When to use the Subjunctive in French: the Ultimate Guide in 2021

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In this French grammar lesson you will learn about when to use the subjunctive in French.

In this lesson you will learn about:

  • what the subjunctive is
  • what the requirements are to using the subjunctive
  • when to use the subjunctive in French
  • how the subjunctive is used in sentences
  • how you can quiz yourself on when to use the subjunctive in French
  • how to practice with flashcards on when to use the subjunctive in French
  • how and why you should use the courses of Language Atlas to learn French

Please refer to the French B2 Curriculum to get a better overview of French grammar, if you are curious about how this fits in the overall structure of French B2.

Please also read how to form the subjunctive, to find out how you can form it.

By the end of the lesson you will know all about when to use the subjunctive in French!

Table of Contents

Introduction to when to use the Subjunctive in French

In this lesson you will learn when to use the subjunctive in French, but before we do that, you have to know what the subjunctive is.

The subjunctive is a mood, it is not a tense.

The mood of a verb controls how you see an action or event.

Up until now, you have studied verb tenses in the indicative mood (e.g. le présent, le passé composé, l’imparfait, and le futur simple). With these you talk about facts.

You have also studied the conditional mood (e.g. le conditionnel présent). With this you talk about posibilities.

In this lesson you will learn about the subjunctive mood.

In the following chapters you will learn more about when to use the subjunctive in French!

Requirements to use the Subjunctive

There are two requirements regarding when to use the subjunctive in French.

One of these two has to be met, to use the subjunctive.

  1. You need two subjects to use the subjunctive.

The first subject has a wish/desire, emotion, or doubt regarding the second subject.

  1. Certain impersonal expressions or conjunctions have to be present.

There are certain impersonal expressions and conjunctions that trigger the use of the subjunctive in French.

It’s best to study them, so that you know when to use the subjunctive in French.

Wishes and Desires

The subjunctive will be used after verbs that express a wish or a desire.

On the left you will see examples that are in the indicative mood.

On the right you will examples that are in the subjunctive mood.

Please note that the examples on the left have just 1 subject, whereas the examples on the right have 2 subjects.

Je veux manger un pamplemousse.

I want to eat a grapefruit.

Je veux que tu manges un pamplemousse.

I want you to eat a grapefruit.

Il veut acheter un gros chien.

He wants to buy a big dog.

Il veut que Tom achète un gros chien.

He wants Tom to buy a big dog.

Je veux vendre toutes mes chaussures.

I want to sell all my shoes.

Je veux qu‘elle vende toutes mes chaussures.

I want her to sell all my shoes.

Expressions that show Emotion

The subjunctive will be used after expressions that show emotion.

On the left you will see examples that are in the indicative mood.

On the right you will examples that are in the subjunctive mood.

Please note that the examples on the left have just 1 subject, whereas the examples on the right have 2 subjects.

Je suis très heureux d’être ici.

I am very happy to be here.

Je suis très heureux que tu sois ici.

I am very happy that you are here.

Je suis incroyablement déçu par cela.

I am incredibly disappointed by this.

Je suis incroyablement déçu qu’il soit absent.

I am incredibly dissapointed that he is absent.

Je suis un peu surpris d’entendre ça.

I am a bit suprised to hear this.

Je suis un peu surpris qu’il crie.

I am a bit surprised he’s shouting.

Expressions that show Doubt

The subjunctive will be used to show doubt.

On the left you will see examples that are in the indicative mood.

On the right you will examples that are in the subjunctive mood.

The examples on the left have 2 subjects, but there’s no doubt.

Because there’s no doubt, you will use the indicative mood.

The examples on the right have 2 subjects, and there is a doubt.

Because there are 2 subjects and a doubt, you will use the subjunctive mood.

Je suis sûr que Camille est coupable.

I am sure that Camille is guilty.

Je doute que Camille soit coupable.

I doubt that Camille is guilty.

Je suis convaincu qu’il est le gagnant.

I am convinced that he is the winner.

Je ne suis pas convaincu qu’il soit le gagnant.

I am not convinced that he is the winner.

When you use penser (to think) and croire (to believe), in the affirmative sentences, you will use the indicative mood.

However, when you use penser and croire in negations, you tend to use the subjunctive mood.

This is because in negations, these verbs will be used to show doubt.

Therefore the subjunctive will be used.

Je crois que sa décision est la bonne.

I think his decision is the right one.

Je ne crois pas que sa décision soit la bonne.

I don’t think his decision is the right one.

Je pense que ma vie est très intéressante.

I think my life is very interesting.

Je ne pense pas que ma vie soit très intéressante.

I don’t think my life is very interesting.

Please have a look at the following example.

Je ne pense pas qu’il a raison.

I don’t think he is right.

[100% sure]

Je ne pense pas qu’il ait raison.

I don’t think he is right.

[50% sure]

In the left sentence, you are 100% that he is not right.

There’s no doubt, therefore you will use the indicative mood.

In the right sentence, you are only 50% sure that he is not right.

There is some doubt, therefore you will use the subjunctive mood.

If you use the indicative mood, then you show that you are certain of someting.

If you use the subjunctive mood, then you show that you have some doubts.

