The subjunctive mood in French is one of the finer points of learning the language. Many students experience the subjunctive as a sort of impossible learning task, but this need not be the case as French grammar can be easy if taken one step at a time.
The subjunctive is conjugated, for regular verbs, by taking the third person plural present indicative form (ils/elles), dropping the ent ending, and then adding the following suffixes:
- first person singular: e
- second person singular: es
- third person singular: e
- first person plural: ions
- second person plural: iez
- third person plural: ent
A few of the most common irregular verbs:
|je sois||j'aie||j'aille||je fasse|
|tu sois||tu aies||tu ailles||tu fasses|
|il/elle soit||il/elle ait||il/elle aille||il/elle fasse|
|nous soyons||nous ayons||nous allions||nous fassions|
|vous soyez||vous ayez||vous alliez||vous fassiez|
|ils/elles soient||ils/elles aient||ils/elles aillent||ils/elles fassent|
Cases to Use the Subjunctive
Learning the conjugation is not all that difficult; it's learning when to use the subjunctive, and when not, that poses problems. For native English speakers learning French, the subjunctive can be truly puzzling because there are only a very few instances of the subjunctive left in English. An example is 'it's important that you be on time,' which is the prescribed correct form of the commonly-used (grammatically-incorrect) 'it's important that you are on time.' For many English speakers, these cases where the subjunctive is still used are unnatural.
Cases for French
There are several cases in which the subjunctive is used in French. There are a few rules to learn in order to consistently and accurately use the subjective:
- A sentence requiring the subjunctive often has two clauses.
- When there are two clauses, they always have two different subjects. (For example, I suggest that you do your chores.
- There are certain phrases and verbs that almost always require the subjunctive tense. If you hear those phrases or verbs, you can assume that the subjunctive is required.
- The subjunctive is always introduced by que.
- The subjunctive is generally used in a situation where the first clause expresses doubt or desire.
While every rule has an exception, if you keep in mind these general guidelines, you are more than likely to master the subjunctive tense. Learning the exceptions simply takes time and practice.
Phrases Requiring the Subjunctive In French
Some phrases can be memorized because they always require the subjunctive in French:
- Il faut que ('it MUST be that' or 'it's necessary')
- Il est important que ('it's important that')
- Il se peut que ('it's possible that')
- Il est [grand] temps que ('it's [high] time that')
- Il est possible que ('it's possible that')
- Il vaut mieux que ('it would be best if')
- C'est dommage que ('it's a pity that')
- Pour que / afin que ('in order that')
- Bien que ('Despite')
Verbs that require the subjunctive:
- Suggérer que ('to suggest that')
- Vouloir que ('to want that')
- Avoir peur que ('to be afraid that')
- Regretter que ('to regret that')
- Douter que ('to doubt that')
These are just a sample of the verbs and phrases signaling that a following subordinate phrase should have a subjunctive verb. There are other verbs and phrases; however, these are the most common ones and the ones most likely to be heard from native French speakers.