Subjunctive French Verbs for Beginners

Explore this grammatical mood and know how and when to use it.

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What do you know about the subjunctive French? While we tend to lump the subjunctive in with its verb tense cousins, the subjunctive is technically considered a mood. No, not that kind of mood. Though maybe using it does make you feel happy or unhappy. Grammatical moods are all about the attitude — meaning the speaker’s attitude about the verb.

Le subjonctif has a reputation in French for being scary and hard to master. As you’ll see, the conjugation for regular verbs is pretty straightforward, but it can make irregular verbs even more irregular. But don’t worry. Today we’ll be exploring the French subjunctive mood (or, tense, as it’s commonly referred to), the subjunctive conjugation, and some tips for remembering when to use it.

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The French subjunctive: What it is and when to use it

Like we said, the French subjunctive is one of the special verb forms, called moods, that is used to express or indicate some subjectivity, uncertainty, or unreality in the speaker’s mind. The French language requires us to use the subjunctive to speak about feelings like doubt or desire, or to talk about necessity, possibility, and judgment.

There are three themed groups that can make it easier to consider when trying to decide if you need the subjunctive in French:

Learning Group 1: PANDO

Preferences, Advice, Needs, Desires, Orders (PANDO) PANDO in English
Commander que To order that
Demander que To ask (someone or something)
Désirer que To desire that
Empêcher que To prevent (someone from doing something)
Il faut que It is necessary that
Il est nécessaire que It is necessary that
Préférer que To prefer that
Vouloir que To want that
Souhaiter que To wish that

Learning Group 2: JEF

Judgments, Emotions, Feelings (JEF) JEF in English
Adorer que To love that
Aimer que To like that
Avoir peur que To be afraid that
Être content que To be happy that
Être désolé que To be sorry that
II est bon que It’s good that
Être heureux que To be happy that
Il est dommage que It’s a shame that
Il vaut mieux que It is better that

Learning Group 3: PODS

Possibilities, Opinions, Doubts, Suppositions (PODS) PODS in English
Douter que To doubt that
S’attendre à ce que To expect
Il est possible que It is possible that
Il se peut que It may be that
Il n’est pas clair que It’s not clear that
Le fait que The fact that
Refuser que To refuse
Il est impossible que It’s impossible that
Il n’est pas certain que It’s not certain that

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Que and subjunctive variables

As you’ve probably noticed, all of the above expressions end in que. That is a pretty good indicator that the phrase requires the subjunctive conjugation.

If a phrase ends with the preposition de, then you would need to use the infinitive.

Subjunctive or Infinitive

Subjunctive or Infinitive English
Je veux que tu fasses tes devoirs. (subjunctive) I want you to do your homework.
Il est important de faire tes devoirs. (infinitive) It’s important to do your homework.

There are a few subjunctive variables. Meaning that some verbs that typically don’t require the subjunctive, like croire, do in fact require subjunctive conjugation in the negative.

For example:

  • Je crois qu’il est sympa. (I think he’s nice.)

This sentence doesn’t require the subjunctive. But if there’s doubt, as in, je ne crois pas qu’il soit sympa (I don’t think he’s nice), you need to use the subjunctive conjugation.

Subjunctive French conjugation

Speaking of conjugation, it’s time for us to look at how to conjugate the subjunctive mood in French. The French subjunctive can be used in four different verb tenses (présent, passé composé, imparfait, and plus-que-parfait), but it most commonly used in the présent and passé composé.

Just like with other verb tenses, there are regular and irregular verbs. We’ll be looking at a few of each.

Regular subjunctive conjugation

Conjugating verbs ending in -er in the present tense of the subjunctive is easy. The conjugation for je/j’, tu, il/elle/on, and ils/elles is the same as the present tense of the indicative (indicatif).

For nous and vous, you have to use the imparfait forms. See below for the verb parler (to talk):

Regular subjunctive conjugation

Subject Root Ending
je parl e
tu parl es
ils/elles/on parl e
nous parl ions
vous parl iez
ils/elles parl ent

Like all verb tenses, there are irregular verbs. Some of the more common ones are faire, aller, avoir, and être. Like other irregular verbs, there are some identifiable patterns, but mostly you just have to memorize them.

Quick recap

The French subjunctive tense (or, mood) is used to express varied states of unreality or uncertainty. Think: judgments, wishes, possibilities, doubts, emotions or things that haven’t yet happened. While this tense seems to be a little scarier for French language beginners, and can potentially put you in a bad mood, remember — the more you practice, the easier it will come.

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