French Grammar: The Subjunctive – Volition and Necessity

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Creative Commons Image via The LEAF Project

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French Grammar: The Subjunctive – Volition and Necessity
la grammaire française: le subjonctif – la volonté et la nécessité

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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 verbs and expressions that convey imposition of will – that is, the idea of influencing someone to carry out or to avoid carrying out an action.  Imposition of will includes needing, ordering, requiring, suggesting, urgency, and wanting/wishing, as well as avoiding and preventing.

The verbs below are used in this way, and are therefore followed by the subjunctive:

aimer que … : to like that … (someone/something do/not do something)

aimer mieux que … : to prefer that … (someone/something do/not do something)

attendre que … : to wait for … (someone/something to do something)

s’attendre à ce que … : to expect that … (someone/something do/not do something)

avoir besoin que … : to need that … (someone/something do/not do something)

commander que … : to order that … (someone/something do/not do something)

consentir à ce que … : to agree that … (someone/something do/not do something)

défendre que … : to forbid that … (someone/something do something)

demander que … : to ask that … (someone/something do/not do something)

désirer que … : to wish/want that … (someone/something do/not do something)

empêcher que … : to prevent … (someone/something from doing something)

éviter que … : to avoid … (having someone/something do something)

exiger que … : to demand/require that … (someone/something do/not do something)

insister pour que … : to insist on … (someone/something doing/not doing something)

interdire que … : to forbid that … (someone/something do something)

ordonner que … : to order … (someone/something to do/not do something)

permettre que … : to allow/permit that … (someone/something do/not do something)

préférer que … : to prefer that … (someone/something do/not do something)

proposer que … : to propose/suggest that … (someone/something do/not do something)

recommander que … : to recommend that … (someone/something do/not do something)

souhaiter que … : to wish/want that … (someone/something do/not do something)

suggérer que … : to suggest that … (someone/something do/not do something)

vouloir que … : to want that … (someone/something do/not do something)

Examples:

Le médecin recommande que je boive plus d’eau.
The doctor recommends that I drink more water.

Ses parents préfèrent qu‘il leur écrive souvent.
His parents prefer that he write to them often.

NOTE 1: The verbs commander, empêcher, insister pour, ordonner, and permettre are often used with an infinitive instead of the subjunctive – even when the subjects of the two clauses are different:

La loi ne permet pas de stationner devant une bouche d’incendie.
The law does not allow you to park in front of a fire hydrant.

Le patron empêche à tous les employés de se mettre en grève.
The boss prevents all the employees from going on strike.

NOTE 2: The verb espérer que (to hope that) never takes the subjunctive, even though it implies imposition of will:

Le professeur espère que nous faisons nos devoirs.
The professor hopes that we (will) do our homework.

The impersonal expressions below are also used to convey imposition of will, and are therefore followed by the subjunctive:

il est essentiel que … / c’est essentiel que … : it is essential that …

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

il est indispensible que … / c’est indispensible que … : it is essential that …

il est nécessaire que … / c’est nécessaire que … : it is necessary that …

il est temps que … : it is time that …

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

il est utile que … / c’est utile que … : it is useful that …

il faut que … : it is necessary that … / one must …

il paraît urgent que … : it seems urgent that …

il semble important que … : it seems important that …

je trouve nécessaire que … : I find it necessary that …

Examples:

Il est temps que vous rentriez.
It is time for you all to go home.

Je trouve nécessaire qu‘ils sachent la vérité.
I find it necessary that they (masculine) know the truth.

Il est urgent que nous allions tout de suite.
It is urgent that we go right now.

It is also possible to convey a desire or a wish just by using Que + the 3rd person singular or plural form of the Present Subjunctive.  This usage is equivalent to the English “may” or “let” something happen.

Example:

Qu‘elle vienne quand elle veut.
Let her come whenever she likes.

Que la force soit avec toi.
May the force be with you.

Adapt: 

Il est nécessaire que nous allions au centre-ville aujourd’hui.
It is necessary that we go downtown today.

Je préfère que vous ne sortiez pas ce soir.
I prefer that you all not go out this evening.

Leurs parents interdisent qu’ils sortent ensemble.
Their parents forbid them (masculine) to go out together.

Le professeur s’attend à ce que nous lisions ces livres.
The professor expects that we (will) read these books.

Qu’il repose en paix.
May he rest in peace.

Il faut qu’elle me croie.
It is necessary that she believes me.

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