French Past Subjunctive

Passé du subjonctif

man and woman talking in office
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The past subjunctive is used for the same reasons as the present subjunctive - to express emotion, doubts, etc. The past subjunctive is used when the verb in the subordinate clause - the verb that follows que - happened before the verb in the main clause.

The past subjunctive may be used in a subordinate clause when the main clause is in the present tense:

   Je suis heureuse que tu sois venu hier.
   I'm happy that you came yesterday.

   Nous avons peur qu'il n'ait pas mangé.
   We're afraid that he didn't eat.

Or it may be used in a subordinate clause when the main clause is in the past tense. Note that if the main clause did not call for the subjunctive, the subordinate clause would have been in the past perfect, because the subordinate clause happened before the verb in the main clause. Therefore, the subordinate clause should technically be in the pluperfect subjunctive. But that is replaced by the past subjunctive in all but the most formal French.

   Il doutait que vous l'ayez vu.
   He doubted that you had seen it.

   J'avais peur qu'ils soient tombés.
   I was afraid that they had fallen.

Go on to page 2 to learn how to conjugate the past subjunctive.

Quiz: French past subjunctive

If you are having trouble understanding the French past subjunctive, thoroughly review my lesson on the subjunctive and then come back to this one.

The only difference is the tense; usage is the same for the present and past subjunctives.

The French past subjunctive is a compound conjugation, which means it has two parts:

  1. subjunctive of the auxiliary verb (either avoir or être)
  2. past participle of the main verb

Note: Like all French compound conjugations, the past subjunctive may be subject to grammatical agreement:
  • When the auxiliary verb is être, the past participle must agree with the subject
  • When the auxiliary verb is avoir, the past participle may have to agree with its direct object

    French past subjunctive conjugations
    AIMER (auxiliary verb is avoir)
    j'aie aimé nousayons aimé
    tuaies aimévousayez aimé
    ait aiméils,
    aient aimé
    DEVENIR (être verb)
    jesois devenu(e) noussoyons devenu(e)s
    tusois devenu(e)voussoyez devenu(e)(s)
    ilsoit devenuilssoient devenus
    elle soit devenueellessoient devenues
    SE LAVER (pronominal verb)
    jeme sois lavé(e) nousnous soyons lavé(e)s
    tute sois lavé(e)vousvous soyez lavé(e)(s)
    ilse soit lavéilsse soient lavés
    elle se soit lavéeellesse soient lavées