Mastering All the Uses of the Subjunctive in French

The subjunctive is a verbal mode that allows expressing an uncertain, virtual, desired, unbelievable or doubtful action. It is used in several cases in the French language.

Connected article: The logic behind the French Subjunctive

Subjunctive after expressions of obligation, requirement, and wish

The subjunctive is used after expressions of obligation, requirement, and wish such as: il faut que, vouloir que, aimer que, souhaiter que, avoir besoin que. To express a desire and impatience, we use the exclamatory form pourvu que followed by the subjunctive. We can also start the sentence directly with que to give a more imperative form.

Il faut que tu viennes à la soirée.
You must come to the party.

Je souhaite que tu réussisses ton examen.
I wish you to pass your exam.

Pourvu que nous ayons beau temps demain.
Hopefully we will have good weather tomorrow.

Subjunctive after objective

The subjunctive is used after “pour” when expressing an objective, meaning that something needs to happen for a particular result to be achieved.

Pour que le projet soit accepté, il faut que nous ayons toutes les informations.
For the project to be accepted, we need to have all the information.

Subjunctive for possibility

The subjunctive is used after pour and forms expressing possibility, because there is a chance that the statements may not come true.

Il est possible que nous soyons en retard à cause de la grève du métro.
It’s possible that we will be late because of the metro strike.

Subjunctive for impossibility or exploit

The subjunctive expresses impossibility (that cannot exist), exploit (that should not have existed), or miracle (that is exceptional).

Il est impossible que tu aies déjà fini ton travail.
It’s impossible that you have already finished your work.

C’est un exploit qu’elle ait gagné la compétition sans s’entraîner.
It’s an exploit that she won the competition without training.

Subjunctive with “avant que” and “jusqu’à ce que”

The subjunctive is used with the phrase “avant que” which talks about 1 before 2 happens, so 2 is not yet a reality for 1. The phrase “jusqu’à ce que”, which also refers to something that has not yet happened, is also followed by the subjunctive.

Je dois finir mon travail avant que mes amis arrivent.
I need to finish my work before my friends arrive.

Je resterai à la maison jusqu’à ce que la tempête passe.
I will stay at home until the storm passes.

Subjunctive to express doubt

The subjunctive is used to express doubt with the verb douter or the negative form of opinion verbs. However, we can use the indicative after negative opinion verbs to express an opinion rather than a doubt.

Je doute qu’il vienne ce soir.
I doubt he will come tonight.

Je ne pense pas qu’elle soit prête pour l’examen.
I don’t think she’s ready for the exam.

Subjunctive after feelings

The subjunctive is used after feelings such as: espérer, craindre, avoir peur, être heureux, être triste, être surpris.

J’espère que tu puisses venir à la fête.
I hope you can come to the party.

Je crains qu’il ne pleuve demain.
I’m afraid it will rain tomorrow.

Nous sommes heureux que vous soyez ici.
We’re happy that you’re here.

So there you have it – the many uses of the French subjunctive! It may seem tricky at first, but with practice and a good understanding of the rules, you’ll be able to use it like a pro. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the various expressions and situations where the subjunctive is appropriate – after all, that’s how you’ll improve your language skills! So go ahead and give it a try, and soon enough, you’ll be speaking like a true Parisian. If you want to improve your French, you can check out my books “French in Paris” which offer a wide range of activities to practice, including, of course, the subjunctive.