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How can I tell when I need to use the subjunctive?

In your written exam, you may need to conjugate verbs correctly but without being told which tense they should be, or whether or not they should be in the subjunctive.

Instead of trying to memorise the hundreds of different expressions that require the subjunctive in French, the good news is you can actually make an educated guess to tell if the subjunctive is needed!

It all depends on the mood behind the phrase (because of course the subjunctive is know as a mood rather than as a tense). The subjunctive is generally used to express a lack of certainty, a probability, or an emotion or feeling.

To demonstrate this I will now give you some examples of common subjunctive phrases that express:

Lack of certainty 

il est possible que - it is possible that…

douter que - to doubt that…

ne pas être sur que - to be unsure…

il n’est pas probable que - it is improbable that…

An aim or wish

afin que - in order to…

pour que - in order to…

vouloir que - to want…

préférer que - to prefer…

souhaiter que - to wish that…

Condition

pourvu que - provided that…

à condition que - on the condition that…

jusqu’à ce que - until that…

c’est nécessaire que - it is necessary that…

There are some exceptions, because as you probably know by now, French can be very complicated and sometimes it doesn’t make sense!

For example there are a number of phrases that are not subjunctive, such as ‘je pense que…’, BUT then as soon as you put it in the negative, you get: ‘je ne pense pas que…’ which IS a subjunctive phrase! 

If you want to learn why, and to understand these rules completely, book a session and I’ll be happy to help! 

Katherine M. A Level French tutor, GCSE French tutor, A Level Italian...

6 months ago

Answered by Katherine, an A Level French tutor with MyTutor


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