Moods in French: The Ultimate Reference for Learners at Any Level
No, we don’t mean “happy” or “sad.”
Moods in French are a little bit more complicated.
You probably already know that they have to do with French grammar…
You might not be sure what they have to do with tenses…
Maybe the whole thing is putting you in a bad mood.
Don’t fret. At first glance, moods in French seem much more complex than they actually are, so let’s break it down.
- What’s the Difference Between a Tense and a Mood?
- When and How to Use the 7 French Moods
- 1. The Indicative
- 2. The Imperative
- 3. The Conditional
- 4. The Subjunctive
- 5. The Infinitive
- 6. The Present Participle
- 7. The Perfect Participle
- Where to Practice Moods in French
- And one more thing...
What’s the Difference Between a Tense and a Mood?
A verb tense is a way of conveying time: past, present or future. The passé composé and imparfait are two past tenses in French. You may also be familiar with the simple future, the future perfect and of course the present tense, among others.
A mood, on the other hand, is a way of conveying intent. It adds another layer of meaning, allowing you to express, for example, a verb that’s supposed to be a command, or a verb where the action relies on an uncertainty, both of which you’ll see later in this article.
When and How to Use the 7 French Moods
Every single time you conjugate a verb in French, you always have both a tense and a mood. Most of the moods can be conjugated in several tenses, so it’ll take a bit of memorization to get them all down pat. We’ll show you which moods are commonly used in which tenses, plus guidelines for conjugating.
1. The Indicative
The indicative, as its name suggests, is a mood that denotes statements of fact:
If you’ve had even one French class, you’ve definitely encountered this French mood already. The simplest of all conjugations—the present indicative—is probably already in your wheelhouse. You can also expect to use it in the past and future tenses.
Je suis Américaine. (I am American.)
Marc allait souvent à la mer l’été. (Marc often went to the sea in the summer.)
Nous irons l’année prochaine en Italie. (We’ll go to Italy next year.)
Conjugating the Indicative
As we’ve just hinted, you likely already know how to conjugate in the indicative. When you learn to conjugate different verb tenses as a French beginner, this is the mood you’re learning them in.
There are three main groups of present tense indicative verbs that you should know, if you don’t already:
The other tenses that you might typically encounter in the indicative are:
- L’imparfait and le passé composé (the imperfect and compound past)
- Le futur proche (the close future)
- Le futur simple (the simple future)
- Le plus-que-parfait (the pluperfect)
To master these and other conjugations for French verbs, the Bescherelle conjugation tool is your best friend!
2. The Imperative
The imperative is the mood of commands. It allows the speaker to show that they want something to happen.
Unlike other moods in French, a subject pronoun isn’t necessary to use the imperative.
Vas-y! (Go ahead!)
Allons chez toi! (Let’s go to your house!)
Conjugating the Imperative
The imperative is a bit different than other moods, in that it isn’t conjugated for all subjects or in all tenses. Since it’s used for commands, you only need it when the subject pronoun is tu (informal “you”), nous (we) or vous (formal or plural “you”).
These verb forms mostly look like the present indicative form without the subject pronoun—except that you drop the final “-s” with tu for some verbs.
[Tu] Parle! (Speak!)
[Nous] Parlons! (Let’s speak!)
[Vous] Parlez! (Speak!)
Note that some verbs, such as avoir (to have) and être (to be), have irregular forms in the imperative mood, which you can see in this Tex’s French Grammar chart.
Rarely, you might also find the imperative being used in the past. In this case, you need avoir as a helping verb.
Aie parlé. (Have spoken.)
Ayons parlé. (Let’s have spoken.)
Ayez parlé. (Have spoken.)
This one might seem strange, but consider the following context:
Aie parlé avec ton père avant ce soir, sinon, c’est moi qui le fait. ([Make sure you] have spoken with your father before this evening, otherwise, I’ll do it.)
3. The Conditional
The conditional mood is the mood of actions that are reliant on another action. It’s often used with si (if) clauses, alongside the imparfait:
Si tu venais chez moi, on pourrait regarder notre série préférée. (If you came to my house, we could watch our favorite show.)
The conditional mood is also used to express politeness:
Pourrais-tu me prêter ton stylo? (Could you lend me your pen?)
Often, as you can see, the conditional can be used where in English we’d use “could” or “would.”
Conjugating the Conditional
The conditional is usually conjugated in the present. You may recognize that the verb endings here look the same as the verb endings in the imparfait indicative.
Je parlerais (I would speak)
Tu parlerais (You would speak)
Il/elle/on parlerait (He/she/one would speak)
Nous parlerions (We would speak)
Vous parleriez (You would speak)
Ils/elles parleraient (They would speak)
Occasionally, the conditional is used in the past. In this case, once again, we use avoir as a helping verb.
J’aurais parlé (I would have spoken)
Tu aurais parlé (You would have spoken)
Il/elle/on aurait parlé (He/she/one would have spoken)
Nous aurions parlé (We would have spoken)
Vous auriez parlé (You would have spoken)
Ils/elles auraient parlé (They would have spoken)
4. The Subjunctive
The subjunctive mood is used to represent hypotheticals or intentions. For example:
Il faut que je fasse mes devoirs ce soir. (It’s imperative that I do my homework tonight.)
J’aimerais que tu viennes à ma soirée! (I’d like you to come to my party!)
There are many common phrases that end in que and are typically followed by the subjunctive.
Il faut que (It is imperative that)
Il est nécessaire que (It is necessary that)
Il vaut mieux que (It would be better that)
J’aimerais que (I would like [something to happen])
Avant que (Before)
Bien que (Even though)
Conjugating the Subjunctive
The subjunctive is almost always used in the present tense. For regular verbs, the subjunctive looks quite a bit like the present indicative (and in fact, the present subjunctive and present indicative for -ER verbs look exactly the same).
