Irregular Subjunctive Verbs in French

If you’ve been studying the subjunctive—one of the most notorious French grammatical moods—you may already know that there are plenty of irregular forms.

Fortunately, it’s just a matter of getting comfortable with a few common patterns, even when it comes to the French irregular subjunctive.

In this post, you’ll find three tricks to learn to bring order to irregular subjunctive forms with example conjugations.


What Are the Regular French Subjunctive Rules?

In order to understand the irregular subjunctive in French, we must first understand the rules for the regular subjunctive. We’ll concentrate on the present tense throughout this article to keep things simple, since that’s the subjunctive tense you’re most likely to encounter.

First, identify the present tense ils/elles (“they” masculine/“they” feminine) form of your verb and remove the -ent ending. Then, replace the ending with the following, depending on your subject:

je (I)-e
tu (you [informal])-es
il/elle/on (he/she/one)-e
nous (we)-ions
vous (you [formal or plural])-iez
ils/elles (they)-ent

For example, if we wanted to put the regular verb choisir  (to choose) in the present subjunctive, we would start with ils/elles choisissent (they choose). Next, we chop off the -ent ending so we’re left with the stem choisiss-.

Now we add the subjunctive endings:

que je choisisse I choose
que tu choisisses you choose
qu'il/elle/on choisisse he/she/one chooses
que nous choisissions we choose
que vous choisissiez you choose (formal or plural)
qu'ils/elles choisissent they choose

Suffice it to say there are many verbs that don’t follow regular subjunctive conjugation rules. So now that you know the regular rules, you’re ready to break them.

French Irregular Subjunctive: 3 Tricks That Reveal the Method to the Madness

Just because a verb is irregular in the subjunctive doesn’t mean there are no patterns to rely on.

Irregular subjunctive verbs can be grouped into two main groups that share the same rules, which I’ll cover below. Then I’ll show you a third group that breaks all the rules.

1. Verbs with Two Stems

Remember how we created our subjunctive stems above, by chopping -ent off of the present tense ils/elles conjugation? Some verbs have two different stems in the subjunctive depending on the subject.

For example, the verb jeter  (to throw) has the stem jett- for the je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles conjugations and the stem jet- for the nous and vous conjugations. Check out this common verb conjugated fully with its two stems:

que je jette I throw
que tu jettes you throw
qu'il/elle/on jette he/she/one throws
que nous jetions we throw
que vous jetiez you throw (formal or plural)
qu'ils/elles jettent they throw

Not too complicated, right?

Lucky for you, there are many other verbs that follow this two-stem pattern: one stem for the je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles conjugations and another for the nous and vous conjugations. Some stem changes are small like the one above, while others are big—as in, the two stems look quite different. Let’s look at some of these verbs more deeply.

Verbs with Small Stem Changes

Generally speaking, these stem changes come down to a single letter or accent. Here are some very common examples with conjugations so you can see for yourself:

Aller (to go) has the stems aill– and all-:

que j'aille I go
que tu ailles you go
qu'il/elle/on aille he/she/one goes
que nous allions we go
que vous alliez you go (formal or plural)
qu'ils/elles aillent they go

Lever (to lift) has the stems lèv– and lev-:

que je lève I lift
que tu lèves you lift
qu'il/elle/on lève he/she/one lifts
que nous levions we lift
que vous leviez you lift (formal or plural)
qu'ils/elles lèvent they lift

Essayer (to try) has the stems essai- and essay-:

que j'essaie I try
que tu essaies you try
qu'il/elle/on essaie he/she/one tries
que nous essayions we try
que vous essayiez you try (formal or plural)
qu'ils/elles essaient they try

Appeler (to call) has the stems appell- and appel-:

que j'appelle I call
que tu appelles you call
qu'il/elle/on appelle he/she/one calls
que nous appelions we call
que vous appeliez you call (formal or plural)
qu'ils/elles appellent they call

In addition to those common verbs, here’s a list of verbs with small stem changes that are useful to remember:

VerbsStem changes
Acheter (to buy)achèt- for je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles 

achet- with nous and vous
Croire (to believe)croi- for je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles 

croy- with nous and vous
Ennuyer (to bore)ennui- for je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles 

ennuy- with nous and vous
Préférer (to prefer)préfèr- for je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles

préfér- with nous and vous
Prendre (to take)prenn- for je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles

pren- with nous and vous
Voir (to see)voi- for je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles

voy- with nous and vous

Verbs with Big Stem Changes

For these verbs, the differences between stems are more significant, usually involving a group of letters.

