Doubts and Desires: French Present Subjunctive

women dreaming in car

What’s your mood?

The subjunctive is a “mood” (or “mode”) in the grammatical world, which is similar to a tense, but rather than expressing when something happened, it expresses the speaker’s attitude toward the subject. A few other grammatical moods are indicative (used for declarative sentences), conditional (expressing possibility or doubt), and imperative (expressing a suggestion or command).

These moods combine with tense to pack a whole lot of information into one verb: both when something occurred and an underlying, subjective mood that the speaker wants to express. The “subjective” mood or attitude toward the topic could be one of desire, an opinion, or feeling. Notice that these subjunctive sentences always have two verbs (in bold). Check out a few examples:

J’espère que nous allions au cinéma ensemble. (I hope that we can go to the movies together.)

J’aimerais que tu m’apportes un verre d’eau. (I’d like you to bring me a glass of water.)

Je suis content que vous ayez aimé ma performance. (I’m glad you liked my performance.)

Il est dommage que ce ne soit pas la bonne taille. (It’s a shame it’s not the right size.)

Il faut que tu étudies beaucoup pour réussir l’examen. (It’s necessary that / You must study a lot to pass the exam.)

This isn’t to say that choosing when to use the subjunctive is subjective or that it’s used as an additional voluntary feature; in French there are certain situations and verbs which always require the subjunctive. In this guide, find out both how to form a few of the most common subjunctive tenses and when to use it!

Where to start:

women dreaming in car

When to Use the Subjunctive

Syntactic Environments

Syntax deals with the structure of a sentence. For the majority of cases, the dead giveaways of subjunctive case are:

A. a dependent clause using qui or que B. two different subjects in the main and dependent clauses

Je doute qu‘il vienne. (I doubt that he is coming.)

A. Dependent clause: When combined with il, que becomes qu’il. The que functions in the same way as “that” in English in this sentence. B. Two different subjects: The subject of the main clause is je (I), the subject of the dependent clause (underlined) is il (he). The verb of the main clause (douter) is in the present indicative. The verb of the dependent clause (venir) is in the present subjunctive.

Elle cherche un homme qui aime le monopoly. (She is looking for a man who loves monopoly.)

A. Dependent clause: This dependent clause starts with “who” or qui. B. Two different subjects: The subject of the main clause is elle (she); the subject of the dependent clause (underlined) is an unknown person, represented by qui. Since she’s just looking for one person, the verb is conjugated in the il/elle form aime. Though searching for someone may not seem like a subjective attitude, the syntactic environment of a dependent clause and two subjects makes this sentence require the subjunctive. You could also think about the fact that the sentence expresses a possibility (and there is inherent uncertainty) about whether she’ll find this fellow monopoly-lover.

Je veux qu‘il vienne à la fête. (I want him to come to the party.)

A. Dependent clause: Note that in English the que/qui (that) is not necessary with “want,” but you can see how the translation implies an unspoken “that,” as in “I want/would like that he come to the party.”

Il est important / Il faut que que vous conduisiez avec précaution. (It is important / It is necessary that you drive carefully.)

B. Two different subjects: The subject of the main clause is “it,” which is sometimes called a “dummy subject” because it serves as a subject without having any real meaning. Many subjunctive sentences use this dummy subject. The usage of the English dummy subjects “it is” and “there is/are” is very similar to the French il, il y a, and c’est.

Il pleut. (It’s raining.)

C’est facile à faire. (It’s easy to do.)

Il y a deux biscuits dans l’assiette. (There are two cookies on the plate.)

This doesn’t mean that you always use subjunctive after que or qui. Keep your eye out for the “moody” subjective meaning of the sentence (more examples below), and combine that with the syntactic triggers (A and B above) to decide when to use subjunctive. Here are a few examples of sentences with the correct syntactic triggers, but that don’t use the subjunctive because they are not “subjective” enough; namely, they are expressing too certain of a fact.

Je vois qu‘il a mangé tous les cookies. (I see that he ate all of the cookies.)

J’ai entendu que le train arrive en retard. (I heard that the train is arriving late.)

Semantic Environments

Coupled with your expertise on syntactic situations involving the subjunctive, you can use these meaning-based (semantic) triggers to know when to use the subjunctive. Subjunctive is commonly used with the following verbs expressing desires, hopes, judgments, opinions, uncertainty, and surprise.


adorer queto love that
aimer queto like that
apprécier queto appreciate that
avoir honte queto be ashamed that
avoir peur que*to be afraid that
craindre que*to fear that
déplorer queto deplore that
détester queto hate that
être content queto be happy that
être désolé queto be sorry that
être étonné queto be amazed that
être heureux queto be happy that
être surpris queto be surprised that
être triste queto be sad that
il est bizarre queit is odd that
il est bon queit is good that
il est dommage queit is too bad that
il est étonnant queit is amazing that
il est étrange queit is strange that
il est heureux queit is fortunate that
il est honteux queit is shameful that
il est inutile queit is useless that
il est rare queit is rare that
il est regrettable queit is regrettable that
il est surprenant queit is surprising that
il est utile queit is useful that
redouter que*to dread that
regretter queto regret that
se réjouir queto be delighted that

