Mastering the French Subjunctive: A Comprehensive Guide

The French subjunctive, or “le subjonctif,” is a vital aspect of French grammar. As a mood, rather than a tense, it expresses the speaker’s attitude, emotions, or uncertainties regarding an action or state. Mastering the French subjunctive can be a challenge, but it’s an essential component of fluency in the language. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the subjunctive mood in-depth, including its forms, uses, and various rules and exceptions.

Table of Contents

  1. Understanding the French Subjunctive Mood
  2. Forming the French Subjunctive
  3. Common Triggers for the French Subjunctive
  4. The Subjunctive in Subordinate Clauses
  5. The Subjunctive Versus the Indicative
  6. The Past Subjunctive
  7. Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
  8. Practice Exercises
  9. Conclusion

Understanding the French Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood is used to express a variety of attitudes, emotions, and uncertainties. It can convey doubt, possibility, necessity, desire, and more. Unlike the indicative mood, which is used to express facts and objective statements, the subjunctive mood is subjective and deals with the speaker’s feelings, opinions, or perceptions.

It’s important to recognize that the subjunctive is not a tense, but a mood. This means that it does not indicate when an action takes place, but rather the speaker’s attitude toward the action.

Forming the French Subjunctive

Regular Verbs

For regular verbs, the subjunctive is formed by taking the third person plural form of the verb in the present indicative, dropping the “-ent” ending, and adding the appropriate subjunctive endings.

Here are the subjunctive endings for regular verbs:

  • je : -e
  • tu : -es
  • il/elle/on : -e
  • nous : -ions
  • vous : -iez
  • ils/elles : -ent

For example, the verb “parler” (to speak) would be conjugated in the subjunctive as follows:

  • je parle
  • tu parles
  • il/elle/on parle
  • nous parlions
  • vous parliez
  • ils/elles parlent

Irregular Verbs

Several verbs have irregular subjunctive forms that must be memorized. Some of the most common irregular verbs include:

  • être (to be): je sois, tu sois, il/elle/on soit, nous soyons, vous soyez, ils/elles soient
  • avoir (to have): j’aie, tu aies, il/elle/on ait, nous ayons, vous ayez, ils/elles aient
  • aller (to go): j’aille, tu ailles, il/elle/on aille, nous allions, vous alliez, ils/elles aillent
  • faire (to do/make): je fasse, tu fasses, il/elle/on fasse, nous fassions, vous fassiez, ils/elles fassent
  • prendre (to take): je prenne, tu prennes, il/elle/on prenne, nous prenions, vous preniez, ils/elles prennent

Common Triggers for the French Subjunctive

Expressions of Doubt or Uncertainty

The subjunctive is often used after expressions of doubt or uncertainty, such as “il est possible que” (it is possible that), “il est douteux que” (it is doubtful that), or “je ne pense pas que” (I don’t think that).


  • Il est possible qu’elle vienne demain. (It’s possible that she’ll come tomorrow.)

Expressions of Necessity or Desire

The subjunctive is also used after expressions of necessity or desire, like “il faut que” (it is necessary that), “je veux que” (I want that), or “j’aimerais que” (I would like that).


  • Il faut que nous finissions le travail. (It’s necessary that we finish the work.)

Impersonal Expressions

Impersonal expressions like “il est important que” (it’s important that), “il est préférable que” (it’s preferable that), or “il est dommage que” (it’s a pity that) are also common triggers for the subjunctive.


  • Il est important que vous compreniez cette règle. (It’s important that you understand this rule.)


Certain conjunctions like “pour que” (so that), “bien que” (although), “à condition que” (provided that), or “avant que” (before) require the subjunctive.


  • Je vais étudier, pour que je réussisse à l’examen. (I’ll study so that I pass the exam.)

The Subjunctive in Subordinate Clauses

In a sentence with two clauses, if the main clause contains a verb that triggers the subjunctive and the second clause has a different subject, you must use the subjunctive in the subordinate clause.


  • Je suis content que tu sois là. (I’m happy that you’re here.)

The Subjunctive Versus the Indicative

It’s crucial to understand the difference between the subjunctive and the indicative. The indicative mood expresses facts, objective statements, or actions that are certain or real. The subjunctive, on the other hand, deals with the speaker’s attitude, emotions, or uncertainties regarding an action or state.


  • Je sais qu’il est à Paris. (I know that he’s in Paris.) – Indicative
  • Je doute qu’il soit à Paris. (I doubt that he’s in Paris.) – Subjunctive

The Past Subjunctive

The past subjunctive is formed by using the present subjunctive of “avoir” or “être” (depending on the verb) and the past participle of the verb.


  • Il est dommage qu’il n’ait pas pu venir. (It’s a pity that he couldn’t come.)

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

  1. Confusing the subjunctive with the indicative: Make sure you understand the difference between the two and use the subjunctive when expressing doubt, uncertainty, desire, or emotion.
  2. Not recognizing irregular verbs: Familiarize yourself with the most common irregular verbs and their subjunctive forms.
  3. Ignoring subjunctive triggers: Learn common expressions and conjunctions that require the subjunctive and use them correctly in sentences.

Practice Exercises

  1. Conjugate the verb “finir” (to finish) in the subjunctive.
  2. Rewrite the following sentence using the subjunctive: Il est sûr qu’elle va réussir.
  3. Write a sentence using the subjunctive with the conjunction “à moins que” (unless).


Mastering the French subjunctive can be challenging, but it’s essential for achieving fluency in the language. By understanding its forms, uses, and rules, as well as practicing regularly, you’ll be well on your way to mastering this crucial aspect of French grammar.

Grammar Theory

Grammar Exercises

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