Le Subjonctif

February 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

The subjunctive is the scariest thing in the French language. It’s got all kinds of rules about when to use it, and it’s got weird conjugations.
Here are the basics.
1. There are always 2 phrases.
2. Phrase #1 and phrase #2 always have different subjects.
3. Usually the outcome, desired effect of phrase #1 is that phrase #2 happen.
4. The word order in French to express this is completely different than the word order in English.

Examples

a. I want you to do the dishes. (English) translates to I want that you do the dishes (French structure)
b. The judge ordered the prisoner to go to prison. (English) translates to The judge ordered that the prisoner go to prison. (French structure)

In both examples, the subject of phrase #1 is wanting that the subject of phrase #2 do something.
In both examples, it is not certain that the action in phrase #2 is actually happening, hence the use of the subjunctive phrase. The dishes aren’t actually getting done, I’m just wanting that they get done. The prisoner isn’t actually going to jail, the judge is just ordering that he go to jail.

There are 10 basic cues or categories that happen in phrase #1 that tell us to use the subjunctive in phrase #2. If you can remember the meaning or intention behind these categories, it’s a ton easier than remembering each specific word or phrase cue.

To form the subjunctive can be a bit tricky (eye roll here)

1.  For regular verbs
a. take the ils form of the verb
b. drop the ‘ent’ – this will give you your subjunctive root
c. add the subjunctive endings

Je – e Nous – ions
Tu – es Vous – iez
Il – e Ils – ent
je finisse nous finissions
tu finisses vous finissiez
il finisse ils finissent

 

je vende nous vendions
tu vendes vous vendiez
il vende ils vendent

2.  For irregular verbs a.  For the je, tu, il, and ils forms of the verb * take the ils form of the verb * drop the ‘ent’ and add the subjunctive endings b. For the nous and vous forms of the verb you just take the plain old imparfait conjugations.

Here’s an irregular verb

je boive nous buvions
tu boives vous buviez
il boive ils boivent

*avoir, être, faire, pouvoir, savoir, vouloir, and aller are way irregular*
avoir

j’aie nous ayons
tu aies vous ayez
il ait ils aient

faire
 

je fasse nous  fassions
tu fasses vous fassiez
il fasse ils fassent

pouvoir
 

je puisse nous puissions
tu puisses vous puissiez
il puisse ils puissent

être
 

je sois nous soyons
tu sois vous soyez
il soit ils soient

savoir
 

je sache nous sachions
tu saches vous sachiez
il sache ils sachent

vouloir
 

je veuille nous voulions
tu veuilles vous vouliez
il veuille ils veuillent

aller
 

j’aille nous allions
tu ailles vous alliez
il aille ils aillent

 

“Les Subjonctifs sont les ennemis de l’ordre, des individus de la pire espèce” Orsenna

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