Lesson: Understanding the Subjunctive Mood in French


The subjunctive mood in French, known as “le subjonctif,” plays a crucial role in expressing uncertainty, emotion, desire, and possibility. This lesson will guide English-speaking learners through the subjunctive’s usage, highlighting its importance in various contexts.

A. Usage of the Subjunctive

The subjunctive is often used in a subordinate clause when the main clause’s verb conveys subjectivity, such as wish, desire, fear, regret, will, doubt, or uncertainty.


  • I wish for you to come. → Je désire que tu viennes.
  • I fear he might not understand. → Je crains qu’il ne comprenne pas.
  • I doubt that’s possible. → Je doute que ce soit possible.
  • I regret she can’t come. → Je regrette qu’elle ne puisse pas venir.
  • I’m afraid they’ll be late. → J’ai peur qu’ils soient en retard.

B. Subjunctive in Impersonal Constructions

The subjunctive is used in impersonal expressions:

  • it’s necessary that.il faut que
  • it’s possible that  → il est possible que
  • it’s impossible that → il est impossible que
  • it’s better that  il vaut mieux que
  • it’s a shame thatil est dommage que
  • it’s urgent thatil est urgent que

C. Subjunctive Following Certain Negations

The subjunctive follows expressions of negation or doubt about the action happening.

  • I don’t think you can do it.→ Je ne pense pas que vous puissiez le faire.
  • She doesn’t believe you have a chance.→ Elle ne croit pas que vous ayez des chances.

D. Subjunctive in Questions with Subject Inversion

The subjunctive appears in questions, especially when the subject is inverted, indicating uncertainty or doubt.

  • Do you think they understand? → Pensez-vous qu’ils comprennent ?
  • Do you believe they have any chance of succeeding? →Croyez-vous qu’elles aient une seule chance de réussir ?

E. Subjunctive and Reality

The indicative mood indicates certain reality, while the subjunctive suggests an uncertain or desired reality.

  • Je cherche un professeur qui est capable de m’expliquer le subjonctif. I’m looking for a teacher who is capable of explaining the subjunctive. I know this teacher exists.
  • Je cherche un professeur qui soit capable de m’expliquer le subjonctif. I’m looking for a teacher who might be capable of explaining the subjunctive. I doubt this teacher exists.

F. Subjunctive After Certain Conjunctions

The subjunctive is required after certain conjunctions expressing fear, purpose, or condition.

  • for fear that →de peur que
  • until → jusqu’à ce que
  • unless→ à moins que

By understanding and practicing the subjunctive mood, you’ll enhance your ability to express a wide range of sentiments and conditions in French, moving closer to fluency and precision in your communication.

Keywords : Subjunctive Mood in French