Why is subjonctif imparfait called 'subjonctif imparfait' when, from what I can gather,

  • its usage more nearly corresponds to that of passé simple,
  • it, subjonctif imparfait, seems to be perfective rather than imperfective in aspect or
  • it seems to express an occurrence rather than an on-going state of affairs?

Per jlliagre's comments, I am adding a few examples of the subjonctif imparfait (all from La porte étroite by André Gide). But I see already that my supposition was wrong. It seems subjonctif imparfait can be either imperfective or perfective in aspect. So calling it imparfait is not too bad after all.

I think I will let the question stand so that anyone having the same wrong supposition as I did may rethink it, or what's more likely if there remains anything I still misunderstand it too can be pointed out.

The examples then. I believe that the first two are imperfective in aspect, and the last perfective.

Qu’Alissa Bucolin fût jolie, c’est ce dont je ne savais m’apercevoir encore ; j’étais requis et retenu près d’elle par un charme autre que celui de la simple beauté.

Même je croyais voir parfois dans son sourire quelque défi, du moins quelque ironie, et qu’elle prît amusement à éluder ainsi mon désir…

J’appris encore qu’elle avait demandé qu’on lui mît au cou la petite croix d’améthyste que j’avais refusée à ma dernière visite, et je sus par Édouard que cela avait été fait.

  • It is actually called imparfait du subjonctif or subjonctif imparfait.
    – jlliagre
    Jan 25, 2017 at 8:26
  • @jlliagre. Thank you. But 'passé simple' is OK?
    – Catomic
    Jan 25, 2017 at 8:40
  • Yes, passé simple is ok, but not "more nearly" the same than imparfait du subjonctif. You should add a couple of sentences using imparfait du subjonctif in your question. e.g. moi, monsieur, si j'avais un tel nez, Il faudrait sur le champ que je me l'amputasse !
    – jlliagre
    Jan 25, 2017 at 9:08

1 Answer 1


That is an imperfection of the French language (no pun intended) but at the same time such a relief! Imagine if, speaking at the past, you had to choose 1) between passé simple and imparfait, 2) between two other subjonctif equivalents when the sentence implies it. No, you just have to make the first choice and everything that deals with subjunctive is covered by one unique verbal form: the subjonctif imparfait. But that's become a litterary form, it's always substituted by subjonctif présent in every type of speech. And there are very few occurences in modern books.

Note that its usage is normal in most other romance languages (Italian, Spanish and Portuguese). Furthermore Spanish and Portuguese also use past simple, and the latter even has a future form of subjonctif which is plainly used in casual speech. French is quite an exception on this point, which makes the things more simple (for once).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.