The Subjunctive Present



What is the subjunctive?


The subjunctive is a mood.


Because moods and tenses both refer to verbs and conjugations, it is sometimes difficult to understand the difference.


A tense (present, past, future) refers to time, whereas a mood (indicative, conditional, subjunctive) refers to manner of expression.


Indicative and subjunctive moods can both be in the present tense: we talk about the indicative present and the subjunctive present. While the indicative present is used to make statements and give facts (or give opinions as if they were facts), the subjunctive present will express some sort of subjectivity towards an event.


The present tense that you have used since you started studying French has, indeed, always been the indicative present, you were simply never told until you started looking at the subjunctive present.



When do we use the subjunctive?

(As opposed to the indicative)


In French, the subjunctive is used much more frequently than in English (yes, the subjunctive exists in English too!). It is expressed by a set of forms which a verb can take in a subordinate clause*.


* If you don't know what a subordinate clause is, then read this paragraph:

A subordinate clause is often referred to as a dependant clause because it is a part of a sentence that does not express a complete idea and cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. It is dependent upon a main clause to be meaningful and is therefore introduced by a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun.


The subjunctive is triggered by verbs and nouns which express the personal desires, orders, expectations, fears, regrets or other emotional states of the subject (from the main clause) in relation to the event (in the subordinate clause). It can also be triggered by the use of impersonal verbs and conjunctions.



1.The list of verbs which trigger the subjunctive:

aimer que - to like/wish that

attendre que - to wait for

s'attendre à ce que - to expect that

avoir envie que - to really want that

commander que - to order that

consentir que - to consent that

être content que - to be pleased that

craindre que - to fear that

demander que - to ask that

désirer que - to wish that

être désolé que - to be sorry that

être dommage que - to be a pity or to be regretted that

douter que - to doubt that

empêcher que - to prevent that

espérer que - to hope that

s'étonner que - to be surprised that

éviter que - to avoid that

exiger que - to require that

insister pour que - to insist that

ordonner que - to order that

permettre que - to allow that

avoir peur que - to be afraid that

préférer que - to prefer that

être ravi que - to be delighted that

recommander que - to recommend

redouter que - to fear/dread that

regretter que - to regret that

se réjouir que - to rejoice that

souhaiter que - to wish that

être surpris que - to be surprised that

suggérer que - to suggest that

tenir à ce que - to be anxious that

veiller à ce que - to be careful that

vouloir que - to want that


Example: Je suis contente qu'elle vienne nous voir- I am happy (that) she is coming to see us.


Note:

  • For the subjunctive to be triggered by these verbs, you need to have two different subjects in your sentence. If you have only one subject, then an infinitive is used instead. For example: je suis contente de venir.

  • espérer que is not on the list! espérer que is considered to be an expectation (more than a wish) and is therefore followed by the indicative (present or future)

  • empêcher que, éviter que, avoir peur que, craindre que, redouter que can also call for the Ne explétif in the subordinate clause (in the subjunctive).


BE CAREFUL!


A common mistake is to forget using the subjunctive with vouloir when your sentence is composed of two subjects.


This common mistake is due to the fact that, in English, the structure is almost the same whether you have a second clause or not: We want to go to France Vs We want her to go to France.


Example 1: Nous voulons aller en France. We want to go to France.

In this example, there is no change of subject. An infinitive can be used and the whole sentence uses the indicative mood.


Example 2: Nous voulons qu'elle aille en France. We want her to go to France.

In this second example, the subject changes from "nous" to "elle" in the subordinate clause ( the second part of the sentence).

The indicative is used in the first part.

The subjunctive is used in the second part.



2.The list of nouns which trigger the subjunctive:

Similarly to the list of verbs above, the subjunctive is triggered by nouns which express a meaning such as: wishing, ordering, being pleased, being sad, surprised etc.


l'attente que - the expectation

la crainte que - the fear

le désir que - the wish

l'ordre que - the order

la peur que - the fear

le souhait que - the wish


example: La crainte qu'il soit tué a provoqué sa réaction. The fear of being killed provoked his reaction.



3.The list of impersonal verbs which trigger the subjunctive:

Some impersonal verbs present an event in a subordinate clause as being certain, likely or probable to happen: il est certain que, il est vrai que, il est évident que, il me semble que. In that case the indicative is used in the subordinate clause.

The subjunctive is triggered by impersonal verbs who present the events as unlikely, less than probable, only possible or impossible. Some impersonal constructions also express a subjective desire or feeling.

il n'est pas certain que - it is not certain that
il est peu probable que - it is unlikely that
il est douteux que - it is doubtful that
il est impossible que - it is impossible that
il est invraisemblable que - it is unlikely that
il se peut que - it is possible that
il est possible que - it is possible that
il n'est pas sûr que - it is not sure that
il n'est pas vrai que - it is not true that
il faut que - it is necessary that
il est important que - it is important that
il est essentiel que - it is essential that
il est nécessaire que - it is necessary that
il est regrettable que - it is regrettable that
il semble que - it is seems that
il est temps que - it is time that
il est utile que - it is useful that
il vaut mieux que- it is better that

Example: il est important qu'il comprenne- it is important that he understands.

Be careful!
Il me semble que + indicative
Il semble que + subjunctive


4.Here is a list of conjunctions which trigger the subjunctive:

Some subordinating conjunctions introduce hypothetical situations or establish conditions: these are normally followed by verbs in the subjunctive in the subordinate clause.


afin que, pour que - so that

avant que - before

en attendant que - whilst waiting for

à moins que - unless

à supposer que, supposé que, en supposant que, en admettant que - supposing that

bien que, quoique, encore que, malgré que - although

de façon que, de manière que, de sorte que, si bien que - so that, in such a way that

de peur que, de crainte que - for fear that

pour peu que, si peu que - however little that

pourvu que, à condition que - provided that

sans que - without

soit que - whether

tel que - such as


Example: Je surveille tes enfants pour que tu puisses aller travailler - I'm looking after your children so (that) you can go to work.



How to form the subjunctive?


For most French verbs, the subjunctive is formed by removing the -ent from the third person plural (ils/elles) in the present tense , and adding the following endings:


-e, -es, -e, -ions, -iez, -ent




There are seven irregular verbs in the subjunctive to learn:



Subjunctive after verbs of saying, thinking and believing in negatives and questions


Normally, verbs of saying, thinking and believing present an event as a fact and is therefore followed by the indicative.


Example: Je pense que tu es gentil. I think that you are kind


However, when these same verbs are used in a negative sentence or in a question, they can introduce an uncertainty and the subordinate clause is therefore in the subjunctive.


Example 1: Je ne pense pas qu'il vienne. I don't think he is coming.

Example 2: Croyez-vous que ce soit une bonne idée? Do you think it is a good idea?









Recommendation:



For French A Level students with any exam board:


Year 1:


Year 2:


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