French Language Blog

Dude, Don’t be Subdued by The French Subjonctif! Posted by on Jul 20, 2011 in Grammar, Vocabulary

Yes, nearly everyone agrees:  Le subjonctif, or the French subjunctive mood, is not exactly “easy” to handle.

Here’s something brief to clear up your mind about le subjonctif, to understand in general what it is (and what it is not):

The first thing to know is that le subjonctif is un mode (a mood), not un temps (a tense!)

There are seven modes for a verb in French:

  • L’indicatif mood, which presents the action of the verb as really happening
  • Le conditionnel mood, which depicts the action of the verb as possibly happening
  • L’impératif mood, shows the action of the verb as an order
  • L’infinitif mood, just as in English, says what the action is
  • Le participe mood expresses the action of the verb the same way an adjective would
  • Le gérondif mood determines the adverbial form of the verb
  • Le subjonctif mood, finally, which interests us today, describes the action as either desiredconsidered, or doubtful
Mais encore (What else)?

Le subjonctif has four temps (tenses), which go pair by pair: The présent and passé, and the imparfait and plus-que-parfait.

  • Le subjonctif présent expresses the future as well. Exemple: “Je veux que tu sois la meilleure de ta classe de Français !
  • Le subjonctif passé expresses precedence relative to the current moment. Exemple: “ Je veux qu’il ait connu par moi, avant de mourir, ce que n’ignore presque aucun des autres hommes
  • Le subjonctif du plus-que-parfait depicts l’antériorité (the precedence) with respect to l’imparfait. Exemple: “Maintenant, je peux te dire que la vraie raison pour laquelle je voulais que tu eusses cet argent” (Charles Baudelaire, Dernières lettres inédites à sa mère)
  • Le subjonctif imparfait, therefore, remplaces le subjonctif présent in a text written in the past tense

Le subjonctif can occur in a principal or independent proposition. In a proposition subordonnée the French subjonctif shows up after impersonal verbs expressing necessity, desire, doubt, etc.

In the coming up posts, we’ll be talking about more specific uses of the French subjonctif, such as in the sometimes tricky case of “que“, and la concordance des temps (tense matching), etc.

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  1. andreas:

    Salut, Hiche,
    Merci pour le blog:
    Mais la forme “eusses”, n’est-elle pas la forme du subjonctif imparfait?