One of my students told me he was afraid of this tense:

« sache, fasse, sois, aie »

These irregular verbs in the subjunctive might sound a bit difficult and strange, but the subjunctive is much more than just a tense. That's why I decided to write this article.

This article is written to stop fear and prejudice against the French subjunctive. Most students are just afraid to learn it, and I would like to change this.

I've always said that before learning this tense, my students are talking in black and white. They are able to talk about basic events, describe situations, and what they have done. But what happens when we want to express our emotions? Our feelings and opinions? In French we usually use the subjunctive, and what a great feeling it is to express oneself in another language!

Let me explain.

Before learning this tense, here is an example of what you might say:

  • Q: How was your weekend?
    • Comment s'est passé ton weekend?
  • A: Good/fine, I went to my friend's place, we watched TV, and drank some beers!
    • Bien, je suis allé chez mon ami et nous avons regardé la télé et bu quelques bières!

After learning this tense, here is an example of the amazing things you could say:

Good/fine, I was happy that my friend spent some time with me this weekend because he/she is very busy and it's important that we meet up for our friendship! We watched TV and drank some beers. It seems that he/she enjoyed this time too.

Bien, j'étais content(e) que mon ami passe du temps avec moi ce weekend car il/elle est très occupé(e) et c'est important que nous nous rencontrions pour notre amitié. Nous avons regardé la télé et bu quelques bières. Il m'a semblé qu'il/elle ait aussi apprécié ce moment.

You'll be able to build your own sentences based on your feelings and emphasize what you think about the weekend─not only what you did.

So, this article is to encourage everyone with an intermediate level in French to step forward to the next level with the subjunctive. In my opinion, it shouldn't be skipped because it gives you a new dimension in your speaking: the dimension of colors.

You'll have to use the subjunctive when you want to express emotion, judgment, necessity, commands, doubt, and also following certain phrases such as jusquà ce que, afin que, and pour que.

Here is a very useful webpage, well structured to remember when we have to use the subjunctive.

How do you begin learning this tense?

I usually advise my students to take ten phrases they like on the above website and memorize them. We choose a topic and they have to use them as much as possible! Using the subjunctive has to become a habit so it's important to start by feeling comfortable with the sentences you choose. Later on, you will be able to learn others and include them in your vocabulary step by step.

Here are ten phrases that I would choose to memorize if I were a student because I tend to use them very often when I speak French.

  • il faut que
  • afin que
  • je suis content(e) que
  • j'aimerais que
  • je voudrais que
  • il se pourrait que
  • pour que
  • il est important que
  • je doute que
  • je ne suis pas sûr(e) que

The first group in the ER verbs is the same in present tense except for nous and vous. You will have to add an i for these two: que nous mangions, que vous mangiez.

The second group in the IR verbs will have ss + ending. For example, que je finisse, que tu finisses, qu'il finisse.

The RE and OIR verb groups are usually irregular and this will also be the case for the subjunctive.

So now it's time to enjoy the subjunctive and practice. Vive le subjonctif! :)

Image Sources

Hero image by Les Sachs (CC BY 2.0)