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The French Subjunctive

The bane of most intermediate French learners’ existence is the subjunctive: The verb mood used to express desire, uncertainty and opinions, among others. It’s notoriously challenging, but something you’ll need to master in order to speak French fluently. 

We’ll give you a great overview of what it is, when to use it, and how to do basic conjugations, with lots of examples. Keep reading to learn everything you’ll need to start acing le subjoncif (the subjunctive).


What is the French Subjunctive?

The French subjunctive is a verb mood, used primarily to express uncertainty, doubt and emotions.

As we will cover, there are certain phrases and verbs that trigger this. Like the indicative, the subjunctive has present and past tense forms. 

We use subjunctive phrases in English, but they are nowhere near as common as they are in French. Here are some examples of the subjunctive in use in French:

Je veux que vous fassiez la vaisselle. (I want you to do the dishes.)

Il ne croit pas qu’elle l’aime. (He doesn’t believe that she loves him.)

How to Use the French Subjunctive

The French subjunctive usually has this structure: 

Subject 1 + verb + que/qui (that/who) + subject 2 + verb

You’ll need the following components for the subjunctive: 

  • Two separate subjects
  • Que or qui
  • The expression of uncertainty, desire, doubt, regret, preference, opinion or emotion

The subjunctive is also always a dependent clause.

When to Use the French Subjunctive

As detailed above, the subjunctive is used after certain verbs or phrases and preceded by the connecter que. Let’s look at what you can express using the subjunctive: 

  • Wishes or Desires

    Je veux que tu fasses le ménage. (I want you to clean the house.)
    Il souhaite qu’elle tombe amoureuse de lui. (He wishes that she would fall in love with him.)

  • Emotions

    Je suis triste qu’elle soit malade. (I’m sad that she is sick.)
    Il est heureux qu’ils arrivent. (He is happy that they’re arriving.)

  • Possibility or Doubt

    Je doute qu’il vienne. (I doubt that he will come.)
    Il est possible que vous partiez. (It’s possible that you’re leaving.)

  • Opinions

    Il est persuadé que j’ai raison. (He is convinced that I am right.)
    Je n’aime pas qu’il l’ait dit. (I don’t like that he said that.)

  • Necessity

    Il faut que nous allions à l’école. (It is necessary that we go to school.)
    J’ai besoin que tu m’écoutes. (I need you to listen to me.)

  • Regret 

    Il est regrettable qu’il pleuve aujourd’hui.
     (It’s regrettable that it’s raining today.)
    Elle regrette qu’elle l’ait fait. (She regrets that she did that.)
  • Preferences

    Je préfère que nous allions maintenant.
     (I prefer that we go now.)
    Je préfère que vous chantiez maintenant. (I prefer that you sing now.)

Common Verbs Which Use the Subjunctive

Verbs for Expressing a Wish or Desire

The verb espérer is always followed by the indicative. For example: J’espère qu’il est heureux. (I hope that he is happy.)

Verbs for Expressing Emotion

Verbs for Expressing Possibility or Doubt

Il est probable que (it is probable that) is always followed by the indicative, not the subjunctive. For example: Il est probable qu’elle l’aime. (It’s probable that she likes it.)

Verbs for Expressing Preferences and Opinions

Verbs for Expressing Necessity

Verbs for Expressing Regret

Phrases and Expressions That Trigger the Subjunctive

You can spot the subjunctive easily by looking out for certain phrases. Most of these express one of the five categories for the subjunctive: emotion, desire, doubt, regret, preferences/opinions or uncertainty.

These are usually variations of “provided that” and “although.”

Avant que is always followed by the subjunctive, but après que (after) is always followed by the indicative.

There’s a logical reason for this! Since avant que means before, there’s a bit of doubt and uncertainty because the event or action hasn’t happened yet. But après que translates to after, when there would be certainty since the event has already taken place.

When Not to Use the Subjunctive

Phrases that talk about an opinion, desire or emotion aren’t always followed by the subjunctive.

This is the case when doubt isn’t expressed or the event has already taken place and is thus clear. For example:

Il est clair qu’il ne veut pas le faire. (It’s obvious that he doesn’t want to do it.)

Il est certain que vous aurez besoin d’aide. (It’s certain that you will need help.)

Il est sûr que le train est supprimé. (It is sure that the train is canceled.)

