Hi there (my 1st question on fr SE but I use Stack Overflow a lot).

So, I have somewhat 'mastered' the present, imperfect, passé composé and future.

Now, I am trying to move on to subjonctif présent. With difficulty.

I don't understand, when it is a present tense, why we are supposed to use IMPERFECT endings.

For example: 'That we speak' = 'Que nous parlions'

But to me that reads 'That we were speaking' (as parlions is an imperfect ending).

So why not say 'That we speak' as 'Que nous parlons' (present ending).

I would really appreciate an explanation here, when should this tense be used and why are the endings not present tense when we are talking about the present?

1 Answer 1


You will find plenty of resources that will explain when to use the subjunctive mood in French (eg https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/subjunctive/) , but I think you should not think of the subjunctive present forms as having "imperfect endings", this is maybe why this is confusing for you. In the 1st and 2nd person plural of the subjunctive present, it is true that the endings will be "-ions" and "-iez". These indeed HAPPEN to be the same endings as you would have for the indicative imperfect - but that does not mean that these endings would be used only for the imperfect or even for expressing a past action.

  • Ok, so can you explain why they don't just end in ons and ez? I have done lots of research but no luck, which is why I ask on here. I don't feel that your response is an answer, it doesn't attempt to answer the question.
    – Cloud
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 9:50
  • 1
    I am sure an expert in diachronic study of French will be able to detail the evolution of Latin subjunctive forms into Old French, Middle French and Modern French, but I doubt they will help you in learning subjunctive and its conjugation. My point is: these endings are the same as imperfect endings, but are not "logically" linked to imperfect. It is a different mode and a different tense, even though the endings are the same. "-ions" and "-iez" are endings of the present, but in the subjunctive mode. There is no semantic link: they are results of evolution of past forms inherited from Latin.
    – Greg
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 10:44
  • Ok, thanks, I really appreciate the effort. One more question... is it used in spoken language a lot?
    – Cloud
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 11:06
  • Oh yes, a LOT! And sometimes French native speakers use it when not needed and it is then considered as an error (eg with "après que"). But you will find a big difference in usage between subjunctive present and past (which are standard in common, everyday French) and subjunctive imperfect and "plus-que-parfait" (which are nowadays used virtually only in literature). To give you an idea, the conjugations of subjunctive imperfect and "plus-que-parfait" are taught in school but are very unfamiliar to children or teenagers. These forms may sound even funny because they sound so outdated.
    – Greg
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 11:15
  • 1
    In English, for the verb I put, the past tense and the present tense are identical (a fact that crossword puzzle constructors love to use to confuse you). That doesn't mean that the past tense I put is similar to the present tense in meaning in any way; it's a quirk arising from the historical development of the language. Similarly, in French, for regular verbs, the imperfect and the present subjective are the same for first and second person plural. Commented May 19, 2022 at 21:08

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