Advanced French – How To Master The Dreaded Subjunctive
If there is one important feature of advanced French grammar that is rarely mastered by adult learners, it is what is called the subjunctive mood. Many English-speakers of very fluent French simply never get the hang of it.
What is the subjunctive mood?
Often mistakenly called a tense, the subjunctive mood or mode is a verb form that is used in certain grammatical contexts. We therefore have two problems. What are the forms of the subjunctive of a verb? When do we use them?
Although there are various tenses of the subjunctive, the only one in everyday use is the present subjunctive. Here is the conjugation cyberpunk203x for the three most common verbs in French: être “to be”. avoir “to have” and faire “to do”.
The reason the subjunctive is so difficult for English-speakers is that it barely exists in English. There are traces in expressions like “If I were…” and “the powers that be” where the “were” and “be” would be called the subjunctive. But even these forms seem to be dying out in spoken English.
French on the other hand uses it all the time, and Spanish even more so. Although it can get very complicated in literary usage, everyday French simplifies it to basically three situations.
1. The trigger il faut que
The most common trigger of the subjunctive is the verb falloir (to be obliged to) which is used only in the following forms: il faut que (it must be that) or kyivdance its other tenses il a fallu que and il faudra que or il va falloir que. Memorize these forms because they are extremely common and always take the subjunctive. Here are some examples:
Il faut que je sois au bureau avant 8 heures. (I have to be in the office before 8 o’clock.)
Il faudra que tu fasses le travail pour samedi. (You have to do the work for Saturday.)
Il va falloir que nous ayons le rapport ce soir. (We have to have the report this evening.)
2. Verbs of need, desire, wish, regret, doubt
Certain verbs that require the subjunctive include: vouloir que (want), souhaiter que (wish), regretter que (regret), désirer que (desire), douter que (doubt), craindre que (fear), aimer que (like), être content que (to be glad), être heureux que (to be happy) and many others. Notice how we’ve added the que to these verbs. That should be a hint that the subjunctive might follow. Here are examples:
Je veux que tu sois à l’heure. (I want you to be on time.)
Que veux-tu que je fasse? (What do you want me to do?)
Elle regrette qu’elle soit obligée de manquer la reunion. (She regrets having to miss the meeting.)
Nous craignons qu’elle ait du retard. carraroteam (We’re afraid that she might be late.)
Je suis content que mon père soit vivant. (I’m glad that my father is alive.)
Je ne crois pas qu’elles aient l’argent nécessaire. (I don’t think they have the necessary money.)
3. Certain prepositions
The third major category of subjunctive usages is with certain prepositions: pour que, sans que, afin que, de sorte que, avant que, etc.. Again, remark the trigger word que. Here are some examples with other verbs.
Il s’absente sans que je le sache. (He goes away without my knowing.)
Je te le dis pour que tu puisses agir à temps. (I’m telling you this so that you can act in time.)
Il faut appeler tout de suite avant que le train (ne) parte. (We have to call right away before the train leaves.)
In this last example, notice that the il faut is not followed by que. Also note that the (ne) in front of parte is an optional form used in lexiconline formal language. It is called the ne explétif.
If you keep these three ideas in mind and look out for that que, you should be able to recognize the vast majority of situations where the subjunctive is necessary.
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