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?
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.
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.
To hear all French moods and tenses used naturally by French speakers, hop on FluentU.
As you watch a video, you can click the subtitles for an instant breakdown of any word. You’ll get its part of speech, gender and see whether it’s singular or plural—and for verbs, you’ll see what tense and mood it’s in. This way, you’re learning French grammar naturally in real-world contexts. Better than verb drills, huh?
FluentU also makes it super easy to squeeze some language practice into your day on the iOS or Android apps.
No Need to Get Moody! When and How to Use the 4 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. (I need to 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 je fasse mes devoirs. (It is necessary/imperative that I do my homework.)
There’s a subjunctive imparfait in French, but it’s very antiquated and you shouldn’t expect to use it.
Hopefully this guide has you far less moody about French moods, but if you need more help, use FluentU videos to support your adventures in new and exciting French grammar!
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