French Grammar

French Grammar Rules: What is the Subjunctive Mood?

French Grammar

Confused about conjugating verbs in the subjunctive mood? Tutor Carol Beth L. shares how to conjugate them and when you need to…

Le subjonctif is one of the most notorious subjects in French grammar for non-native speakers of French. It is a mood that expresses uncertainty and is often connected with feelings, emotions, wishes, or desires about a particular event. In fact, we English-speakers also have a subjunctive mood, but we don’t often use it or realize when we do use it. Here’s an example:

“It is imperative that you remain with the teacher at all times.”

In this context, remaining with the teacher is important; it is a set rule that the listener is expected and asked to follow. But it is possible that, in spite of the speaker’s words, the listener might disobey. The verb “remain,” in this case, would therefore be considered an example of the subjunctive.

Regular Verb Conjugations in the Subjunctive

As with other verb tenses, the formation of the subjunctive in French grammar follows set patterns for regular -er, -ir, and -re verbs. To form the subjunctive conjugation of a verb, take the present tense 3rd person plural ending of that verb, and add on the following endings:

je → -e
tu → -es
il/elle/on → -e
nous → -ions
vous → -iez
ils/elles → -ent

Note that many of the subjunctive forms for –er verbs are the same as for le present. This makes it much easier to correctly use; if you’re wrong about whether it should be in the subjunctive, people can interpret it as the present tense that would often likely take its place.

Here are examples demonstrating regular formations of le subjonctif:

er verbs: (e.g. aimer)
…que j’aime
…que tu aimes
…qu’il/elle/on aime
…que nous aimions
…que vous aimiez
…qu’ils/elles aiment

ir verbs: (e.g. finir)
…que je finisse
…que tu finisses
…qu’il/elle/on finisse
…que nous finissions
…que vous finissiez
…qu’ils/elles finissent

re verbs: (rendre)
…que je rende
…que tu rendes
…qu’il/elle/on rende
…que nous rendions
…que vous rendiez
…qu’ils/elles rendent

French Grammar

Irregular Verb Conjugations

Irregular verbs sometimes have their own, irregular roots. Here are a few examples:

aller → aill-
avoir → ai-
être → soi-
faire → fass-
venir → vienn-
pouvoir → puiss-

For être and avoir, note that when the “i” is doubled in the nous and vous forms, it turns into a “y.” So for these forms, you would write “nous soyons,” “vous soyez,” “nous ayons,” and “vous ayez.”

For some irregular verbs, you can still look at the 3rd person plural present tense to find the subjunctive root. For example:

(infinitive → 3rd person plural present, root)
connaître → ils connaissent, connaiss-
mettre → ils mettent, mett-

Don’t rely on this being the case 100% of the time, though. If you’re not sure about a new irregular verb, you might want to look up the root to verify.

French Grammar

When to Use the Subjunctive

In French, there are a number of signals and situations to use the subjunctive. A phrase using the subjunctive will almost always be preceded by a ‘que.’ Look for phrases such as:

  • Je veux que (I want…)
  • J’espère que (I hope that…)
  • On craint que (We fear that…) (It is feared that…)

In context, here are a few sentences using le subjonctif:

  • Je veux que tu viennes avec moi. (I want you to come with me.)
  • J’espere qu’il ne soit pas malade. (I hope he isn’t sick.)
  • On craint que vous ne puissiez pas partir. (We’re afraid you won’t be able to leave.)

Note, however, that some sentences may have a ‘que’ clause but not use the subjunctive. Here’s an example:

  • Il est vrai qu’on est a San Francisco. (It is true that we are in San Francisco.)

The subjunctive is not used in this sentence, because there is no implied uncertainty. The speaker is in San Francisco, it is a simple fact; so the simple present is called for in the second part of the sentence.

French Grammar

Time to Practice!

Try conjugating the subjunctive in the following sentences:

  1. Elles veulent qu’on ________________ (aller) en France.
  2. Il faut que je ________________ (faire) mes devoirs.
  3. J’espere que tu ________________ (pouvoir) venir.
  4. Quand on est en France, il faut que nous ________________ (parler) français.
  5. Je craint qu’ils ne ________________ (venir) pas avec nous.
  6. Il faut que vous ________________ (finir) de préparer le déjeuner.

Were your answers as follows?

  1. aille
  2. fasse
  3. puisses
  4. parlions
  5. viennent
  6. finissiez

If not, keep practicing. If so, good job so far. The next step is to practice correctly using and identifying where to use le subjonctive when you speak and write in French, so that you will be consistent using it in context. It sometimes can take time, but don’t let that discourage you! If you find learning this aspect of French grammar difficult at the beginning, you won’t be the first.

Looking for more practice with le subjonctif? Taking lessons with a French tutor can be the best way to hone your language skills! Whether you take French lessons online or in-person, the personalized instruction you’ll receive will take your French skills to the next level. Sign up for a French tutor today!

CarolPost Author: Carol Beth L.
Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!

Photo by Luc Mercelis

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