Subjunctive: Irregular and Stem-Changing Verbs Posted by Elizabeth Schmermund on Feb 9, 2015 in Grammar
As I mentioned last week, besides evaluating in which circumstances to use the French subjunctive, the most difficult part of this mood is learning how to conjugate irregular and stem-changing verbs into the subjunctive. Luckily, there are only about 10 verbs that are irregular and 10 verbs that are stem-changing in the subjunctive – although these verbs are very, very common and so you must know them in order to successfully navigate correct French grammar.
You know already that irregular verbs are just verbs that do not follow the typical form, which, in this case, means that either the nous and vous forms are not identical to the imperfect forms or that the other subjunctive forms are not made by switching the –ent from the third person plural of the present tense and replacing it with either –e, –es, –e, or –ent.
Stem-changing verbs are slightly more confusing, however, because the stem of the word changes based on the pronoun being used. This occurs in the present indicative tense as well as the subjunctive; for example, the present nous and ils forms of the verb venir (to come) are nous venons and ils viennent. The bolded text is the stem of the word, which changes based on whether the pronoun nous or the pronoun ils is used.
The verb venir keeps the same two stems in the subjunctive form as well. The stem of the verb for nous and vous (ven-) is different from the stem for je, tu, il/elle/on, and ils/elles (vienn-). Although these stems change, you add the regular subjunctive endings (-e, -es, -e, -ions-, -iez, and –ent) to these stems. Thus, the all forms of the verb venir in the subjunctive mood are as follows:
que je vienne
que tu viennes
que nous venions
que vous veniez
Here is a list of other common stem changing verbs in the subjunctive:
aller (to go) – aill- and all-
boire (to drink) – boiv- and buv-
croire (to believe) – croi- and croy-
devoir (to have to) – doiv– and dev–
prendre (to take) – prenn– and pren–
recevoir (to receive) – reçoiv– and recev–
tenir (to hold) – tienn– and ten–
voir (to see) – voi– and voy–
vouloir (to want) – veuill– and voul–
**Remember to add the regular subjunctive endings (-e, -es, -e, -ions-, -iez, and –ent) to these stem-changing verbs.
On to the irregular verbs: With irregular verbs, the stems can look very different in the subjunctive form than in the infinitive, but they stay the same no matter what pronoun you use. For example, for the verb savoir the root of the verb in the subjunctive is sach–. You then add on the regular subjunctive endings to the verb savoir (to know) so that it will become je sache, tu saches, il/elle/on sache, nous sachions, vous sachiez, ils/elles sachent. Other verbs with irregular, but constant, stems and regular subjunctive endings are faire (to do/make) (fass-) and pouvoir (to be able) (puiss-).
That leaves us with the verbs avoir (to have) and être (to be), which are stem-changing and have irregular subjunctive endings, making them highly irregular. It’s best just to memorize all of their forms in the subjunctive:
que je sois
que tu sois
que nous soyons
que vous soyez
que tu aies
que nous ayons
que vous ayez