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By francoisebou | Published  08/8/2010 | French | Recommendation:
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Quicklink: http://arm.proz.com/doc/3038
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Subjunctive use in French - simplified version extracted from Bescherelles French grammar book.

Many translators, proofreaders, simple French speaking people write and make mistakes using subjunctive and indicative forms; basically confusing them.

I perfectly know that I am not perfect (I do not know the 50 000 words of the dictionary for example) but I have received the normal and effective teaching methods, (graduated my exams) delivered 30 years ago by good trained teachers which preceded the catastrophic Global method which had lead to 7 to 15% of French people (2010 figures stated on TV, 3 weeks ago) unable to read or write in France.
To my point we are dealing here with a proper educational crime towards students and people who do not deserve it and, unfortunately this is “probably” the reason why you get so many Red track changed words on a nearly perfect translation (if there is such a thing as perfect!).
Proofreaders “correcting” something which is correct and inputting mistakes.
We are all nice guys though! Just trying to make a living and make things go; no? Unfortunately we are stepping on each other sometimes because of idiots who trained us improperly simply because they did not know HOW TO DECENTLY, PROPERLY AND INDIVIDUALLY TEACH . There is something today, a huge break through but they still do not want to hear about it apparently and it is suppressed by lots of powerful vested interests through means of black marketing and lies using Medias.


My own problem here being that I have been using, listening, hearing and playing with both subjonctif and indicatif in France since I was 12 (I am 47) and so it became an inherent mechanism. I simply now “know” when to use it or not and I guess this is the case for many of you. I do it by heart like one laces his shoes every morning so I am going to try to go back to basic learning using former grammatical materials.
I am going to try to make these 2 forms clear here after part extraction from standard Bescherelles grammar book.
Also, I would like you to be indulgent with my English which is not my native language.


We are dealing with 2 verbal forms here, two means of expressing actions.

If you simply clear up any words you do not fully understand in a dictionary about the subject you get most part of the explanations done. Just to this. Don’t be lazy or scared, it is just a book, 30 times smaller than you and that does not speak neither move. It’s a book.

INDICATIF (name in French)

The « Indicatif » (indicative) actually bears its name. It indicates.
Petit Robert dictionary states :
Mode indicatif, et n. m. (v. 1500; hapax 1400) l'indicatif : système des formes verbales « dont l'emploi convient pour représenter un procès comme simplement énoncé […] sans aucune interprétation » (Marouzeau). Indicatif et subjonctif*. « Après que » est suivi de l'indicatif. Conjuguer un verbe au présent de l'indicatif, à l'indicatif présent. Les huit temps de l'indicatif.

By simplifying ...

It simply means a way of using a verb (a word expressing the action done by somebody/something) pointing out what the subject is doing by simply stating it, mentioning it, indicating it without any other interpretation.

Eg : he is eating. Il mange.
He will eat. Il mangera.
He was eating. Il mangeait.
He ate. Il a mangé.

There is not idea “behind” if you see what I mean, nothing implied, nothing leading to something else or to any conclusions, it is a real action basically , now, yesterday, or tomorrow. We eat, we eat, that’s it !
You see, we simply point out the action, what it is, what this will be, nothing else; no interpretation whatsoever. Basically very similar to English ; no?

SUBJONCTIF (name in French) :

Petit Robert dictionary states :
Mode subjonctif, et n. m. le subjonctif : mode personnel du verbe, considéré d'abord comme propre à exprimer une relation de dépendance, et de nos jours, comme mode de la tension psychologique (volonté, sentiment) et de la subjectivité (doute, incertitude ➙ aussi potentiel). Un verbe au subjonctif. « Le véritable génie du subjonctif est d'indiquer une action ou une chose comme terme d'une volonté » (Bescherelle). Les temps du subjonctif : subjonctif présent (exprime aussi bien le futur que le présent) [ex. je veux que tu viennes me voir demain]. Le subjonctif présent s'emploie couramment à la place de l'imparfait du subjonctif (ex. je craignais qu'il ne se fâche pour je craignais qu'il ne se fâchât). « Elle ne conversait la tante qu'à l'imparfait du subjonctif. C'étaient des modes périmées. Ça coupait la chique à tout le monde » (Céline).

By simplifying ...

Basically a verbal form used to express 4 basic ideas; 1) willingness, desire, order, or 2) a doubt, uncertainty, fear 3) a potential, assumption, feeling and 4) certainty, and a couple of exceptions (probably set up by people who did not what to do, years and years ago, alike many languages probably).

