The present subjunctive and the past subjunctive

The present subjunctive

The subjunctive is a mood, not a tense. The mood of a verb determines how one views an event. You have already studied verb tenses in the indicative mood (le présent, l’imparfait, and le futur), stating objective facts, and in the conditional mood, relating to possibilities. In Chapter 19 we will study the imperative mood that gives commands. The subjunctive is another mood that refers to someone’s opinion or deals with hypothetical actions.

For most verbs, the present of the subjunctive is formed by adding the subjunctive endings (-e, -es, -e, -ions, -iez, -ent) to the stem.The stem for je, tu, il/ elle, ils/elles is found by dropping the -ent ending from the third-person plural present indicative form (ils/elles). Note that the sound of the verb will be the same for all these persons.

Let’s look at the verb penser (to think). The third-person plural:

ils/elles pensent. The stem: pens-

je pense -  I speak

tu penses -  you speak

il/elle pense -  he/she speaks

ils/elles pensent -  they speak

The stem for the nous and vous subjunctive forms is found by dropping the -ons from the first-person plural of the present indicative. For nous and vous, the present subjunctive is identical to the forms of the imparfait. The first-person plural:

nous pensons. The stem: pens-

nous pensions -  we speak

vous pensiez -  you speak

Let’s conjugate the verb dire (to say) in the present subjunctive:

je dise -  I say

tu dises  - you say

il/elle dise -  he/she says

nous disions -  we say

vous disiez -  you say

ils/elles dissent -  they say

And mettre (to put):

je mette -  I put

tu mettes -  you put

il/elle mette -  he/she puts

nous mettions  - we put

vous mettiez -  you put

ils/elles mettent -  they put

Some verbs have irregular forms in the present subjunctive.

Être (to be) and avoir (to have) have both irregular stems and endings.

je sois -  I am
tu sois -  you are
il/elle soit  - he/she is
nous soyons -  we are
vous soyez -  you are
ils/elles soient  - they are

j’aie -  I have
tu aies -  you have
il/elle ait -  he/she has
nous ayons -  we have
vous ayez -  you have
ils/elles aient -  they have

The following three verbs have an irregular subjunctive stem but regular endings.
pouvoir can, to be able to
je puisse -  I can
tu puisses -  you can
il/elle puisse -  he/she can
nous puissions -  we can
vous puissiez -  you can
ils/elles puissant -  they can
savoir  - to know
je sache -  I know
tu saches -  you know
il/elle sache -  he/she knows
nous sachions -  we know
vous sachiez -  you know
ils/elles sachent -  they know

faire - to do, to make
je fasse -  I do
tu fasses -  you do
il/elle fasse -  he/she does
nous fassions  - we do
vous fassiez -  you do
ils/elles fassent -  they do

Aller (to go) and vouloir (to want) have an irregular stem in the je, tu, il/elle, ils/elles forms and are partially irregular in the nous and vous forms.
Aller -  to go
j’aille -  I go
tu ailles  - you go
il/elle aille -  he/she goes
nous allions  - we go
vous allies -  you go
ils/elles aillent  - they go
vouloir to want
je veuille -  I want
tu veuilles -  you want
il/elle veuille -  he/she wants
nous voulions -  we want
vous vouliez -  you want
ils/elles veuillent -  they want

Uses of the subjunctive
There are three main concepts that require the use of the subjunctive: wish, emotion, and doubt.The subjunctive is used after verbs expressing the notion of wish and desire. It is used when the subject of the main clause is different from the subject of the dependent clause. Compare:
Je veux acheter cet ordinateur.
I want to buy this computer.
Je veux que tu achètes cet ordinateur.
I want you to buy this computer.
Vous désirez suivre un cours d’informatique.
You want to take a computer science class.
Vous désirez que nous suivions un cours d’informatique.
You want us to take a computer science course.
Elle souhaite que tu ailles en France.
She wishes you would go to France.
J’exige que vous arriviez à l’heure.
I demand that you arrive on time.
Il demande que nous soyons plus efficaces.
He is asking us to be more efficient.

