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Put An End To Your Subjunctive French Struggles: A Quick Guide

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Known as the notoriously difficult French tense, the French Subjunctive is an absolute pain for those learning the language – there’s no doubt about it. However, the good news is that it’s not impossible! Our guide, featuring simple tables and useful tips is here to give you a helping hand in demystifying this tricky tense.

At the end of this article, you’ll find a quiz on the French Subjunctive → OK take me to the Quiz!

What is the French Subjunctive?

To keep it simple, the French subjunctive is a grammatical mood (un mode). The mode subjonctif is a category that comprises of 4 different tenses, but thankfully only one is widely used: the present du subjonctif. 

Good news! It actually isn’t as scary as it sounds. Although it’s not as frequently used in English, it’s useful to know how to spot it.

For example, in English the subjunctive is used in a sentence like “If I were you, I’d read more books.” or “It’s imperative that you read this book for school.” Now in French, it’s not that dissimilar.

When is the French Subjunctive used?

The present du subjonctif is used in a variety of situations:

  • when a person needs someone else to do something (ie Je veux que tu me lises un livre = I want you to read me a book)
  • to communicate thoughts (ie Je pense que tu puisses le faire = I think you can do it)
  • possibilities (ie C’est possible qu’ils soient fatigués = It’s possible that they’ll be tired)
  • necessities (ie Il faut que je sache le faire = I need to know how to do it)
  • desires (Je veux qu’elle finisse de manger = I want her to finish eating)

Forming the French Present Subjunctive

1. Regular verbs

To conjugate a regular verb in the Present Subjunctive tense, take its ils/elles form in the present tense, drop the -ent ending and add the following accordingly:

Pronoun Ending-er verb
Donner (To give)
-re verb
Attendre (To wait)
-ir verb
Finir (To finish)
Je/J'-eJe donneJ'attendeJe finisse
Tu-esTu donnesTu attendesTu finisses
Il/Elle/On-eIl/Elle/On donneIl/Elle/On attendeIl/Elle/On finisse
Nous-ionsNous donnionsNous attendionsNous finissions
Vous-iezVous donniezVous attendiezVous finissiez
Ils/Elles-entIls/Elles donnent Ils/Elles attendentIls/Elles finissent

The video below is a great recap on the French Subjunctive:

2. Irregular verbs

If you’re familiar with almost any French tense, you will know they inevitably come with irregular verbs; they just can’t be avoided! For these, you can’t rely on the conjugation pattern of regular verbs as they have their own rules. Here are some of the most common ones you’ll come across:

InfinitiveConjugation
Aller (To go)J'aille, tu ailles, il/elle/on aille, nous allions, vous alliez, ils/elles aient
Avoir (To have)J'aie, tu aies, il/elle/on ait, nous ayons, vous ayez, ils/elles aient
Devoir (To have, must)Je doive, tu doives, il/elle/on doive, nous devions, vous deviez, ils/elles doivent
Dire (To say, to tell)Je dise, tu dises, il/elle/on dise, nous disions, vous disiez, ils/elles disent
Etre (To be)Je sois, tu sois, il/elle/on soit, nous soyons, vous soyez, ils/elles soient
Faire (To do, to make)Je fasse, tu fasses, il/elle/on fasse, nous fassions, vous fassiez, ils/elles fassent
Pouvoir (To be able to, can)Je puisse, tu puisses, il/elle/on puisse, nous puissions, vous puissiez ils/elles puissent
Prendre (To take)Je prenne, tu prennes, il/elle/on prenne, nous prenions, vous preniez, ils/elles prennent
Savoir (To know)Je sache, tu saches, il/elle/on sache, nous sachions, vous sachiez, ils/elles sachent
Venir (To come)Je vienne, tu viennes, il/elle/on vienne, nous venions, vous veniez, ils/elles viennent
Vouloir (To want)Je veuille, tu veuilles, il/elle/on veuille, nous voulions, vous vouliez, veuillent

French Subjunctive – Usage

In sentences that have two parts and two different subjects, the subjunctive is used after the conjunctions and verbs.

To make it clearer, let’s take a look at an example:

Il veut qu’elle soit présente.
He wants her to be present.

The above sentence has two parts. In the first part, Il is the subject, whereas in the second part elle is the subject. Soit (the verb être) is the subjunctive.

Useful tips

1. The subjunctive usually appears after the following verbs:

  • When you are expressing a wish:

vouloir que  – to want that…
désirer que  – to wish or desire that…
aimer que  – to like
aimer mieux que  / préférer que – To prefer

  • When you are giving an opinion:

valoir mieux que  – better than or would be better

  • When you fear something

avoir peur que – to be afraid that…

  • When expressing how you feel

être surpris que  – to be surprised that…
être content que – to be happy or pleased that…
regretter que – regret that or to be sorry that…

2. Some sentences that begin with il include the subjunctive:

Il vaut mieux que
It is better that

il faut que
It is necessary that

 

And that brings our lesson on the French Subjunctive to  an end! It’s definitely not the easiest tense out there, but unfortunately it’s commonly used amongst French speakers and therefore essential to know if you are learning the language. Be patient, practice as much as you can and most importantly stick to it – we can assure you you’ll get the hang of it eventually. But if you need any extra help don’t hesitate to connect to our French tutors.

See you next lesson!

Quiz: Test your knowledge of the French Subjunctive!

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Subjunctive French, Put An End To Your Subjunctive French Struggles: A Quick Guide

French Subjunctive Quiz

1 / 9

Je suis content que tu 

English: I’m happy that you come

2 / 9

Je lui donne de l’argent pour qu’il (prend / prenant / a pris / prenne) des croissants à la boulangerie

ENG : I gave him money so that he buys croissants at the bakery.

3 / 9

Il faut que les enfants (font / fassent / faisaient / faire) leurs devoirs.

English: The children have to do their homework.

4 / 9

Je te prête ma voiture pour que tu (peux / puisses / pousses / pouvais)  aller au travail.

English: I’m lending you my car so that you can go to work.

5 / 9

Il veut que tu (es / est / sois / sera) plus respectueux.

English: He wants you to be more respectful.

6 / 9

“Je voudrais que mon appartement soit moins cher”

7 / 9

“J’ai besoin que tu ailles au supermarché” means

8 / 9

J’attends qu’il (revive / revient / revienne / revenont) de son cours de français

English: I’m waiting for him to come back from his French class.

9 / 9

Il est possible que vous (ayez / aurez / avez / ai) un bleu demain

English: You may have a bruise tomorrow

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