I assume we have conditionnel passé deuxième forme in the following:

Si fâcheux que fussent ces contretemps, en vain les accuserais-je. Quand bien même tout nous eût secondés, nous eussions inventé notre gêne. Mais qu’Alissa, elle aussi, le sentît, rien ne pouvait me désoler davantage. Voici la lettre que, sitôt de retour à Paris, je reçus :


What are the historical stages by which the form came to be known as 'conditionnel passé deuxième forme' as well as 'subjonctif plus-que-parfait'?


Just to illustrate what I mean by 'historical stages' I am going to make up the following story. I don't mean that this is what happened.

  1. Latin did not have a conditional and used subjunctive to express a counterfactual statement.

  2. In early French conditional was developed as a tense within indicative, e.g. in case of conditionnel présent to mean the future of (from the perspective of) a past. The future of a past can be seen this:

    Pourquoi cette gêne, ce sentiment de fausse position, cette paralysie, ce mutisme, quand nous avons tout à nous dire ? Le premier jour de ton retour j’étais heureuse de ce silence même, parce que je croyais qu’il se dissiperait, que tu me dirais des choses merveilleuses ; tu ne pouvais partir auparavant.

  3. Conditional then drew to itself a second function, that of expressing counterfactuals.

  4. Conditional became the dominant means of expressing counterfactuals.

  5. Subjonctif plus-que-parfait, now chiefly used for purposes other than the expression of a counterfactual, acquired a second name 'conditionnel passé deuxième forme,' by which it came to be known on those rare occasions when it did express a counterfactual.

The quoted passages are from chapter 6 of La porte étroite by André Gide.

This and this earlier post may be relevant.

It would be great if the answer indicated roughly when each stage in the development took place. Please, however, do not feel that an answer must be complete. Any helpful information will be appreciated. Thanks.

  • I saw a history the other day. There are elements of history on the Grevisse, but I think the main history I saw was somewhere here: oqlf.gouv.qc.ca/accueil.aspx.
    – Frank
    Jan 18, 2017 at 23:53
  • @Frank Thanks, but I can't find it on that page...
    – Catomic
    Jan 19, 2017 at 1:32
  • Yes I looked it for it but couldn't find it either. I think @jlliagre presented the link. I'll look into my browser history, otherwise I hope jlliagre will see this and know where the link is. It said something about Latin, the Middle Ages, some back and forth and the modern standpoint, if I remember correctly.
    – Frank
    Jan 19, 2017 at 3:51

1 Answer 1


The subjonctif plus que parfait is composed of the subjonctif imparfait (eussions) followed by a participe passé (inventé). I don't know about the birth of this tense, but I can tell you that the subjonctif imparfait (imperfect subjunctive) comes from the latin subjcontif plus que parfait (pluperfect subjunctive). It inheritated the weak verbal base, followed by a thematif vowel - accentued for P1-2-3-6- (a / i / u) then the flexional endings (e, es, t, ions, iez, ent) -accentued for P4-5.

For example, the latin amavissem (first person of the pluperfect subjunctive) changed to amassem (late latin), then lost the final -m (imitating the lost of the final -m of the nouns). The example is quite difficult because the verbe aimer used to have two bases aim- and am- depending on where was the accent / intonation. Only aim- remained at the end of the Middle Ages / Renaissance.

But the French plusperfect subjunctive uses the auxiliary avoir which is even more complicated. It goes a bit like that = habuissem > abwissem > awwisse > owwisse > changed to resemble the indicatif past tense = eusse.

That's all I have, hope that helps you a bit.

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