French Verb Mood

Le Mode

Mood—or le mode in French—refers to the verb forms that describe the attitude of the speaker toward the action/state of the verb. In other words, mood indicates how likely or factual the speaker believes the statement to be. The French language has six moods: indicative, subjunctive, conditional, imperative, participle, and infinitive.

Personal Moods

In French, there are four personal moods. Personal moods make a distinction between grammatical persons; that is, they are conjugated.

The table below lists the name of the mood in French in the first column, followed by the English translation of the mood in the second column, an explanation of the mood in the third column, and then an example of its use and the English translation in the final two columns.

La Mode

Mood

Explanation

Example

English Translation

Indicatif

Indicative

Indicates a fact: the most common mood

je fais

I do

Subjonctif

Subjunctive

Expresses subjectivity, doubt, or unlikelihood

je fasse

I do

Conditionnel

Conditional

Describes a condition or possibility

je ferais

I would do

Impératif

Imperative

Gives a command

fais-le!

do it!

Impersonal Moods

There are two impersonal moods in French. Impersonal moods are invariable, meaning that they do not distinguish between grammatical persons. They are not conjugated, but instead, have a single form for all persons. 

La Mode

Mood

Explanation

Example

English Translation

Participe

Participle

Adjectival form of the verb

faisant

doing

Infinitif

Infinitive

Nominal form of the verb, as well as its name

faire

to do

As is often the case in French, there is an important exception to the rule that impersonal moods are not conjugated: In the case of pronominal verbs, the reflexive pronoun must change to agree with its subject. Reflexive pronouns are a special kind of French pronoun that can only be used with pronominal verbs.

These verbs need a reflexive pronoun in addition to a subject pronoun because the subject(s) performing the action of the verb are the same as the object(s) being acted upon. 

Tenses vs. Moods

In French, as in English, the difference between moods and tenses can vex those learning the language, as well as native speakers. The difference between tense and mood is very simple. Tense indicates the when of the verb: whether the action takes place in the past, present, or future. Mood describes the feeling of the verb, or more specifically, the speaker's attitude toward the action of the verb. Is s/he saying that it's true or uncertain? Is it a possibility or a command? These nuances are expressed with different moods.

Moods and tenses work together to give verbs a precise meaning. Each mood has at least two tenses, present, and past, though some moods have more. The indicative mood is the most common—you might call it the "normal" mood—and has eight tenses. When you conjugate a verb, you do so by first choosing the appropriate mood and then adding a tense to it. To gain more understanding of moods versus tenses, take a few minutes to review verb conjugation and verb timeline for more information about how tenses and moods fit together.