French Grammar: Present Subjunctive – Regular Verbs

Creative Commons Image via The LEAF Project

Creative Commons Image via The LEAF Project


French Grammar: Present Subjunctive – Regular Verbs

la grammaire française: les verbes réguliers au présent du subjonctif


The subjunctive is not a verb tense, but a mood. It is an alternative verb form that has to be used in certain circumstances.  “Mood” is actually a good way to think of the subjunctive, since it often expresses a particular emotional mood – sadness, happiness, anger, desire, hopefulness, uncertainty, doubt, denial, etc.

The mood (sometimes called the mode) of a verb expresses an attitude toward the verb or describes how it is used in the sentence. There are two moods in French: the indicative mood and the subjunctive mood.  The more common of the two moods is the indicative mood. The first forms of verbs learned in French are usually in the indicative mood. The indicative is used to indicate or express actions that definitely are taking place, did take place, or will take place. The subjunctive mood expresses the opposite of the indicative; it expresses what may happen.

Let’s compare the indicative and the subjunctive:

Indicative Subjunctive
Indicates or points something out Is subjective (not objective)
Is factual Not factual
Statement stands alone Statement can not stand alone
Is independent Is dependent on something

Studying the chart above can be helpful in learning the uses of the subjunctive as it compares to the indicative. The French subjunctive occurs primarily in dependent clauses. The dependent clause that contains the subjunctive usually follows a main clause that contains the indicative. The main and dependent clauses must have a different subject, and the clauses are linked by que (or qu’).

a. To form the present subjunctive of regular [-ER], [-IR], and [-RE] verbs, we take the indicative present tense 3rd person plural (ils) form of the verb, drop the [-ent] ending, and then add the present subjunctive endings:

… que je : [-e]
… que tu : [-es]
… qu’il / elle / on : [-e]
… que nous : [-ions]
… que vous : [-iez]
… qu’ils /elles : [-ent]

For example:

DANSER (to dance) –> ils dansent –> dans-

… que je danse
… que tu danses
… qu’il / elle / on danse
… que nous dansions
… que vous dansiez
… qu’ils / elles dansent

FINIR (to finish) –> ils finissent –> finiss-

… que je finisse
… que tu finisses
… qu’il / elle / on finisse
… que nous finissions
… que vous finissiez
… qu’ils / elles finissent

RENDRE (to give back / to return) –> ils rendent –> rend-

… que je rende
… que tu rendes
… qu’il / elle / on rende
… que nous rendions
… que vous rendiez
… qu’ils / elles rendent

b. This same pattern applies to the majority of verbs that are irregular in the present indicative.

c. For [-ER] verbs, the present indicative and the present subjunctive of the 1st person singular (je) and the 3rd person singular (il) forms look the same.

d. The present subjunctive endings of the nous and vous forms are identical to the nous and vous forms of the imperfect indicative.

Nous parlions français. (Imperfect indicative)
We were speaking French.

Le professeur veut que nous parlions français. (Present subjunctive)
The professor wants us to speak French.

e. Verbs that end in –ions (nous form) or –iez (vous form) in the present indicative end in –iions or 
-iiez in the present subjunctive:

… que nous étudiions
… que vous skiiez

f. Negative constructions in the present subjunctive follow the same rules as negative constructions in the present indicative:

Il est important que tu n’arrives pas en retard.

It is important that you (informal) not arrive late.

g. The present subjunctive is used to express both actions that happen in the present and actions that will happen in the future:

Il faut qu’il finisse les devoirs.

It is necessary that he finish the homework.

Il est douteux qu’il finisse les devoirs.

It is doubtful that he will finish the homework.

In modern-day French, the present subjunctive is the most commonly used subjunctive tense, even when the sense of the action would seem to require a past tense:

On élargeait les portes pour que les étudiants passent plus facilement.
They were widening the doorways so that students pass through more easily.

Elle est descendue ce matin sans que son mari l’entende.
She went downstairs this morning without her husband hearing her.

Click here to learn How to Form the Present Subjunctive of Verbs with Two Stems.

Click here to learn How to Form the Present Subjunctive of Irregular Verbs.


Je veux que vous partiez maintenant.
I want you all to leave now.

Je doute qu’ils parlent italien.
I doubt that they speak Italian.

Le chef insiste que ses employés arrivent à l’heure.

The boss insists that his employees arrive on time.

Il faut que Jean étudie plus.

It’s necessary that Jean study more.

Il est possible que nous voyagions en France l’année prochaine.

It is possible that we will travel to France next year.

Je suis contente que tu me rendes visite en automne.
I am happy that you will visit me in the Fall.

Le professeur demande que vous rendiez les devoirs.

The professor asks that you all hand in the homework.

Le médecin suggère que je perde du poids.

The doctor suggests that I lose weight.