.
Examples 1 & 2 below.

► 2. In complement clauses after some other verbs expressing doubt, opinion, hope, fear or another emotion.
Examples: Je doute qu'il soit là.  J'apprécies que tu sois là.  Je crains que nous ne soyons en retard.  Je regrette que tu ne me l'aies pas dit.
Examples 3 - 7 below.

► 3. In subordinate clauses following certain conjunctions expressing an aim or a condition:  afin que, de (telle) sorte que, pour que, bien que, quoique, pour autant que, malgré que, pourvu que, à condition que, de crainte que, avant que, après que and a few other less common conjunctions.
Examples 8 - 11 below.

► 4.  As a third person imperative: Example: Que personne ne bouge !
Example 12 below.

► 5.  In relative clauses after superlative adjectives and the adjectives premier, dernier and seul.
Examples 13 & 14 below.

Examples:
1. Il faut qu'il finisse avant ce soir
        He'll have to finish before this evening
2. Il faut que nous ayons tout nettoyé avant qu'il ne soit de retour.

       We'll have to have finished cleaning everything before he gets back.
3. Elle voudrait que je vende la maison !!.
        She'd like me to sell the house !!.  (hope)
4. Nous craignons que nous ne soyons en retard.
        We're afraid we may be late.   (fear)
5. Je m'oppose à ce qu'il vienne.

        I object to him coming.   (opinion)
6. Il est tout à fait normal que les touristes soient tous partis.

        It's quite normal that the tourists have gone away. (opinion)
7.
Il se peut que tu aies eu raison .
        You may have been right   (uncertainty)
8. Je mis le champagne au frigo afin qu'il soit frais.
        I've put the champagne in the fridge so that it's cool.
9. Bien qu'il soit minuit, personne n'est encore sorti.
        Although it's midnight, no-one's come out yet.  
10.
Pose tout ça avant que tu ne casse quelque chose !
        Put all that down before you break something !
11. Pour autant que je sache, ce sont des règles européens
        As far as I know, the're European rules.
12. Que personne ne touche à quoi que ce soit !
        No-one touch anything.
13. C'est la seule bière qu'il boive.

        It's the only beer he drinks.
14. C'est le plus grand poisson qu'il ait jamais attrapé!
        It's the biggest fish he's ever caught.
14. Il se peut qu'elle ait été vue !
        She may have been seen.


► 6. Special case: verbs implying certainty in the affirmative, doubt in the negative.
Examplepenser

In the affirmative, the French verb penser expresses a firm opinion: the dependent clause does not therefore normally have a verb in the subjunctive.
     Examples: Je pense que je serai là.  Je pense qu'il est mort.
However, in the negative, penser implies uncertaintly, and this is commonly reflected in the use of the subjunctive tense in the dependent clause:
    Example: Je ne pense pas qu'il puisse le faire.  Je ne pense pas qu'il soit mort
Hovever, while this is considered good French, many speakers and writers in France would use an indicative tense, as in:
Je ne pense pas qu'il pourra le faire.  /  Je ne pense pas qu'il est mort.

Some similar verbs or expressions:
croire que, dire que
(when expressing opinion)
être certain / sûr / exact / clair / vrai que,
vouloir dire que

Examples:
1. Je crois qu'il viendra
        I think he'll come.
2. Je ne crois pas qu'il vienne.
       I don't think he'll come.
3. Il est clair que nous avons déjà perdu
        It's clear that we've already lost.
4. Il n'est pas clair que nous ayons déjà perdu.
        It's not clear that we've already lost
5. Ca veut dire qu'il a gagné son procès.

        That means he's won his lawsuit.
6. Ca ne veut pas dire qu'il ait gagné son procès..

        That doesn't mean he's won his lawsuit.


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