Word of the Day

The word, or phrase, of the day is inspired by what happened yesterday in Paris:

Toujours debout

Meaning: Still standing.

Notre Dame est toujours debout.

Notre Dame is still standing. She has survived so much, and she will make it through this one too.

The Pluperfect Subjunctive

The pluperfect subjunctive consists of the imperfect subjunctive of the auxiliary verb (avoir or être) plus the past participle.

Verbs conjugated with avoir:

que j’eusse parlé, réfléchi, rendu que nous eussions parlé, réfléchi, rendu
que tu eusses parlé, réfléchi, rendu que vous eussiez parlé, réfléchi, rendu
qu’il/elle eût parlé, réfléchi, rendu qu’ils/elles eussent parlé, réfléchi, rendu

Verbs conjugated with être:

que je fusse descendu(e) que nous fussions descendu(e)s
que tu fusses descendu(e) que vous fussiez descendu(e)(s)
qu’il fût descendu qu’ils fussent descendus
qu’elle fût descendue qu’elles fussent descendues

The pluperfect subjunctive is used to indicate that the action of the subordinate clause happened before the action of the main clause in sentences where the verb of the main clause is in the past. The following are sentences comparing formal and everyday speech.

Everyday French

Formal French


Je n’étais pas sûr qu’il vienne. Je n’étais pas sûr qu’il vînt. I wasn’t sure he was coming.
Je n’étais pas sûr qu’il soit venu. Je n’étais pas sûr qu’il fût venu. I wasn’t sure he had come.
J’étais content qu’il le fasse. J’étais content qu’il le fît. I was happy he did it.
J’étais content qu’il l’ait fait. J’étais content qu’il l’eût fait. I was happy he had done it.

The pluperfect subjunctive can also replace the pluperfect and the conditional perfect in both parts of a conditional sentence.

Everyday French

Formal French

S’il me l’avait dit, j’aurais compris. S’il me l’eût dit, j’eusse compris.
S’il était venu, nous aurions parlé. S’il fût venu, nous eussions parlé.

French language learners rarely need to use the forms of the imperfect subjunctive or the pluperfect subjunctive. It is enough to recognise them in reading and in their occasional occurrences in very formal speech.

Have a great week, everyone!

A bientôt !


Literary Tenses : The Imperfect Subjunctive Irregular Verbs

Here is part 2 of the imperfect subjunctive, now with regular verbs.

The imperfect subjunctive of irregular verbs is also based on the passé simple. Below are the imperfect subjunctive forms of avoirêtrefaire, and venir.


que j’eusse

que nous eussions

que tu eusses

que vous eussiez

qu’il/elle eût

qu’ils/elles eussent


que je fusse

que nous fussions

que tu fusses

que vous fussiez

qu’il/elle fût

qu’ils/elles fussent


que je fisse

que nous fissions

que tu fisses

que vous fissiez

qu’il/elle fît

qu’ils/elles fissent


que je vinsse

que nous vinssions

que tu vinsses

que vous vinssiez

qu’il/elle vînt

qu’ils/elles vinssent

In formal written French, the imperfect subjunctive is used in a subordinate clause in sentences where the main verb is in a past tense and the subjunctive is required in the subordinate clause.

Everyday French Formal French English
Je veux qu’il vienne. Je veux qu’il vienne. I want him to come.
Je voulais qu’il vienne. Je voulais qu’il vînt. I wanted him to come.
Je suis content qu’il le fasse. Je suis content qu’il le fasse. I’m happy he’s doing it.
J’étais content qu’il le fasse. J’étais content qu’il le fît. I was happy he did it.
Il faut qu’il attende. Il faut qu’il attende. It’s necessary for him to wait,
Il a fallu qu’il attende. Il a fallu qu’il attendît. It was necessary for him to wait.

An inverted third-person singular imperfect subjunctive (especially of être) often means even if. This construction is commonly used for stylistic effect in newspaper writing.

  • Il ne pourrait pas prendre cette décision, fût-il le PDG de l’entreprise.
    • He wouldn’t be able to make this decision even if he were the CEO of the firm.
  • Il faudrait que le patron s’adresse aux employés, ne fût-ce que pour cinq minutes.
    • It would be necessary for the boss to speak to the employees, even if it were only for five minutes.

In everyday French, the above examples would be expressed as follows:

  • Il ne pourrait pas prendre cette décision, même s’il était le PDG de l’enterprise.
    • He wouldn’t be able to make this decision even if he were the CEO of the firm.
  • Il faudrait que le patron s’adresse aux employés, même si ce n’était que pour cinq minutes.
    • It would be necessary for the boss to speak to the employees, even if it were only for five minutes.

Enjoy your week, everyone!

A la prochaine…


Literary Tenses : The Imperfect Subjunctive

The imperfect subjunctive is a literary form used in formal writing and in formal texts. For -er verbs, it is formed by adding the following endings to the stem of the first-person form of the passé simple.



je ➨ -asse

nous ➨ -assions

tu ➨ -asses

vous ➨ -assiez

il/elle/on ➨ -ât

ils/elles ➨ -assent

Look at the following example of the imperfect subjunctive of parler (that I might speak)

que je parlasse

que nous parlassions

que tu parlasses

que vous parlassiez

qu’il/elle parlât

qu’ils/elles parlassent

Note that verbs such as commencer and manger show spelling changes in all persons of the imperfect subjunctive, since all the endings begin with a: que je commençasse, que je mangeasse.

