Can Using the Subjunctive Boost Your Formal French?

Can Using the Subjunctive Boost Your Formal French?

by Cassie Wright
September 17, 2019

Scared of the subjunctive?

Have you been avoiding the subjunctive because it’s frustrating or even scary to use?

Don’t worry. You’re not the only one. In fact, you might have already learned how to completely rephrase sentences in order to avoid using the subjunctive.

But what if you find yourself in a situation where you need to sound more professional, like a job interview? What do you do when the tenses you do know just aren’t enough to express yourself during a presentation or an important conversation?

In situations like these, knowing how to properly use the subjunctive, or le subjonctif, can mean the difference between sounding unprepared or unable to express an opinion politely and being taken seriously.

Portrait of serious offended couple man and woman in basic t-shi

When should you use the subjunctive?

If you look it up in your favourite grammar book, you’ll see that the subjunctive is a mood that is used to express desires and preferences, give advice or judgment, or talk about opinions or doubts. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always help you know when to use it.

The easiest way to know when to use the subjunctive is to ask yourself:

  • Does the sentence use que or qui?
  • Are you trying to convey an opinion, a doubt, or a desire?

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you should be prepared to use the subjunctive.

What do you think?

It’s much easier to influence others when you express your opinions without presenting them as facts. Correctly using the subjunctive helps you to do just that.

For instance, take a look at the following sentences:

Ce n’est pas possible. – That’s not possible.

Je doute que çaça soit possible. – I doubt that it’s possible.

The first sentence leaves no room for debate. However, the use of the subjunctive in the second sentence indicates that you’re stating your opinion, which means the other person is free to express their own. It’s a helpful strategy when you want to network with professionals or find interesting conversation partners.

serious-man

Got any advice?

Because the subjunctive makes it clear that you’re offering an opinion with room for doubt, it’s a great way to offer advice without coming across as rude. So, feel free to use it with colleagues, bosses, or sensitive friends.

These phrases can help you introduce a preference or suggestion:

Je préfère que… – I prefer that…

Je recommande que… – I recommend that…

Je suggère que… – I suggest that…

Il vaut mieux que… – It’s better that…

If you really want to be polite, you can also use the subjunctive in a phrase with the conditional. For instance, with these phrases:

J’aimerais que…

Je voudrais que…

Phrases to remember

As any French learner knows, there are always exceptions to the rules. In this case, not everything followed by que or qui uses the subjunctive. Luckily, there are a few easy phrases you can memorize that will always use the subjunctive.

Je regrette que… – I regret that…

Je souhaite que… – I hope that…

Autant que je sache – To the best of my knowledge

Pas que je sache – Not to my knowledge

N’en déplaise à… – With all due respect to…

Now, you should be able to stop avoiding the French subjunctive out of fear or frustration. Instead, with a bit of practise and a bit more confidence, you can start using it to sound more formal, more polite, and express your opinions more effectively.

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