Le subjonctif: the subjunctive in French

What is le subjonctif?

Le subjonctif (the subjunctive) is a grammatical mood similar to the indicative, the passive, the conditional or the imperative. The subjunctive emphasises the subjectivity of a sentence, and it is mostly used in dependent clauses that start with que. The subjunctive expresses possibilities, hypotheses, feelings, thoughts, wishes, doubts, uncertainty, or advice.

Master the use of the subjunctive mood in French grammar with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples, then put your knowledge to the test in the free exercises.

Example

Zeichnung

Journal télévisé

Le célèbre acteur français fête aujourd’hui son anniversaire!

Bien qu’il soit âgé de 90 ans, il se sent encore en forme et est très actif. Il est important pour lui qu’il puisse encore jouer dans des films. Le public est ravi qu’il reçoive toujours des propositions de rôles.

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When to use the subjunctive in French

Phrases that take the subjunctive in French

We use the French subjunctive in subordinate clauses that start with que and after certain verbs and conjunctions.

  • The most common subjunctive construction in French is il faut queyou have to.
Example:
Il faut que vous partiez tout de suite.You have to leave immediately.
  • We use the subjunctive after conjunctions with que, such as: avant quebefore, jusqu’à ce queuntil, pour quein order to, afin quein order to, bien quealthough, quoiquealthough, à condition queon the condition that, pourvu quelet’s hope that, sans quewithout
Example:
Bien qu’il soit âgé de 90 ans, il se sent encore en forme et est très actif.Although he is 90, he still feels fit and is very active.
  • Remember: the conjunction après que (after) is followed by the indicative not the subjunctive.
Example:
L’acteur est reparti après que le public l’a acclamé.The actor left after the audience applauded.

Verbs that take the subjunctive in French

Go to our list of French verbs and phrases that take the subjunctive for a comprehensive overview of verbs that are followed by the subjunctive mood. We can organise the verbs that take the subjunctive into the following categories:

  • Verbs that express a doubt, wish, permission, request, order etc.: souhaiterto wish, désirerto wish, aimerto like, avoir peurto fear, avoir honteto be ashamed, craindreto fear, redouterto dread, regretterto regret, être désoléto be sorry, vouloirto want, ordonnerto order, exigerto demand, supplierto beg, demanderto ask, interdireto forbid, permettreto allow, déplorerto regret, se plaindreto complain.
Examples:
Il est important pour lui qu’il puisse encore jouer dans des films.It’s important to him that he can still act in films.
Le public est ravi qu’il reçoive toujours des propositions de rôles.The public is delighted that he is still receiving offers for roles.
  • Remember: although they express a wish and a feeling, espérer and décider are following by the indicative.
Examples:
J’espère qu’il aura (futur) encore des propositions de rôles.I hope he will get more casting offers.
Le public a décidé qu’il aura (futur) un prix.The public have decided that he will win a prize.
  • Verbs that express opinions as well as conjunctions that normally take the indicative all take the subjunctive when they are used in negative sentences or questions. Examples of such verbs include: affirmerto confirm, croireto believe, direto say, être d’avis deto be of the opinion that, penserto think.
Examples:
Tu penses qu’il fera un discours.You think he will give a speech.(indicative)
Tu ne penses pas qu’il fasse un discours.You don’t think he will give a speech.(subjunctive)
Penses-tu qu’il fasse un discours?Do you think he will give a speech?(subjunctive)
  • Some verbs can be used with both the indicative and the subjunctive, but we need to be aware of the change in meaning: the subjunctive adds a sense of uncertainty.
    Examples:
    Il semble qu’il est encore en forme.He seems like he’s still in shape.(fact)
    Il semble qu’il soit encore en forme.He seems like he’s still in shape.(unsure)

Still not sure? Take a look at our complete list of French verbs and phrases that take the subjunctive.

Subjonctif présent or subjonctif passé?

There are two possible forms of the subjunctive: the subjonctif présent and the subjonctif passé. We use the subjonctif présent when we want to talk about events that take place simultaneously.

Example:
Il est important pour lui qu'il puisse jouer dans des films.It’s important to him that he can still act in films.

We use the subjonctif passé when:

  • the verb in the main clause is in the past.
    Example:
    Il était important pour lui qu’il ait pu jouer dans des films.It was important to him that he could act in films.
  • the action in the subjunctive clause happened before the action in the main clause. The verb in the first clause can be conjugated in either the past or the present.
    Example:
    Il est important pour lui qu’il ait pu jouer dans des films.It’s important to him that he was able to act in films.
    Il était important pour lui qu’il ait pu jouer dans les films.It was important to him that he was able to act in films.

How to conjugate the subjunctive in French

Subjonctif présent

We form the subjonctif présent using the present-tense verb stem of the 3rd person plural and the endings -e, -es, -e, -ions, -iez, -ent. These endings are the same for all three verb groups.

Person aimer – ils aiment finir – ils finissent* dormir – ils dorment** vendre – ils vendent
1st person singular (I) que j’aime que je finisse que je dorme que je vende
2nd person singular (you) que tu aimes que tu finisses que tu dormes que tu vendes
3rd person singular (he/she/it) qu’il aime qu’il finisse qu’il dorme qu’il vende
1st person plural (we) que nous aimions que nous finissions que nous dormions que nous vendions
2nd person plural (you) que vous aimiez que vous finissiez que vous dormiez que vous vendiez
3rd person plural (they) qu’ils aiment qu’ils finissent qu’ils dorment qu’ils vendent

* Most -ir verbs are conjugated like finir. Choisir, réagir, réfléchir and réussir belong to this group. Here we add an -iss- to the word stem in the plural forms.

