The subjunctive is a mood of the French language, just like the indicative, the imperative, the conditional…

It might be the most feared element in French for French learners, because indeed, it’s a bit tough to understand. But you should rejoice, because it’s probably the easiest among all the other Latin languages, since it’s always used with one tense: the present.

In French (unlike in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian…), there are no past or even future subjunctive. Well in fact, there is a past subjunctive, but it’s not used anymore.

But still, as I said, the subjunctive is really not the easiest thing in French. That’s why if you are beginner in French, I recommend to focus first on the present, passé composé, imparfait, future… and leave the subjunctive for another time.

 

1) What is the subjunctive?

The subjunctive is used to express subjective or uncertain ideas and actions. Feelings like doubt, desire, will, judgement, emotion, possibility, fear, hope, necessity, possibility…

Often, two different subjects are involved: one is doubting, fearing, wanting, hoping… that the other one does something.

Moreover, the subjunctive is nearly always introduced by “que” (or “qui” sometimes).

Je veux que tu ailles à l’université > I want you to go to college
Elle a peur qu’il prenne l’avion > She is afraid that he takes the plane

I don’t know if you are aware of it, but the subjunctive exists in English as well, but it’s rare and growing rarer. Besides, the subjunctive form of a verb is often similar to the indicative form, hence subjunctive is not a very visible grammatical feature of English.

 

2) How to learn the subjunctive?

As you can guess, since the subjunctive is used to express so many feelings, it’s used quite frequently in French.

Basically, it works like this: there are many expressions and conjunctions in French (of doubt, desire, possibility, necessity…) that finish with “que”, and that are followed by a subjunctive.

Now I don’t recommend to learn all of them, because there are hundreds of them. In addition, not only it’s difficult to know when to use the subjunctive, but it’s also quite difficult to conjugate the irregular verbs with it (knowing that they are the most frequent verbs).

So I think if you are just starting to learn the subjunctive, the best is to get used with some of the most common expressions, and practice your conjugation with them.

First, let’s take a look at the regular conjugation in the subjunctive.

1st group verbs in “-er” – Rester 2nd group verbs in “-ir” – Finir
que je reste que je finisse
que tu restes que tu finisses
qu’il/elle reste qu’il/elle finisse
que nous restions que nous finissions
que vous restiez que vous finissiez
qu’ils/elles restent qu’ils/elles finissent

You may notice that for the 1st group verbs (in “-er”), there is no difference between the present indicative and the present subjunctive for “je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles”.

Concerning the 3rd group verbs (irregular verbs), you have to know them by heart. I will give you some of the most common ones at the end of this article.

Now, I want to give you 15 of the most common expressions followed by the subjunctive in French, with an example for each:

 

1) Il faut que > It is necessary that… / to have to…

Il faut que je fasse mes devoirs > I have to do my homework

If there is one expression you should remember, it’s this one. It comes from the verb falloir, which can only be used that way, with the impersonal pronoun “ il ”. French people use it all the time, maybe even more than the verb devoir, must.

Note that in modern spoken French, people often omit the “ il ” and start directly with “Faut”.

 

2) Avoir besoin que > to need (smth/so) to…

J’ai besoin que vous m’achetiez un stylo > I need you to buy me a pen

 

3) Vouloir que > To want (smth/so) to…

Je veux que tu choisisses tout seul > I want you to choose by yourself

 

4) Préférer que > Prefer that…

Elle a préféré que je l’accompagne > She preferred that I accompany her

 

5) C’est possible que > It’s possible that…

C’est possible que nous soyons perdus > It’s possible that we are lost

 

6) C’est pas sûr que > It’s not sure that…

C’est pas sûr que je réussisse > It’s not sure that I succeed

Maybe you noticed, normally it should be “Ce n’est pas sûr que…”, but once again, in modern French, most people never pronounce the “ne” for the negation.

 

7) S’attendre à ce que > to expect that… / to expect (smth/so) to…

Ils s’attendaient à ce que je vienne > They were expecting me to come

 

8) Il semble que > It seems that…

Il semble que ce soit trop tard > It seems that it’s too late

 

9) Avoir peur que > To be afraid that…

Elle a peur que je ne connaisse pas la réponse > She is afraid I don’t know the answer

 

10) Être content que > To be happy that…

Je suis content que vous compreniez > I’m glad you understand

 

11) Être triste que > To be sad that…

Tu es triste qu’il parte > You are sad that he is leaving

 

12) Il vaut mieux que > It’s better if…

Il vaut mieux que nous arrêtions > It’s better if we stop

 

13) C’est dommage que > It’s a shame that…

C’est dommage qu’ils ne se parlent plus > It’s a shame they no longer talk to each other

 

14) C’est important que > It’s important that…

C’est important que vous lui demandiez > It’s important that you ask him

 

15) Proposer que > to propose that…

Je propose qu’on écrive un mail > I propose that we write an email

 

As I said, there are also conjunctions that require the subjunctive. Here is 10 of the most common ones:

 

1) Pour que… > So that…

Il m’a acheté une balle de foot pour que je puisse m’entrainer

He bought me a football so that I can practice

 

2) Jusqu’à ce que… > Until…

On va attendre jusqu’à ce que la lune apparaisse

We will wait until the moon appears

 

3) Avant que… > Before…

Fais-le avant que ce soit trop tard

Do it before it’s too late

 

4) Sans que… > Without…

Je suis parti sans qu’ils s’en rendent compte

I left without them realizing it

 

5) Bien que… > Although…

Il n’a pas été accepté, bien qu’il ait eu des bonnes notes

He was not accepted, although he had good grades

 

6) À condition que… > Provided that…

J’irai à Paris, à condition que tu viennes avec moi

I will go to Paris, provided that you comme with me

 

7) À moins que… > Unless…

On peut partir ? À moins que tu veuilles autre chose ?

