Formation of the French subjunctive (ct'd)

On the previous page, we looked at how to form the subjunctive for the majority of French verbs. In general, the subjunctive is based on the third person plural of the present tense or (for the nous and vous forms) identical to the imperfect tense.

Depending on one's analysis, there are around 10 French verbs (plus their compounds) that have "irregular" subjunctive forms. By "irregular" we mean either that the nous and vous forms aren't identical to the imperfect, or that the subjunctive forms of the other persons are not formed by replacing the -ent of the 3rd person plural present tense form with -e, -es, -e, -ent. (Or possibly both rules could be violated, such as in the case of être.)

Irregular forms

Before listing the French verbs with irregular subjunctive forms, it is worth noting that even these irregular subjunctive forms still follow certain patterns of other French verbs:

  • The nous and vous forms vary only in whether they have the -ons or -ez ending;
  • The other forms (je, tu etc) always sound identical to one another;
  • The tu form always ends in -s in the spelling, and the ils form always ends in -ent (just as for any verb and any tense in the language).

Here, then, are the verbs with irregular subjunctive forms. Note that compounds of these verbs function similarly, so that refaire has (je) refasse etc.

VerbSubjunctive forms
êtreje sois
tu sois
il soit
nous soyons
vous soyez
ils soient
tu aies
il ait
nous ayons
vous ayez
ils aient
faireje fasse
tu fasses
il fasse
nous fassions
vous fassiez
ils fassent
tu ailles
il aille
nous allions
vous alliez
ils aillent
VerbSubjunctive forms
pouvoirje puisse
tu puisses
il puisse
nous puissions
vous puissiez
ils puissent
savoirje sache
tu saches
il sache
nous sachions
vous sachiez
ils sachent
vouloirje veuille
tu veuilles
il veuille
nous voulions
vous vouliez
ils veuillent
valoirje vaille
tu vailles
il vaille
nous valions
vous valiez
ils vaillent
falloiril faille

A few other difficulties

And that's more or less it... Just a few slight complications to note:

  • The verb pleuvoir has subjunctive form il pleuve. Arguably, there's nothing irregular about that: although not in common use, the plural present tense form (ils) pleuvent is very occasionally found in a figurative sense.
  • Prescriptively at least, the verb voir has subjunctive forms (je) voie etc as expected following the 3rd person plural form (ils) voient. However, in informal speech, a number of speakers use the form (je) voye etc (i.e. pronounced [vwaj]).
  • The verb s'asseoir, which has both forms ils s'assoient and ils s'asseyent thus has subjunctive forms (je) m'assoie or (je) m'asseye. In both indicative and subjunctive, the form with oi appears to be more common.
  • The verb prévaloir prescriptively has the subjunctive form (il) prévale. But it's extremely rare in any case.
  • Up until around the mid 19th century, the written forms soyions and soyiez are commonly found.
  • The form sachez que... is used to mean "I want you to know that...", "you should know that...".
  • The form veuillez is used with an infinitive as a way of making a request: veuillez me faire savoir... = kindly let me know....

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This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2017. All rights reserved.