Eg :
1) “ I’d him him to come (a desire)” translates by « J’aimerais qu’il vienne »

“I want you to give me your book (order)” translates by “je veux que tu me donnes ton livre”

2) “I am not sure (doubt) he’ll get it” translates by « je ne suis pas sûr qu’il comprendra »

“I am afraid (fear) the examiner gives me bad grades in English” translates by « j’ai peur que l’examinateur ne me donne de mauvaises notes »

So you can see that comparing Indicatif to Subjonctif, we go from a way of showing what an action is (Indicatif) to without interpretation to what we can call an under-lying interpretation or an idea with the Subjonctif.

3) “It is likely he’ll come” (potential). “Il est possible qu’il vienne”

4) Certainty.

“I am sure he is the man I need (certainty)” translates by « je suis sûr que c’est l’homme qu’il me faut »

So we can say we are dealing here, with the Subjonctif with a statement consisting in a under-lying idea or concept of the type mentioned above.

But I will go more in details later but basically, you have the basic definitions here.


NB: in Bescherelles edition “La conjugaison pour tous”, the authors introduce a whole comparison between indicatif and subjonctif.

I am not approaching here none of the “ancient” uses of Subjonctif, “Il aurait fallu que je le susse avant de pouvoir vous donner un avis” types, which I can use but nowadays not very much encountered.
As to me, following this grammar piece of Art which is Bescherelles, I think nothing is best than examples so I am going to treat details using some of them and by category:


Basically anything that is subject to a more or less strong/emphasized willingness.

“I want him to finish his homework”. “Je veux qu’il termine ses devoirs”.
“I demand a taxi to come and pick me up”. “J’exige qu’un taxi vienne me prendre”.
“Referee want the player to shoot the penalty again”. “L’arbitre veut que le joueur retire le pénalty.”
“I’d like you to come”. “J’aimerais que tu viennes”.
“I would like father Christmas to get me some rollerskates”. “J’aimerai que le Père Noêl m’apporte des rollers.”

So when you use “would like, could” you have all the chances to use the subjonctif in French.
When you think “desire”, “order, instruction”, think subjonctif in French.


“Likely, may, certain, sure etc. “are these concept where you use Subjonctif.

“I think he will lie to her” translates by « je crois qu’il lui mentira »

“He is likely to come”. “Il est probable qu’il vienne”.
“He might take his umbrella because it is raining”. “Il se peut qu’il prenne son parapluie car il pleut” (now you can escape the subjonctif by saying “Il va peut-être prendre son parapluie parce qu’il pleut”, which means the same thing: hehe...)

“We might go to cinema but we might as well go and see Richard”. “Il se peut que nous allions au cinéma mais il se peut aussi que nous allions voir Richard”.

So when writes “il se peut qu’il a un nouveau magasin”... it is all wrong. “Il se peut qu’il ait un nouveau magasin” is the correct way.

When a proofreader “corrects” “il se peut qu’il faille un outil spécial pour réaliser la manoeuvre” and writes unstead “il se peut qu’il faut un outil spécial pour...” it is a wrong correction“.

So for an English guy, maybe you can consider that when a potentiality is underlaid in a sentence, you might start thinking there might be a “subjonctif” somewhere.

Think about it. A potentiality. You think potentiality, you think using subjonctif in French.


Easy enough ! no?

“I do not think he will come”. “Je ne crois pas qu’il viendra”.

“The North Corean football coach is afraid he will not get out of prison”. “L’entraineur de l’équipe de Corée du Nord a bien peur qu’il n’arrive à sortir de prison”.

“Are you sure he can do this?” “ Etes-vous sûr qu’il puisse faire cela ?”

“I doubt he will get good grades”. “Je doute qu’il ait de bonne notes”.


“I am sure he will come”. “Je suis sûr qu’il viendra”.
“I am sure I he past his exams”. “Je suis certaine qu’il a réussi ses examens”.


This is not an exhaustive study of these forms but I hope they can give a direction towards usage.
Now there are a couple of exceptions but so far this is the simplest I can do but if you need the rest or ask a question, Roland, [email protected]
To be honest, there will be nothing better than spending 5 or 10 years in France with some properly educated guys, friends and workmates; of course. I mean here “practice, practice, practice and practice”.

Bien à vous.

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