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Mode subjonctif

French Subjunctive Mood

The French Subjunctive Mood, Le Mode Subjonctif, can be very confusing for English speakers. The subjunctive is all but extinct in English, but it is still in common use in Latin-based / Romance languages. The easiest way for English speakers to understand the French Subjonctif is to look at the few cases where it's used in English.

In English, the subjunctive is noticeable only because it seems a bit archaic (it appears a lot in Shakespeare, for example).  Where it is still in common use, it's often invisible because it's  identical to other forms.  These English sentences are all in the subjunctive:

If I were you... (still in use)

Were I so kind! (modern: "if only I was so kind")

Be that as it may! (still in modern use)

Note that all these cases express a hypothetical situation, which is the hallmark of the subjunctive mood. In English, it's often found in expressions like "I wish..." or "If X were true."

French has a whole set of conjugations for the subjunctive mood, which makes learning it more difficult, but like anything it's just a matter of practice.

It helps to know that Le Subjonctif generally follows 'que' (Il faut que, Il est nécessaire que, bien que, pour que, etc.) and always expresses a hypothetical situation.

There are four subjunctive tenses in French, two of which are still in common use:

  1. Le Subjonctif Présent (present subjunctive)
  2. Le Subjonctif Passé (past subjunctive)

The other two forms are archaic:

  1. Le Subjonctif Imparfait (imperfect subjunctive)
  2. Le Subjonctif Plus-que-parfait (pluperfect subjunctive)

Related lesson: Tense / Mood