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.
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)
Attendre (To wait)
Finir (To finish)
|Je/J'||-e||Je donne||J'attende||Je finisse|
|Tu||-es||Tu donnes||Tu attendes||Tu finisses|
|Il/Elle/On||-e||Il/Elle/On donne||Il/Elle/On attende||Il/Elle/On finisse|
|Nous||-ions||Nous donnions||Nous attendions||Nous finissions|
|Vous||-iez||Vous donniez||Vous attendiez||Vous finissiez|
|Ils/Elles||-ent||Ils/Elles donnent||Ils/Elles attendent||Ils/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:
|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.
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!