Impersonal Expressions

il fautone must
il est bizarreit is odd
il est dommageit is a shame
il est essentielit is essential
il est étrangeit is strange
il est étonnantit is amazing
il est importantit is important
il est normalit is normal
Il est nécessaireit is neccessary
il est possibleit is possible
il est préférableit is preferable
il est surprenantit is surprising
il vaut mieuxit is better

There are some impersonal expressions that will trigger the use of the subjunctive.

These are also about wishes/desires, emotions, and doubts.

In the table above you can see the most important impersonal expressions.

Il faut que je maigrisse.

I need to lose weight.

Il est nécessaire que nous parlions.

We need to talk.

Il est essentiel que nous les retrouvions.

It is essential that we find them again.

Il est important que tu dises la vérité.

It’s important that you tell the truth.

Il est possible que Chloé soit un génie.

It’s possible that Chloe is a genius.

Conjunctions

afin quein order to / so that
pour quein order to / so that
bien quealthough
quoiquealthough
avant quebefore
à moins queunless
à condition queon the condition that
en attendant quewaiting for
de crainte quefor fear that
jusqu’à ce queuntil

There are certain conjunctions that will always trigger to use of the subjunctive.

You can see the most important ones in the table above.

Parle plus fort afin que tout le monde puisse t’entendre.

Speak up so that everyone can hear you.

Nous allons ranger notre chambre, pour que notre mère soit contente.

We are going to tidy up our room, so that our mother will be happy.

Bien que je connaisse le résultat, je veux quand même regarder le match.

Even though I know the outcome, I still want to watch the match.

Example Sentences on When to use the Subjunctive in French

The final section of this lesson on when to use the subjunctive in French is about seeing the subjunctive in action.

This is valuable because you can improve your understanding of when to use the subjunctive in French through examples.

Je veux manger un pamplemousse.

I want to eat a grapefruit.

Je veux que tu manges un pamplemousse.

I want you to eat a grapefruit.

Il veut acheter un gros chien.

He wants to buy a big dog.

Il veut que Tom achète un gros chien.

He wants Tom to buy a big dog.

Je veux vendre toutes mes chaussures.

I want to sell all my shoes.

Je veux qu‘elle vende toutes mes chaussures.

I want her to sell all my shoes.

Je suis très heureux d’être ici.

I am very happy to be here.

Je suis très heureux que tu sois ici.

I am very happy that you are here.

Je suis incroyablement déçu par cela.

I am incredibly disappointed by this.

Je suis incroyablement déçu qu’il soit absent.

I am incredibly dissapointed that he is absent.

Je suis un peu surpris d’entendre ça.

I am a bit suprised to hear this.

Je suis un peu surpris qu’il crie.

I am a bit surprised he’s shouting.

Je suis sûr que Camille est coupable.

I am sure that Camille is guilty.

Je doute que Camille soit coupable.

I doubt that Camille is guilty.

Je suis convaincu qu’il est le gagnant.

I am convinced that he is the winner.

Je ne suis pas convaincu qu’il soit le gagnant.

I am not convinced that he is the winner.

Je crois que sa décision est la bonne.

I think his decision is the right one.

Je ne crois pas que sa décision soit la bonne.

I don’t think his decision is the right one.

Je pense que ma vie est très intéressante.

I think my life is very interesting.

Je ne pense pas que ma vie soit très intéressante.

I don’t think my life is very interesting.

Je ne pense pas qu’il a raison.

I don’t think he is right.

[100% sure]

Je ne pense pas qu’il ait raison.

I don’t think he is right.

[50% sure]

Il faut que je maigrisse.

I need to lose weight.

Il est nécessaire que nous parlions.

We need to talk.

Il est essentiel que nous les retrouvions.

It is essential that we find them again.

Il est important que tu dises la vérité.

It’s important that you tell the truth.

Il est possible que Chloé soit un génie.

It’s possible that Chloe is a genius.

Parle plus fort afin que tout le monde puisse t’entendre.

Speak up so that everyone can hear you.

Nous allons ranger notre chambre, pour que notre mère soit contente.

We are going to tidy up our room, so that our mother will be happy.

Bien que je connaisse le résultat, je veux quand même regarder le match.

Even though I know the outcome, I still want to watch the match.

Quiz Yourself on When to use the Subjunctive in French

At the end of every lesson you can do a small quiz.

You will see the sentences of the previous chapter.

You will either need to fill in the blanks, choose the correct multiple choice option, or both.

Once you are done the correct answer will be shown.

You can redo the quiz as many times as you want!

How to Practice With Flashcards for This Lesson

Using flashcards is an absolute necessity when it comes to learning a language!

It is the best way to memorize what you learn, you can personalize your progression because it adapts to your actions, and all flashcards have audio to improve your hearing and pronunciation.

Please read our article on how to learn a new language for more information.

There are two ways to practice with Flashcards for this lesson.

  1. Anki
  2. The Flashcards in our Courses

After you have downloaded Anki for free, you can get our French B2 Anki Deck.

This Anki Deck contains 1,964 flashcards with which you can practice absolutely everything for French B2!

All the flashcards have text, images, explanations, and audio.

You can also use our courses that have flashcards integrated alongside lessons with audio, quizzes and much more!

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The Courses of Language Atlas

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