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Maman, tu nous avais promis de nous acheter une glace, si nous finissions nos devoirs avant cinq heures !

In the above sentence, is the verb finir in the imperfect indicative, in the present subjunctive, or in the imperfect subjunctive?

In my native Portuguese, the imperfect subjunctive is the correct verb form here, but nobody would bat an eye if, in informal speech, the imperfect indicative were used instead. Perhaps the same is true in French?

  • imperfect subjunctive? Será que não seria o futuro do subjuntivo? Se acabarmos? Se eu acabar. Não acho que sería: acabássemos. – Lambie Oct 12 at 15:06
  • @Lambie Acho que o imperfeito do subjuntivo deve ser usado aí, pois os filhos estavam lembrando à mãe uma promessa feita no passado. O futuro do subjuntivo seria usado, por exemplo, em "Mamãe, você promete nos comprar sorvete se acabarmos a lição antes das cinco?". – nib Oct 12 at 15:16
  • Sim, tudo bem. Mamãe você prometeu X, se acabássemos Y. Né? Em francês, nous finissions (primeira pessoa do plural) é a mesma forma no presente do indicativo e no imperfeito do subjuntivo.... – Lambie Oct 12 at 15:29
  • Hi folks! One of the objectives of French SE is to provide a database of expert questions/answers to be reused by anyone who is interested in learning more about French. For this reason, the preferred languages here are English and French, and it would be nice to have this discussion in one of these languages so that more people can benefit from it. Thanks! :) – Reyedy Oct 13 at 7:27
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It is in the imperfect indicative, l'imparfait de l'indicatif. The subjunctive cannot be used without a relative or subordinate clause, usually beginning with que (plus ou moins). Si does not invoke the subjunctive but can invoke the conditional if...then meaning. That being said, si conditional phrases do not always mean the conditional mood.

The sequence of tenses for conditional si clauses are:

  • si + présent --> présent, futur, ou impératif
  • si + imparfait --> conditionnel
  • si + plus-que-parfait --> conditionnel passé

Exceptions are rare but do happen. More about si clauses here and here.

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  • Do you have an example of when si would invoke the conditional (or are you referring to the sentence as a whole, rather than the clause with si)? My understanding is that the subordinate si-clause cannot use the conditional. – Maroon Oct 12 at 4:04
  • @Maroon The sentence as a whole, merci de m'en avoir fait signe. I've updated a bit to clarify. – livresque Oct 12 at 4:08
  • Thanks, I wasn't sure if there was some edge case that I wasn't aware of. – Maroon Oct 12 at 4:12
  • « Faire signe de qqc » est incorrect pour dire « signaler qqc » ; « qqc » dans cette locution verbale ne peut être que quelque chose comme la tête, la main, un doigt, des yeux…Donc on ne peut pas dire « de m'en faire signe ». « me le signaler » est correct. – LPH Oct 12 at 9:25
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This should be the imperfect indicative: it is generally the indicative that appears in clauses introduced by si. In writing, one may see what appears to be the imperfect subjunctive in a si-clause, but this does not occur in everyday speech, and anyway, it is more precisely the pluperfect subjunctive that is sometimes used:

Le plus-que-parfait du subjonctif permet d'exprimer l'irréel du passé dans la langue soutenue. Dans un système hypothétique, il peut remplacer le conditionnel passé dans la principale et l'indicatif plus-que-parfait dans la subordonnée. On le nomme parfois, de manière erronée, conditionnel passé deuxième forme. (Bescherelle, Grammaire pour tous, §152)

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