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How to Avoid the French Subjunctive Posted by on Feb 16, 2015 in Grammar

This is my fourth and final post in the series on forming and using the subjunctive mood in French.

If you haven’t guessed already based, the subjunctive is vital to speaking (and writing) French like a native — that’s why I’ve dedicated so much time to it. However, many students are still quite intimidated by it and many teachers do not teach the subjunctive until the advanced level (as opposed to in France, where children are taught the subjunctive very early on).

Let me be clear about this: If you are serious about learning French, you should know how to construct and use the subjunctive mood.  However, if you are just starting out or intimidated about this grammatical form…you can avoid using it all together.

Yes, you read that right. I spent several posts teaching you how to correctly use the subjunctive mood, and now I am offering you tips on how to avoid using it. If you rearrange your sentences slightly, you can express the same basic idea without using the subjunctive. In fact, if you change a sentence so that the use of the subjunctive is not needed, you may actually clarify your sentence.  The subjunctive is so common in daily French speech that, oftentimes, native French speakers use it too much and over complicate what they are trying to say.

Here are five tips on how to avoid using the subjunctive:

1. Rather than using impersonal verbs with que + the subjunctive, replace it with the infinitive

Impersonal verbs in French include Il faut que (it is necessary that), il importe que (it is important that), Il se peut que (it is possible that).  Delete the que from these sentences and instead add the infintive.  Example: Il faut que tu mange will become il faut manger.

2.  Replace que with si

As discussed in previous posts, the subjunctive works by expressing doubt or possibility.  You can do this by adding si rather than que in sentences that express these emotions.  For example: Je ne suis pas sûr qu’il soit là (I am not sure that he is there) will become je ne suis pas sûr s’il est là (I am not sure if he is there).

3. You can also express doubt or possibility through the use of an adverb, rather than the subjunctive structure

For example: Il est heureux qu’elle soit intelligente (It is fortunate that she is intelligent) will become Heuresement, elle est intelligente (Fortunately, she is intelligent).

4. Many conjunctions that include que + the subjunctive can be changed to de + infinitive

For example: On doit travailler avant qu’on puisse sortir (we have to work before we can go out) will become on doit travailler avant de pouvoir sortir (we have to work before going out).

5. For expressions that take the subjunctive in the negative, change to the affirmative

There are some expressions that only take the subjunctive mood when in the negative.  For example: je ne crois pas que (I don’t believe that) takes the subjunctive form although je crois que (I believe that) does not take the subjunctive.  This is again related to whether or not the sentence is expressing doubt.  In this case, you can change the sentence to use the affirmative rather than the negative.  For example: je ne crois pas qu’elle soit gentille (I don’t think that she is nice) will become je crois qu’elle n’est pas gentille (I think that she isn’t nice).

Do you have any other suggestions or examples of how you can change a sentence that normally uses the subjunctive mood into a sentence that instead only uses the indicative?  Leave your examples in the comments below.

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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at http://www.imaginistwriter.com. A la prochaine!


Comments:

  1. RAUL:

    Thank you very much, Elizabeth, for your series of posts. I really found them enlightening and quite promising in mastering the French subjunctive.

    Merci beaucoup!!!

  2. Helen:

    I have a question with respect to number 2 replacing que with si. Does it work in all cases? It seems awkward to me. How about the following: Il sera bon que je fasse des recherches. Changing it to si as in Il sera bon si je fais des recherches sounds awkward to me. What do you think? Is it still grammatically correct?

    • Elizabeth Schmermund:

      @Helen Good question, Helen. While I didn’t go too much into depth into the intricacies of this, “si” only works as a substitute if it is used to express some doubt (as the direct translation of “si” is “if”). While the subjunctive often does express doubt, in the case you’ve given I don’t think the “si” would work well. Rather, I’d say: “Il sera bon de faire des recherches.” This uses the infinitive as a substitution instead of the subjunctive. Hope this helps!