For -ir and -re verbs and for irregular verbs, the endings of the imperfect subjunctive are added to the passé simple form, minus the consonants of the ending. The circumflexes of the nous and vous forms are dropped.



je ➨ -sse

nous ➨ -ssions

tu ➨ -sses

vous ➨ -ssiez

il/elle ➨ -^t

ils/elles ➨ -ssent

Here are some sample conjugations for -ir and -re verbs.


que je finisse

que nous finissions

que tu finisses

que vous finnissiez

qu’il/elle finît

qu’ils/elles finissent


que je vendisse

que nous vendissions

que tu vendisses

que vous vendissiez

qu’il/elle vendît

qu’ils/elles vendissent


Next week I’ll go over the irregular verbs of the imperfect subjunctive. Have a great week, everyone!

Merci à vous !


Literary Tenses : Passé Simple Irregular Verbs

Part 2 of last week’s post of passé simple, now with irregular verbs.

Irregular -ir verbs such as dormirpartirouvrir, and cueillir form the passé simple regularly, like réfléchir (from last week) : je dormis, je partis, j’ouvris, je cueillis.

The irregular -re verbs battresuivreécrirevaincre, and naître form the passé simple like vendre (also from last week) : je battis, je suivis, j’écrivis, je vainquis, je naquis.

Many other irregular -ir and -re verbs form the passé simple in -is.

  • voir → je vis
  • s’asseoir → je m’assis
  • faire → je fis
  • prendre → je pris

Verbs ending in -evoir have the vowel u in the passé simple.


je reçus

nous reçûmes

tu reçus

vous reçûtes

il/elle/on reçut

ils/elles reçurent


je dus

nous dûmes

tu dus

vous dûtes

il/elle/on dut

ils/elles durent

Most irregular verbs with infinitives ending in -oir and -oire also have u as the vowel of the passé simple (except for voir and s’asseoir, above). These verbs also have a past participle ending in u.


je pus

nous pûmes

tu pus

vous pûtes

il/elle/on put

ils/elles purent



nous eûmes

tu pus

vous eûtes

il/elle/on eut

ils/elles eurent

Other verbs that form the passé simple like pouvoir and avoir are the following:

  • boire → je bus
  • croire → je crus
  • savoir → je sus
  • vouloir → je voulus
  • lire → je lus
  • vivre → je vécus
  • courir → je courus

Être has an irregular stem: f-


je fus

nous fûmes

tu fus

vous fûtes

il/elle/on fut

ils/elles furent

Verbs ending in -indre (like craindre) and verbs ending in -uire (like produire) form the passé simple with the vowel i added to their stem from the plural forms of the present tense. The stem for craindre ends in -gn- : nous craignons, vous craignez, ils/elles craignent. The stem for produire ends in -uis- : nous produisons, vous produisez, ils/elles produisent.


je craignis

nous craignîmes

tu craignis

vous craignîtes

il/elle/on craignit

ils/elles craignirent


je produisis

nous produisîmes

tu produisis

vous produisîtes

il/elle/on produisit

ils/elles produisirent

The verbs venir and tenir are irregular in passé simple.


je vins

nous vînmes

tu vins

vous vîntes

il/elle/on vint

ils/elles vinrent


je tins

nous tînmes

tu tins

vous tîntes

il/elle/on tint

ils/elles tinrent

The third-person singular of the passé simple is used in contemporary writing to indicate quoted speech. In this function, the subject and verb are inverted.

Bonjour, dit-elle.

Il faut que je parte maintenant, fit-il.

Au voleur, au voleur, s’écria-t-il.

Note that in the second example, the use of faire means to say in this context.

Have a great week, everyone!

A la prochaine…


Literary Tenses : Passé Simple

An important characteristic of French is the preservation of certain tenses in writing that have disappeared in the spoken language. The tenses are the passé simple, the imperfect subjunctive, and the pluperfect subjunctive. The loss of these tenses is one of the major features distinguishing spoken French from the other romance languages.

Although they are not used in spoken language, these tenses are necessary for reading French texts from earlier periods, and many of their forms are used for stylistic effect even in today’s literary and journalistic writing.

Passé Simple

The passé simple is perhaps the most common of the three literary tenses. The passé simple covers only part of the meaning of the passé composé.

-er verbs


je parlai

nous parlâmes

tu parlas

vous parlâtes

il/elle/on parla

ils/elles parlèrent

Verbs ending in -cer and -ger show the same spelling change in the passé simple (in all forms except for the ils form) that they show in the first-person singular of the present and in the imperfect.


je commençai

nous commençâmes

tu commenças

vous commençâtes

il/elle/on commença

ils/elles commencèrent


je rangeai

nous rangeâmes

tu rangeas

vous rangeâtes

il/elle/on rangea

ils/elles rangèrent

The second and third conjugations (-ir verbs and -re verbs) share the same set of endings in the passé simple.

-ir verbs


je réfléchis

nous réfléchîmes

tu réfléchis

vous réfléchîtes

il/elle/on réfléchit

ils/elles réfléchirent

-re verbs


je vendis

nous vendîmes

tu vendis

vous vendîtes

il/elle/on vendit

ils/elles vendirent

Next week I will cover irregular verbs in passé simple. Have a great week, everyone!

A bientôt !