Subjunctive

The subjunctive poses a number of problems to English speakers, principally because it is a tense we use very little in 
English. In French the problem lies not so much with its structure, but when to use it.

Formation

To form the subjunctive, just take the “ils” form of the present tense of the verb (unfortunately there are numerous 
irregular verbs for the subjunctive as well, and this rule does not necessarily apply to them), remove the “ent” and add 
the appropriate ending to match the person.

Je        e                Nous        ions

Tu       es               Vous         iez

Il/elle    e                Ils/elles  ent

e.g.        
regarder
       ils regard(ent)
       nous regardions = the present subjunctive for regarder with “nous”

       vendre
       ils vend(ent)
       je vende = the present subjunctive for vendre with “je”

       finir
       ils finiss(ent)
       elle finisse = the present subjunctive for finir with “elle”

This rule applies to a number of irregular verbs, e.g. prendre, écrire, conduire etc., but there are several irregular verbs 
whose subjunctive roots must be learned individually, although the endings remain the same.

Aller        (j’aille, tu ailles, il aille, nous allions, vous alliez, ils aillent)

Faire        (fass)

Avoir        (j’aie, tu aies, il ait, nous ayons, vous ayez, ils aient)

Être           (je sois, tu sois, il soit, nous soyons, vous soyez, ils soient)

Vouloir      (veuill, *nous voulions, *vous vouliez)

Voir           (je voie, tu voies, il voie, nous voyions, vous voyiez, ils voient)

Savoir        (sach)

Pouvoir      (puiss)

When to use the subjunctive

After certain phrases such as:

Il faut que
Il est nécessaire que
Avant que
Bien que
Quoique
Quoi que
Jusqu’à ce que
À moins que

After expressions of feeling:

Je préfère que 
Je voudrais que
J’aimerais que
Je veux que
Je suis content que
Je suis triste que
J’ai peur que

In general the subjunctive is used if there is a suggestion of doubt or fear.

e.g.        J’ai peur qu’il arrive en retard = I’m afraid he’ll (may) arrive late.

              J’attends que = to wait for/expect something to happen 

These expressions should be followed by a change of subject, i.e. a different person, and the verb will be in the 
subjunctive.

e.g.        Je veux que tu partes.

              Je suis content que tu sois là.

N.B.        If you wish to suggest that someone else should do something, you must change subjects mid-sentence, i.e. 
you cannot simply say “I want you to do something”, you must say “I want that you should do something”, so –

Je veux que tu fasses quelque chose.

When using the subjunctive there will always be a “que” involved.

Grammar links



Exercise

1)                  We have to sell the house


2)                  Although they finish work at 4.00, they will arrive on time


3)                  Unless you listen, you will learn nothing


4)                  Before she goes out, she must do her homework


5)                  I would like her to leave


6)                  She is afraid that you will tell the teacher


7)                  We want them to go to Edinburgh


8)                  They are happy that I’m doing my studies in France


9)                  I’m sad you’re not here


10)                He expects us to make the coffee!

 

 

1)      Il faut que nous vendions la maison

2)      Bien qu’ils finissent le travail à quatre heures, ils arriveront à l’heure

3)      À moins que tu n’écoutes, tu n’apprendras rien

4)      Avant qu’elle parte, il faut qu’elle fasse ses devoirs

5)      Je voudrais qu’elle parte

6)      Elle a peur que tu (ne) le dises au professeur

7)      Nous voulons qu’ils aillent à Edimbourg

8)      Ils sont contents que je fasse mes études en France

9)      Je suis triste que tu ne sois pas là

10)  Il s’attend à ce que nous fassions le café