French Grammar: Subjunctive – Doubt, Disbelief, or Possibility

French Grammar: Subjunctive - Doubt, Disbelief, or Possibility

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French Grammar: Subjunctive – Doubt, Disbelief, or Possibility
la grammaire française: le subjonctif – l’incertitude ou le déni

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The subjunctive is used when we are uncertain whether or not an action will take place. If we know that the action is or will be a reality, the indicative is used. The subjunctive is used to express doubt, how a person feels about an action or state of being, a wish, intent or command. It can also be used to express facts that are the opposite of reality.

The subjunctive is used with the following verbs and expressions because they convey doubt, disbelief, or uncertainty:

avoir des doutes que … : to have doubts that … / to have doubts whether …

douter que … : to doubt that … / to doubt whether …

ne pas être certain(e) que … : to not be certain that … / to not be certain whether …

ne pas être sûr(e) que … : to not be sure that … / to not be sure whether …

nier que … : to deny that … / to deny whether …

il est douteux que … / c’est douteux que …: it is doubtful that … / it is doubtful whether …

il est exclu que … / c’est exclu que … : it is out of the question that …

Possibility is closely related to doubt and uncertainty, since it conveys that an action may or may not occur. The subjunctive is also used with the following verbs and expressions because they convey possibility:

il est impossible que … / c’est impossible que … : it is impossible that …

il est possible que … / c’est possible que … : it is possible that …

il existe la possibilité que … : there exists the possibility that …

il se peut que … : it is possible that …

Note that il est/c’est possible que and il se peut que both convey in French what the words “may” or “might” convey in English.

Examples:

Il est possible qu’il ait la grippe. / C’est possible qu’il ait la grippe.
(It is possible that) He may have the flu.

Il se peut que vous n’en sachiez pas.
(It is possible that) You all might not know about it.

The following negative verbs and expressions are followed by the subjunctive because they convey doubt or uncertainty. However, when these same verbs and expressions are used affirmatively, they are followed by the indicative. That’s because using them affirmatively conveys clarity or certainty.

ça ne veut pas dire que … : it doesn’t mean that …

ce n’est pas que … : it’s not that …

je ne dis pas que … : I am not saying that … / I am not saying whether …

je ne suis pas sûr(e) que … : I am not sure that … / I am not sure whether …

il n’est pas certain que … / ce n’est pas certain que … : it is not certain that … / it is not certain whether …

il n’est pas clair que … / ce n’est pas clair que … : it is not clear that … / it is not clear whether …

il n’est pas évident que … / ce n’est pas évident que … : it is not evident that … / it is not sure whether …

il n’est pas exact que … / ce n’est pas exact que … : it is not correct that … / it is not accurate that …

il ne paraît pas que … : it doesn’t seem that …

il est peu probable que … / c’est peu probable que …: it is not probable that …

il n’est pas sûr que … / ce n’est pas sûr que …: it is not sure that … / it is not sure whether …

il n’est pas vrai que … / ce n’est pas vrai que … : it is not true that … / it is not true whether ….

Examples:

Il n’est pas certain qu’il vienne.
It is not certain that he will come.

BUT:

Il est certain qu’il vient.
It is certain that he will come.

Likewise, the verbs croire, espérer, and penser are followed by the subjunctive when used in the negative or the interrogative (because in this usage, they imply doubt or uncertainty). However, croire, espérer, and penser are followed by the indicative when used in the affirmative (because in this usage, they imply certainty).

Examples:

Nous ne pensons pas qu’elle nous comprenne.
We do not think that she understands us.

Tu penses qu’elle nous comprenne?
Do you (informal) think that she understands us?

Oui, je pense qu’elle vous comprend.
Yes, I think that she understands you all.

However, the indicative (instead of the subjunctive) can be used after croire or penser in the negative or interrogative to express the speaker’s certainty about the action.

Nous ne pensons pas qu’elle nous comprend.
We do not think that she understands us. (That is, we think she is misunderstanding us.)

BUT:

Nous ne pensons pas qu’elle nous comprenne.
We do not think that she understands us. (But we’re not sure about this.)

Adapt: 

Je doute que nous allions au centre-ville aujourd’hui.
I doubt that we (will) go downtown today.

Il est exclu que vous sortiez ce soir.
It is out of the question that you all (will) go out this evening.

Il est douteux que je puisse vous accompagner ce soir.
It is doubtful that I will be able to accompany you all this evening.

Il n’est pas clair que vous nous resquilliez.
It is not clear that you cut in line in front of us.

Il ne paraît pas qu’ils soient ici.
It does not seem that they (masculine) are here.

Je ne suis pas sûre qu’elle me croie.
I am not sure that she believes me.

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