The subjunctive is used after expressions of emotion.
Je regrette qu’il ne puisse pas être ici.
I am sorry he can’t be here.
Nous sommes ravis que tu prennes tes vacances ici.
We are delighted you are vacationing here.
Ils sont déçus que le cours soit annulé.
They are disappointed that the class is canceled.
Je suis content que tu viennes dimanche.
I am happy you are coming on Sunday.
The subjunctive is also used after expressions of doubt.
Je ne suis pas convaincu qu’il ait raison.
I am not convinced he is right.
Je doute qu’il comprenne vos questions.
I doubt he understands your questions.
Elle ne croit pas que vous trouviez leur projet intéressant.
She does not think you find their project interesting.
Je ne pense pas qu’il sache ce qu’il fait.
I doubt he knows what he is doing.
The verbs penser (to think) and croire (to believe) in the affirmative are followed by the indicative mood. However, in the negative and interrogative, the subjunctive can be used to underline the uncertainty of the event.
Je ne crois pas que Daniel est coupable.
I don’t think Daniel is guilty.
Je ne crois pas que Daniel soit coupable.
I don’t think Daniel is guilty.
The first sentence above means “I am actually sure Daniel is innocent.” In the second example, there is some doubt about his guilt (or innocence). The difference will be detected in contextand with the intonation of the voice or through gestures.The subjunctive is also used after certain impersonal expressions, in the same way that some verbs are followed by the indicative and others by the subjunctive. In most cases, the impersonalexpressions followed by the subjunctive express will, obligation, necessity, emotion, and doubt.Here are some impersonal expressions that are followed by theindicative:
il est certain
it is certain
il est sûr
it is sure
il est évident
it is obvious
il est vrai
it is true
il est probable
it is probable
il me semble
it seems to me
And here are some impersonal expressions that are followed by the subjunctive:
il faut -  one must
il est possible -  it is possible
il est essentiel -  it is essential
il est indispensable -  it is essential
il est juste -  it is fair
il se peut -  it may be
il est important -  it is important
il vaut mieux -  it is better
il est préférable -  it is preferable
il est souhaitable -  it is desirable
il est naturel -  it is natural
il est normal - it is normal
il est rare -  it is rare
il est utile -  it is useful
il est étrange  - it is strange
il est bizarre -  it is odd
il est étonnant -  it is amazing
il est surprenant -  it is surprising
il est triste  - it is sad
il est dommage -  it is a shame
il est regrettable -  it is unfortunate
cela ne vaut pas la peine  - it is not worth it
Let’s compare the use of the indicative and the subjunctive with some impersonal expressions:
Il est certain qu’il viendra ce soir.
It is certain he’ll come tonight.
Il est possible qu’il vienne ce soir. It is possible he’ll come tonight.
Look at these example sentences with impersonal expressions.
Il faut que vous commenciez vos recherches dès que possible.
You have to begin your research as soon as possible.
Il est étonnant que vous demandiez un salaire si élevé.
It is surprising that you’re asking for such a high salary.
Il est rare qu’ils finissent leurs rapports à temps.
It is rare for them to finish their reports on time.
Il est regrettable que ce logiciel coûte si cher.
It is unfortunate this software is so expensive.
Il se peut que cette imprimante soit incompatible.
It is possible this printer is not compatible.
Il est triste que vous démissionnez cette semaine.
It is sad you are resigning this week.
Il faut que vous refassiez la page d’accueil de votre site.
You must redo the home page of your website.
Il est étrange qu’il télécharge tous vos documents.
It is strange that he downloads all your documents.
Il est possible que leurs dossiers soient numériques.

Their files may be digital. When you use conjunctions, you will also have to decide whether to use the indicative or the subjunctive in the following clause.
Afin que  - so that, in order to
pour que -  so that, in order tode
peur que  - for fear thatde
crainte que -  for fear that
avant que  - before
jusqu’à ce que  - until
bien que  - although
quoique -  although
sans que -  without
àmoins que -  unless
pourvu que -  provided that
à condition que -  on the condition that
en attendant que -  waitingfor
Nous partirons demain à moins quil y ait une grève.
We’ll leave tomorrow unless there is a strike.
Il viendra avec nous à condition que son patron lui donne un jour de boss congé.
He’ll come with us on the condition that his gives him a day off .
Tout sera fini avant quils arrivent.
Everything will be done before they arrive.
Je sauvegarde toutes ses données de peur quil les perde.
I save all his data for fear he loses (he’ll lose) it.
Ils ont pris la décision sans quelle le sache.
They made the decision without her knowing it.
Il est tolérant pourvu quon respecte ses idées.
He is tolerant provided one respects his ideas.
Quoiqu’il fasse froid, ils se promènent dans la forêt.
Although it is cold, they take a walk in the forest. Refer to Chapter 9 for the list of conjunctions that are followed by the indicative mood.

Pourvu que

Pourvu que has the sense of provided that.

Il ne démissionnera pas pourvu que le directeur lui donne une augmentation de salaire.

He won’t resign provided the director gives him a raise.

When used in a single clause, pourvu que takes a different meaning.

It is a handy expression, also followed by the subjunctive, that expresses hopes and desires. Pourvu qu’il y ait un cybercafé!

Let’s hope there is a cybercafé!

Pourvu qu’ils aient l’adresse!

Let’s hope they have the address!

Pourvu qu’il réussisse!

Let’s hope he succeeds!

Pourvu que leur base de données soit à jour!

Let’s hope their database is up to date!

The subjunctive is also used after a superlative or an adjective conveying a superlative idea, such as:

premier (first), dernier (last), seul (only), unique (unique), etc.

C’est le meilleur ordinateur que je connaisse.

It’s the best computer I know.

C’est le seul logiciel qui puisse vous être utile.

It’s the only software that can be of use to you.

C’est la pire chose qui puisse lui arriver.

It’s the worst thing that could happen to him.

C’est la personne la plus sympathique qu’il connaisse.

He’s/She’s the friendliest person he knows.

The relative pronouns qui and que can sometimes be followed by the subjunctive.

If there is some doubt about the existence of someone or the possible realization of something, the subjunctivemay be used after the relative pronoun.

Connaîtriez-vous quelqu’un qui sache parler le chinois couramment?

Would you know someone who can speak Chinese fluently?

Il cherche quelqu’un qui puisse créer un logiciel pour son entreprise.

He is looking for someone who can create a piece of software for his company.

The past subjunctive

The past subjunctive is used in the same way as the present subjunctive. In such sentences, the action of the dependent clause is anterior to the action of the main clause. To form the past subjunctive, use the present subjunctive of avoir or être + the past participle of the verb.

Penser -  to think

j’aie pensé  - I have thought

tu aies pensé  - you have thought

il/elle ait pensé -  he/she has thought

nous ayons pensé  - we have thought

vous ayez pensé  - you have thought

ils/elles aient pensé  - they have thought

venir -  to come

je sois venu(e) -  I have come

tu sois venu(e) -  you have come

il/elle soit venu(e) -  he/she has come

nous soyons venu(e)s -  we have come

vous soyez venu(e)(s) -  you have come

ils/elles soient venu(e)s -  they have come

Je suis désolé que tu n’aies pas pu travailler avec nous.

I am sorry you were not able to work with us.

Nous sommes ravis qu’elle ait gagné la médaille d’or.

We are delighted she won the gold medal.