*These verbs are used with the ne explétif


accepter queto accept
s’attendre à ce queto expect
chercher … quito look for (this implies doubt, as you’re not sure whether you’ll find the person you’re looking for)
détester queto hate
douter queto doubt that
il est convenable queit is proper/fitting that
il est douteux queit is doubtful that
il est faux queit is false that
il est impossible queit is impossible that
il est improbable queit is improbable that
il est juste queit is right/fair that
il est possible queit is possible that
il est peu probable queit is improbable that
il n’est pas certain queit is not certain that
il n’est pas clair queit is not clear that
il n’est pas évident queit is not obvious that
il n’est pas exact queit is not correct that
il n’est pas probable queit is improbable that
il n’est pas sûr queit is not certain that
il n’est pas vrai queit is not true that
il semble queit seems that
il se peut queit may be that
le fait quethe fact that
nier que*to deny that
refuser queto refuse
supposer queto suppose, hypothesize

*This verb is used with the ne explétif when it is negative

Advice/Orders/Statements of importance:

aimer mieux queto like better / to prefer that
commander queto order that
demander queto ask (someone to do something)
désirer queto desire that
donner l’ordre queto order that
empêcher que*to prevent (someone from doing something)
éviter que*to avoid
exiger queto demand that
il est à souhaiter queit is to be hoped that
il est essentiel queit is essential that
il est important queit is important that
il est naturel queit is natural that
il est nécessaire queit is necessary that
il est normal queit is normal that
il est temps queit is time that
il est urgent queit is urgent that
il faut queit is necessary that
il vaut mieux queit is better that
interdire queto forbid that
s’opposer à ce queto oppose that
ordonner queto order that
permettre queto permit that
préférer queto prefer that
proposer queto propose that
recommander queto recommend
souhaiter queto wish that
suggérer queto suggest that
tenir à ce queto insist that
vouloir queto want that

*These verbs are used with the ne explétif

positive vibes only

Positive Vibes Only

The following verbs express doubt in the affirmative, but when combined with a negation (ne…pas) their meaning is the opposite, meaning that there is no longer the implication of possibility. When used in the negative, these verbs do not use the subjunctive.

ne douter queto not doubt that
il n’est douteux queit isn’t doubtful that

Negative Vibes Only

Certain phrases express a certain fact when used in the affirmative but express a possibility when used in a negative sense. This means that when using the following phrases in a negative or contradictory way, often when asking a question to check the speaker’s understanding, the subjunctive is required.

Note that these verbs are left in infinitive in this list, though you would need to conjugate the first verb in the relevant tense (you would never use ne être… without combining a verb which starts with a vowel with the previous consonant (n’être)).

ce n’est pas queit’s not that/because
ne connaître (personne) quidon’t know (someone) that
ne croire pas queto not believe that
ne dire pas queto not say that
n’espérer pas queto not hope that
n’être pas certain queto be uncertain that
n’être pas sûr queto be sure that
il n’est pas certain queit isn’t certain that
il n’est pas clair queit isn’t clear/obvious that
il n’est pas évident queit isn’t obvious that
il n’est pas probable queit isn’t probable that
il n’est pas exact queit isn’t correct/true that
il n’est pas sûr queit isn’t certain that
il n’est pas vrai queit isn’t true that
il ne me (te, lui…) semble pas queit doesn’t seem to me (you, him…) that
il ne paraît pas queit doesn’t appear that
ne pas penser queto not think that
ne pas savoir pas queto not know that
ne pas trouver queto not find/think that
ne pas vouloir dire queto not mean (to say) that

How to Form the Subjunctive

Subjunctive Present

The situations in which the subjunctive is appropriate will probably take some time and lots of exposure to French to master. But luckily, the conjugation for subjunctive verbs is fairly easy! Plus, there’s no future subjunctive tense; the present tense can be used to talk about future topics.

  1. Start with the ils (third person plural) present tense indicative
  2. Remove the -ent ending
  3. Add the subjunctive present ending
SubjectSubjunctive Present Ending
il, elle, on-e
ils, elles-ent
InfinitiveChoisir (to choose)
1. Start with the present ind. ilschoisissent
2. Remove the -ent ending (stem)choisiss-
3. Add subjunctive present endingque je choisisse, que tu choisisses…
Example sentenceJe doute qu’il choisisse correctement. (I doubt that he’ll choose correctly.)

Irregular subjunctive verbs often follow this pattern as well, especially stem-changing verbs, which use their new stem (already implied by step 2) to form the subjunctive.

InfinitiveVenir (to come)
1. Start with the present ind. ilsviennent
2. Remove the -ent ending (stem)vienn-
3. Add subjunctive present endingque je vienne, que tu viennes, qu’il vienne
Example sentenceJe doute qu’il vienne à l’heure. (I doubt that he’ll come on time)

Common Irregular Subjunctives

Avoir (to have) and être (to be) are two of the most common verbs, not only for their basic (lexical) meanings as verbs, but also as auxiliary or helping verbs which combine with main verbs to form different types of tenses (such as the subjunctive past below).

avoir (to have)

j’aienous ayons
tu aiesvous ayez
il, elle, on aitils, elles aient

être (to be)

je soisnous soyons
tu soisvous soyez
il, elle, on soitils, elles soient

Subjunctive Past

Within the same category of subjunctive mood, we have both present and past tense. The subjunctive past is used in the same types of sentences as the subjunctive present. The only difference is that the dependent clause took place in the past. Keep in mind that the main clause could still be occurring in the present tense.

Il ne me semble pas qu’ils aient nettoyé la maison. (It doesn’t seem [present] to me that they cleaned [past] the house.)

Just like the passé composé, to form the subjunctive past, use the appropriate auxiliary verb in subjunctive present plus the past participle. If you’re not sure what that means, check out this French verbs guide to find out how auxiliary verbs are paired with main verbs.

J’apprécie que tu sois revenu me voir. (I appreciate that you came back to see me.)

Ready to get moody and let everyone know your hopes, dreams, and desires? Il faut que tu sign up for Lingvist’s online French course to practice using the subjunctive mood today!

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