Some of the most common verbs in this group include the following:

Vouloir (to want) has the stems veuill- and voul-:

que je veuille I want
que tu veuilles you want
qu'il/elle/on veuille he/she/one wants
que nous voulions we want
que vous vouliez you want (formal or plural)
qu'ils/elles veuillent they want

Devoir (to have to) has the stems doiv- and dev-:

que je doive I have to
que tu doives you have to
qu'il/elle/on doive he/she/one has to
que nous devions we have to
que vous deviez you have to (formal or plural)
qu'ils/elles doivent they have to

Venir (to come) has the stems vienn- and ven-:

que je vienne I come
que tu viennes you come
qu'il/elle/on vienne he/she/one comes
que nous venions we come
que vous veniez you come (formal or plural)
qu'ils/elles viennent they come

In addition to these three common verbs, here’s a list of other “big stem change” verbs with their dual stems:

VerbsStem changes
Tenir  (to keep)tienn- for je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles

ten- with nous and vous
Boire  (to drink)boiv- for je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles 

bev- with nous and vous
Mourir  (to die)meur- for je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles
mour- with nous and vous
Recevoir  (to receive)reçoiv- for je, tu, il/elle/on and ils/elles

recev- with nous and vous

2. Verbs with Irregular Stems

Unlike the irregular subjunctive verbs above, some verbs simply have an irregular stem that you’ll tack your endings onto when conjugating. Not to worry, though: once you memorize the stem, the rest is easy!

For example, one of the most common verbs in this category is faire  (to do/make). It has the irregular subjunctive stem fass-, and the normal subjunctive endings are added to that. Check out its full conjugation:

que je fasse I do
que tu fasses you do
qu'il/elle/on fasse he/she/one does
que nous fassions we do
que vous fassiez you do (formal or plural)
qu'ils/elles fassent they do

Here are some other common verbs with irregular subjunctive stems:

VerbsIrregular subjunctive stems
Pouvoir (to be able to)puiss-
Savoir (to know)sach-
Pleuvoir (to rain)pleuv-
Falloir (to be necessary)faill-

Keep in mind that pleuvoir and falloir  are normally only ever conjugated in the il/elle/on form. For example, we would only say something like, il est nécessaire qu’il pleuve  (it is necessary that it rains).

3. Completely Irregular Subjunctive Verbs

There are some verbs that don’t seem to follow any rhyme or reason in the subjunctive. Not only are their stems totally irregular, but their endings also don’t follow the patterns outlined above.

Fortunately, this group includes some of the most commonly used verbs in the French language—être (to be) and avoir (to have)—so you may learn them naturally simply through exposure.

Être :

que je sois I am
que tu sois you are
qu'il/elle/on soit he/she/one is
que nous soyons we are
que vous soyez you are (formal or plural)
qu'ils/elles soient they are

Avoir :

que j'aie I have
que tu aies you have
qu'il/elle/on ait he/she/one has
que nous ayons we have
que vous ayez you have (formal or plural)
qu'ils/elles aient they have

Where to Practice the French Subjunctive

It can be helpful to have interactive practice tools to make sure you really remember everything. Here are my recommendations:

  • has a quiz that allows you to practice conjugating only present subjunctive irregular forms. Afterward, check out its subsequent quiz that mixes both regular and irregular verbs in the present subjunctive.
  • The FluentU program lets you learn the subjunctive by watching native French speakers use it in authentic French videos. You can review new vocabulary with quizzes or add new words and terms to flashcard decks—and the contextual dictionary will let you know when you’re dealing with a word in the subjunctive mood.


Now that you’ve learned these three tricks, get out there and get conjugating with the French irregular subjunctive!

Bonne chance ! (Good luck!)

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