All of these examples express clarity (“obvious,” “certain,” “surely”), so you don’t need the subjunctive.

Here’s a less intuitive example: 

Il est probable que la banque soit fermée aujourd’hui. (It’s probable that the bank is closed today.)

In English, it sounds like there is some doubt because of the word “probably,” but in French, this is considered an indicative-triggering phrase.

Regular Verbs in the Subjunctive

How to Conjugate Verbs in the Subjunctive

Forming the subjunctive is pretty simple for regular verbs:

Subjunctive Present

Start with the conjugated form of the verb for ils/elles (third-person plural), then remove the “-ent” ending to get the present stem. You can then add the following subjunctive endings depending on the pronoun:

PronounSubjunctive Ending

Here’s how you’d conjugate different verbs for the subjunctive present: 

PronounChanter (to sing)Manger (to eat)Finir (to finish)Écrirer (to write)
je chante mange finisse écrive
tu chantes manges finisses écrives
il/elle chante mange finisse écrive
nous chantions mangions finissions écrivions
vous chantiez mangiez finissiez écriviez
ils/elles chantent mangent finissent écrivent
PronounAimer (to like or love)Rendre (to return)Attendre (to wait)Sortir (to leave, go out)
je aime rende attende sorte
tu aimes rendes attendes sortes
il/elle aime rende attende sorte
nous aimions rendions attendions sortions
vous aimiez rendiez attendiez sortiez
ils/elles aiment rende attendent sortent

Subjunctive Past

The past tense is formed by conjugating either avoir or être (both irregular verbs detailed above) in the subjunctive followed by the past participle of the verb.

For example:

Il est triste qu’elle ne soit pas venue. (He is sad that she did not come.)

C’est dommage qu’il n’ait pas neigé à Noël. (It’s a shame that it did not snow on Christmas.)

Subjunctive Future

There is no future for the subjunctive in French. If the action or event will take place in the future, the subjunctive present is used to describe it.

Irregular Verbs in the Subjunctive

Like many rules in French, there are, of course, exceptions—yes, irregular verbs! Below is a list of the most common irregular subjunctive conjugations. These include avoir and être, which you’ll need to form the past tense of the subjunctive.

PronounÊtre (to be)Avoir (to have)Aller (to go)Faire (to do)
je sois aie aille fasse
tu sois aies ailles fasses
il/elle soit ait aille fasse
nous soyons ayons allions fassions
vous soyez ayez alliez fassiez
ils/elles soient aient aillent fassent
PronounVouloir (to want)Venir (to come)Pouvoir (to be able to)Savoir (to know)
je veuille vienne puisse sache
tu veuilles viennes puisses saches
il/elle veuille vienne puisse sache
nous voulions venions puissions sachions
vous vouliez veniez puissiez sachiez
ils/elles veuillent viennent puissent sachent

Verbs with Multiple Subjunctive Stems

Another quirk of the subjunctive in French is that some verbs have multiple stems.

Many irregular verbs above like aller and avoir also fall into this category. But a lot of these are also verbs that follow regular conjugation rules for most pronouns (je, tu, il/elle and ils/elles), but then use the nous conjugation without “ons” for the nous and vous stem.

PronounEssayer (to try)Prendre (to take)Tenir (to hold)Devoir (to must/have to)
je essaie prenne tienne doive
tu essaies prennes tiennes doives
il/elle essaie prenne tienne doive
nous essayions prenions tenions devions
vous essayiez preniez teniez deviez
ils/elles essaient prennent tiennent doivent
PronounMourir (to die)Appeler (to call)Jeter (to throw)Boire (to drink)
je meure appelle jette boive
tu meures appelles jettes boives
il/elle meure appelle jette boive
nous mourions appelions jetions buvions
vous mouriez appeliez jetiez buviez
ils/elles meurent appellent jettent buvent

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All of these may seem like a lot to remember, but with practice, they’ll come naturally! To get used to the French subjunctive, try looking out for these phrases in French movies, TV series, podcasts and other media. This way, you can pause and then check the verbs if needed in a dictionary


Now that you’ve learned all about the essentials for the subjunctive, you can set forth and express your emotions, opinions, desires, doubts, necessities and regrets in French. It’s one of the toughest parts of the language to master, but by practicing everything listed in this post, you should be off to a great start!

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