** Most -ir verbs that are not conjugated like finir, are conjugated like dormir. Mentir, partir and sentir are part of this group. We don't add -iss- to form the plural.

The verbs avoir and être are irregular.

Person avoir être
1st person singular (I) que j’aie que je sois
2nd person singular (you) que tu aies que tu sois
3rd person singular (he/she/it) qu’il ait qu’il soit
1st person plural (we) que nous ayons que nous soyons
2nd person plural (you) que vous ayez que vous soyez
3rd person plural (they) qu’ils aient qu’ils soient

Exceptions

  • Many -oir verbs are conjugated in the subjonctif présent using two different verb stems. To conjugate the 1st and 2nd person plural forms, we use the verb stem of the present tense 1st person plural instead of the 3rd person.
    Examples:
    Il arrive souvent qu’il reçoive un prix.It often happens that he receives a prize.
    Il arrive souvent que vous receviez un prix.It often happens that you receive a prize.
  • The following verbs change their stem in the subjonctif présent: allerto go, croireto believe, croîtreto grow, faireto do, falloirto need, naîtreto be born, pleuvoirto rain, pouvoirto be able to, savoirto know, valoirto be worth, voirto see, vouloirto want. To see their complete conjugation go to the list of irregular verbs:
    Example:
    Il faut qu’il fasse un discours.He has to give a speech.

Subjonctif Passé

The subjonctif passé is constructed with the present subjunctive form of avoir or être and the participe passé of the verb. Most verbs take avoir as their auxiliary in the subjonctif passé.

Examples:
que j’aie aimé
que j’aie fini
que j’aie vendu

The verb être is only used in the following cases:

  • with 14 verbs of motion and of staying still: naître/mourirto be born/to die, aller/venirto go/to come, monter/descendreto go up/to go down, arriver/partirto arrive/to leave, entrer/sortirto enter/to go out, apparaîtreto appear, resterto stay, retournerto return, tomberto fall and their related forms such as: revenirto come back, rentrerto go back in, remonterto go back up, redescendreto go back down, repartirto leave again.
Example:
que je sois allé

Info

We use avoir when descendre, (r)entrer, (re)monter, rentrer, retourner and sortir are followed by a direct object. In this case, the meaning of the verb often changes.

Example:
Il faut que vous soyez sortis avant 12 heures.You must have left before 12 o’clock.
but: Il faut que vous ayez sorti les carottes du frigo avant le dîner.You must have taken the carrots out of the fridge before diner.

Participe Passé

For the regular -er/-ir/-re verbs, the past participle is easy to construct:

  • If the infinitive ends in -er, the participle ends in é
    Example:
    aimer – aimé
  • If the infinitive ends in -ir, the participle ends in i
    Example:
    finir – fini
  • If the infinitive ends in -re, the participle ends in u
    Example:
    vendre - vendu

For the irregular verbs, we need to look up the participle form in the list of irregular verbs or check their conjugation in the verb conjugator — or simply learn the forms by heart.

Agreement of the Participe Passé

For some verbs, the participe passé needs to agree in gender and number with the subject of the sentence.

  • For verbs that take être as their auxiliary in the past subjunctive, the participle agrees in gender and number with the subject.
    Examples:
    Je ne crois pas qu’il soit allé au studio de télévision.I don’t think he went to the television studio.
    Je ne crois pas qu’elle soit allée au studio de télévision.I don’t think she went to the television studio.
    Je ne crois pas qu’ils soient allés au studio de télévision.I don’t think they went to the television studio.
    Je ne crois pas qu’elles soient allées au studio de télévision.I don’t think they (only women) went to the television studio.
  • For verbs that are constructed using avoir, the participle agrees in gender and number with a direct object that comes before the verb. This direct object can take three possible forms: a personal pronoun (me, te, le, la, nous, vous, les), the relative pronoun que, or a noun (in questions and exclamations).
    Examples:
    Pourvu que sa famille lui ait souhaité son anniversaire. → Pourvu que sa famille le lui ait souhaité.Hopefully his family wished him a happy birthday.
    Pourvu que sa famille lui ait souhaité sa fête. → Pourvu que sa famille la lui ait souhaitée.Hopefully his family wished him a happy birthday.
  • The participe passé of reflexive verbs generally agrees with the subject.
    Example:
    Il est possible que nous nous soyons levés trop tard.It’s possible that we got up too late.

    The exception to this rule concerns direct objects: if the reflexive verb is followed by a direct object the past participle does not agree with the subject.

    Example:
    Il vaudrait mieux qu’elle se soit lavé les mains.It would be better if she had washed her hands.
    but: Il vaudrait mieux qu’elle se soit lavée.It would be better if she had washed herself.
    Remember: the past participle never agrees with an indirect object.
    Example:
    Je ne crois pas que Marie et Laurent se soient téléphoné.I don’t believe that Marie and Laurent called each other on the phone.
    se = indirect object
  • The participe passé does not agree with the subject of the following verbs: se téléphonerto phone each other, se parlerto talk to each other, se mentirto lie to each other, se plaire (complaire/déplaire)to like each other, se sourireto smile at each other, se rireto laugh at each other, se nuireto hurt each other, se succéderto succeed each other, se suffireto be enough, se ressemblerto look like each other, s’en vouloirto be annoyed with each other. This is because the reflexive pronoun is an indirect object. It is used in the sense of “each other” for these verbs.