Here’s an example of a very common irregular subjunctive verb (faire — to do/make) to give you an idea of how wacky the subjunctive can look:
que je fasse (I do)
que tu fasses (You do)
qu’il/qu’elle/que l’on fasse (He/she/one does)
que nous fassions (We do)
que vous fassiez (You do)
qu’ils/qu’elles fassent (They do)
Here’s an example in context:
Il faut que vous fassiez les courses. (It is imperative that you do the food shopping.)
There’s a subjunctive imparfait in French, but it’s very antiquated and you shouldn’t expect to use it.
5. The Infinitive
The infinitive mood is used when the unconjugated form of the verb is needed. It is known as an impersonal mood. This can happen in a variety of situations.
Firstly, the infinitive can occur after a conjugated verb.
Je veux regarder la télévision. (I want to watch television.)
Le garçon doit finir ses devoirs! (The boy has to finish his homework.)
Le chien a espéré manger. (The dog hoped to eat.)
Next, the infinitive can occur after an impersonal expression or adjective.
Il est difficile à travailler. (It is difficult to work.)
Nous sommes désolés d’être en retard. (We are sorry to be late.)
Also, the infinitive can occur after a preposition.
Avant de manger, nous discutons les nouvelles. (Before eating, we are discussing the news.)
Pour finir le travail, je dois rester au bureau. (To finish the work, I have to stay at the office.)
The infinitive can even give commands, orders or instructions.
Conduire prudemment. (Drive safely.)
Couper les oignons. (Cut the onions.)
En cas d’urgence, rester calme. (In case of emergency, stay calm.)
Conjugating the Infinitive
This unconjugated form is also known as the dictionary form. These verbs retain their -er, -ir, -re or irregular endings.
6. The Present Participle
The present participle is an impersonal mood that most accurately translates to the -ing form in English. This mood shows that an action is in the middle of occurring during the moment of speaking. It is also known as the gérondif (gerund). This mood can be employed in two main situations.
Firstly, the participle can show an actively occurring action using the preposition en (while, by).
Il a joué le jeu en buvant le café. (He played the game while drinking his coffee.)
En travaillant, je gagne de l’argent. (By working, I earn money.)
La fille rit en racontant l’histoire. (The girl laughs while telling the story.)
The participle can also modify a person, place or thing. In this case, it is describing a state of the nearest noun or pronoun.
Lisant le livre, la fille était heureuse. (Reading the book, the girl was happy.)
J’ai vu l’autobus conduisant à l’arrêt de bus. (I saw the bus driving to the bus stop.)
Conjugating the Present Participle
Creating the present participle is quite simple in French. Simply take the present tense of the verb in the nous form, remove the -ons ending and add on the –ant ending that denotes the present participle.
Jouer – nous jouons – jouant
Finir – nous finissons – finissant
Vendre – nous vendons – vendant
Keep in mind that verbs that undergo spelling changes during their conjugation with the nous form retain these changes in the present participle.
Manger – nous mangeons – mangeant
Préférer – nous préférons – préférant
Placer – nous plaçons – plaçant
There are only three irregular verbs in the present participle. They are être (to be), avoir (to have) and savoir (to know).
Être – étant
Avoir – ayant
Savoir – sachant
7. The Perfect Participle
The perfect participle is an impersonal mood that shows an action has been finished or completed. This mood does not occur after a noun or a pronoun like other moods—rather, in front of it. As such, it shows a degree of detachment from the noun or pronoun it is talking about.
Unlike the present participle, the perfect participle is talking about an action that has occurred in the past. In fact, it describes an action that has occurred before the action in the main clause (the main part of the sentence). It is sometimes introduced by the adverb après (after).
Ayant bu le café, il a joué le jeu. (Having drank the coffee, he played the game.)
Après avoir travaillé, je suis allé au restaurant. (After having worked, I went to the restaurant.)
Étant arrivée à la fête, la fille a dansé. (Having arrived at the party, the girl danced.)
Conjugating the Perfect Participle
Creating the perfect participle in French is sort of like creating conjugating the compound past tense in French. It requires marrying the present participle with the past participle of the passé composé.
That said, you first must determine which auxiliary the verb takes in the passé composé: être or avoir. Whichever it takes in the passé composé will also be the auxiliary verb needed in this mood. This auxiliary verb then changes to its present participle form.
Être – étant
Avoir – ayant
Next, you change the verb to its passé composé past participle. You should follow the same rules for the regular verbs where -er changes to -é, -ir changes to -i and –re changes to -u. You should also use irregular past participles where the case allows.
Combine the auxiliaries in the present participles with the passé composé past participles, and you’re ready to go!
Finir – j’ai fini – ayant fini
Vendre – on a vendu – ayant vendu
Devenir – il est devenu – étant devenu
As you would expect, verbs that take être in this form must have past participles that agree in number and gender.
Revenir – elle est devenue – étant devenue
Aller – ils sont allés – étant allés
Sortir – elles sont sorties – étant sorties
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Where to Practice Moods in French
Here are a few great exercises and resources to get your moods down pat.
- This quiz is a good starter. It simply asks you to identify which mood should be used using context clues. Give it a try after you’ve read through the rules below.
- This simple quiz asks you to identify the mood of the verb using both conjugation and context clues as your guide.
- This quiz asks you to choose a mood for each verb given only context clues, while this one asks users to choose both mood and tense for each verb
Hopefully this guide has you far less moody about French moods.
And one more thing...
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