I'm curious to know why ce que is used in jusqu'à ce que? Is it because there's already a que in jusque that it would result in a double que? What does it refer to in particular?

Also, is there also any particular reason why it's used with the subjunctive rather than the indicative? I assume because it is because one wouldn't be sure when an action ends or not, there's some sort of uncertainty involved?


1 Answer 1


1/ This particularity seems to be justified by a reasoning that is evident enough. On the one hand the prepositive phrase "jusqu'à" is used to express the idea of a limit nominally or adverbialy defined (see below, "+ subst. ou adv."). This is according to the usual scheme of prepositions introducing nouns.

(TLFi) A. − Jusque + prép. + subst. ou adv. [Exprime l'idée d'une limite spatio-temporelle (pour un espace que l'on parcourt ou pour une durée), le point initial étant éventuellement marqué par de, à partir de ou depuis]

  • de la route jusqu'à la plage, jusqu'à ta majorité, jusqu'à la mort, jusqu'à demain, jusqu'à la nuit, jusqu'à la tombée de la nuit, …

On the other hand, if the conjunctive phrase "jusqu'à ce que" is also used for the expression of a limit, it does that for limits that are differently formulated; instead of being formulated as nouns (la fin du champ, le début du morceau, le milieu de la partie, …) they are formulated by means of grammatical elements that enunciate normally the unfolding of an action or the realization of a state (that corresponds to a noun phrase), that is when the mood is the indicative; these elements are therefore clauses.

  • tombée de la nuit, crépuscule → la nuit tombe
  • arrivée des coureurs → les coureurs arrivent
  • rentrée du foin → les foins sont rentrés

If we had the clause follow the preposition we would have syntactic nonsense.

  • jusqu'à la nuit tombe
  • jusqu'à les coureurs arrivent
  • jusqu'à les foins sont rentrés

"Jusqu'à" is not granted in French the status of a conjunction. By using "ce que" after "jusqu'à" a conjunction is produced. Looked at alternatively, "ce que" changes the independent clause into a nominal clause. (ce que la nuit tombe = le crépuscule, la tombée de la nuit)

  • jusqu'à ce que la nuit tombe
  • jusqu'à ce que les coureurs arrivent
  • jusqu'à ce que les foins soient rentrés

2/ Why the subjunctive is used is not all that clear to me.

(TLFi) 1. Jusqu'à ce que
a) [Suivi de l'ind.] Rare, vieilli. Jusqu'au moment où.

  • Il lui parlait d'une manière sèche et contrainte (...) jusqu'à ce qu'enfin, échauffé par ces beaux yeux (...) toute sa rancune fondait, ses griefs secrets se dissipaient (Bourges, Crépusc. dieux,1884, p. 239).

b) [Suivi du subj.]

  • Le pays devra recourir au capital étranger ou à l'épargne forcée. Jusqu'à ce que ce surcroît d'épargne ait permis (...) la formation d'une nouvelle épargne « spontanée » (Perroux, Écon. XXes.,1964, p. 262)
  • (...) plus de bien-être quand la richesse augmente, jusqu'à ce qu'elle ait atteint le terme de son accroissement; et, au contraire, quand la richesse diminue, plus de difficultés (...) jusqu'à ce que la dépopulation et les privations aient ramené le niveau? Condorcet, Esq. tabl. hist.,1794, p. 152.

Complement in answer to comments

"Jusquà ce que" is considered as a grammatical part of speech and as such it is not analysable in normal parsing.

(TLFi) II.[Premier élément de loc. conj.] A. − Loc. conj. temp. [Indique le moment où s'achève la durée d'une action, et exprime donc le point terminal de cette durée alors que depuis (...) que en exprime le point initial]

  1. Jusqu'à ce que

An etymological explanation is possible, and in fact, it is the analysis that results in normal parsing for some constructs that share the part "ce que" (à ce que, de ce que, pour ce que, …). "Ce" is a demonstrative pronom of neutral gender and "que" is the conjunction;

I. − Empl. conjonctionnels
A. − Conj. de sub.
5. [Introd. une complét. en fonction d'appos.]
b) [Apposée au pron. ce]


  • Le mal vient de ce qu'il ne prépare rien. ("Qu'il ne prépare rien" is an apposition to "ce", that is, it explains what "ce" is; as "ce" has the nature of a noun, what is being defined is in essence a noun, it has the nature of one, even if not fully; to see that better, it is only needed to replace that pronoun by a term which is a noun but changes nothing to the meaning; this is done next.)

  • Le mal vient du fait qu'il ne prépare rien. ((de le fait); "le fait qu'il ne prépare rien" is a noun phrase.)

When "ce que" is combined with "jusqu'à", this combination, "jusqu'à ce que", is considered to be a "minimal" grammatical unit (a conjunction) and the present concern of explaining the words disappears; in other words, the parsing becomes what it would be if instead of "jusqu'à ce que" we would write only "juxe" (for instance).

  • That's quite a lot of information to take in, especially why ce que is used. The reasoning for the subjunctive is easier to grasp though. So if I understood it correctly, we use the subjunctive after jusqu'à ce que because what comes after it only serves to define or qualify the main clause. Is that correct? Also, I have a bit of trouble understanding the link in your post as well. Does it say that the subjunctive is used to present presupposed data? How can that be applied here?
    – Xavier
    Commented Jun 26, 2022 at 14:38
  • 1
    @Xavier Unfortunately, this explanation, that is based on new points of view concerning the subjunctive (see the link), and that I had found to be convincing, appears to me very shaky; so I removed it. I can't say I understand this idea for the time being. // The link says that the usual ideas about the subjunctive (hypothetical situation, unreal, etc.) do not apply and that the subjunctive shows actions that are not the concern of the utterance and are so to speak taken for granted (but I doubt now that this should be the whole matter).
    – LPH
    Commented Jun 26, 2022 at 14:51
  • I understand and I appreciate how you changed your post as well! :D. I'll try to go with the other link that has been commented under my question for now. What still kind of confuses me is how ce que changes an independent clause into a nominal one. Would it be possible for you to clarify that one please?
    – Xavier
    Commented Jun 26, 2022 at 15:59
  • 1
    @Xavier I added a complement in my answer.
    – LPH
    Commented Jun 26, 2022 at 18:07

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