Can we leave? Unless you want something else

 

8) Qui que… > Whoever…

Personne ne peut entrer, qui que ce soit !

No one can enter, whoever it is!

 

9) Quoi que… > Whatever…

Quoi que tu fasses, je n’abandonnerai pas

Whatever you do, I won’t give up

 

10) Où que… > Wherever…

Je te suivrai où que tu ailles

I will follow you wherever you go

 

3) Ways to avoid using the subjunctive in French

Depending on which expression or conjunction you use, there are some ways to avoid the subjunctive.

For example, you can sometimes remove the “que” and use an infinitive to make a general statement.

Il vaut mieux que nous arrêtions > Il vaut mieux arrêter

It’s better if we stop > It’s better to stop

 

You can also try to use a noun:

Tu es triste qu’il parte > Son départ te rend triste

You are sad that he is leaving > His departure makes you sad

 

Reformulate the sentence in different way:

Fais-le avant que ce soit trop tard > Fais-le maintenant, sinon ce sera trop tard

Do it before it’s too late > Do it now, otherwise it will be too late

 

But as you can see, it’s quite difficult to change the sentence without affecting its original meaning a minimum.

 

4) Some remarks on the subjunctive

  • Some verbs can either have a subjunctive or an indicative in negative sentences

Some of the most common are: penser, to think, croire, to believe, trouver, to find

Je pense qu’il a raison > Je ne pense pas qu’il ait (or a) raison

I think he is right > I don’t think he is right

 

Il croit que tu es mort > Il ne croit pas que tu sois (or es) mort

He believes you are dead > He doesn’t believe you are dead

 

Je trouve qu’il est beau > Je ne trouve pas qu’il soit (or est) beau

I hope he is right > I don’t think he is right

 

  • The “ne explétif

Some verbs and expressions can add a “ne” when they are used in the subjunctive, even though the sentence is affirmative. Guess what? It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just there to look nice and posh, and confuse French learners… Nowadays, people rarely use it when they speak, but you can find it from time to time.

J’ai peur qu’ils ne m’attaquent > I’m afraid they attack me
Achète-lui un cadeau, avant qu’elle ne parte > Buy her a present, before she leaves

 

  • The subjunctive to give an order

It’s quite rare, but the subjunctive can offset the lack of a 3rd person in the imperative mood. It can happen when someone tells to someone to give an order to another person.

–Monsieur, le stagiaire est arrivé… –Eh bien, qu’il soit prêt pour sa première mission !

–Sir, the trainee has arrived… –Well, tell him to get ready for his first mission!

 

  • Subjunctive or indicative in some relative clause

In certain types of relative clauses, it’s possible to have the subjunctive or the indicative.

Je cherche quelqu’un qui puisse me donner des conseils

I’m looking for someone who can give me advices

The subjunctive in this sentence (qui puisse me donner) indicates the criterion of the person you are looking for, without affirming that this person really exists.

Je cherche quelqu’un qui peut me donner des conseils

With the indicative however, the sentence presupposes the existence of that person (even though there might not be one).

 

5) Some common irregular French verbs in the subjunctive

Here are 20 of the most common 3rd group French verbs in the subjunctive:

Être Avoir Aller Pouvoir Vouloir
(que) je sois aie aille puisse veuille
(que) tu sois aies ailles puisses veuilles
(qu’)il/elle/on soit ait aille puisse veuille
(que) nous soyons ayons allions puissions voulions
(que) vous soyez ayez alliez puissiez vouliez
(qu’)ils/elles soient aient aillent puissent veuillent

 

Faire Savoir Venir Dire Devoir
(que) je fasse sache vienne dise doive
(que) tu fasses saches viennes dises doives
(qu’)il/elle/on fasse sache vienne dise doive
(que) nous fassions sachions venions disions devions
(que) vous fassiez sachiez veniez disiez deviez
(qu’)ils/elles fassent sachent viennent disent doivent

 

Prendre Mettre Tenir Entendre Sentir
(que) je prenne mette tienne entende sente
(que) tu prennes mettes tiennes entendes sentes
(qu’)il/elle/on prenne mette tienne entende sente
(que) nous prenions mettions tenions entendions sentions
(que) vous preniez mettiez teniez entendiez sentiez
(qu’)ils/elles prennent mettent tiennent entendent sentent

 

Répondre Partir Suivre Écrire Connaître
(que) je réponde parte suive écrive connaisse
(que) tu répondes partes suives écrives connaisses
(qu’)il/elle/on réponde parte suive écrive connaisse
(que) nous répondions partions suivions écrivions connaissions
(que) vous répondiez partiez suiviez écriviez connaissiez
(qu’)ils/elles répondent partent suivent écrivent connaissent

 

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