Avoiding the Subjunctive

Éviter le subjonctif

Between the conjugations and especially knowing when to use it, the subjunctive is very difficult verb mood for many French learners. Although the subjunctive is commonly used in French, there are numerous ways to avoid it,* with varying meaning changes.

Replace que with a preposition

Impersonal expressions

Replace the subordinating conjunction que with the preposition de and change the conjugated verb to an infinitive.

Il est important que tu sois à l’heure.
   > Il est important d’être à l’heure.
 It’s important that you be on time.
   > It’s important to be on time.
C’est utile que Manon connaisse trois langues.
   > C’est utile de connaître trois langues.
 It’s useful that Manon knows three languages.
   > It’s useful to know three languages.
Il n’est pas bon que tu aies faim.
   > Il n’est pas bon d’avoir faim.
 It’s not good that you’re hungry.
   > It’s not good to be hungry.
C’est honteux qu’il mente.
   > C’est honteux de mentir.
 It’s shameful that he lies.
   > It’s shameful to lie.

 Note that this substitution slightly changes the meaning of the sentence. When using the subjunctive, you are making an observation or giving advice to/about a specific person. By avoiding the subjunctive, you are changing it to a general observation or piece of advice.

Impersonal verbs

Instead of que + subjunctive, drop que and use the infinitive.

Il faut que tu sois là.
   > Il (te) faut être là.
 It’s necessary for you to be there.
   > It’s necessary (for you) to be there.
Il importe qu’elle le fasse.
   > Il importe de le faire.
 It’s important that she do it.
   > It’s important to do it.

Conjunctions

Likewise, for many conjunctions that end in que and require the subjunctive, you can change que to de and use the infinitive instead – but only if the subject of the main and dependent clauses are the same, or if you are speaking in general.

Il m’aide à condition qu’il soit payé.
   > Il m’aide à condition d’être payé.
 He’s helping me on the condition that he is paid.
   > He’s helping me on condition of being paid.
On doit travailler avant que l’on ne puisse prendre sa retraite.
   > On doit travailler avant de pouvoir prendre sa retraite.
 You need to work before you can retire.
   > You need to work before retiring.

Some sentences with conjunctions that require the subjunctive can be reworded: change the conjunction into a preposition and replace the subjunctive with a noun.

Il est toujours gentil jusqu’à ce que tu arrives.
   > Il est toujours gentil jusqu’à ton arrivée.
 He’s always nice until you arrive.
   > He’s always nice until your arrival.
Nous pouvons le faire sans que tu paies.
   > Nous pouvons le faire sans ton argent.
 We can do it without you paying.
   > We can do it without your money.

Replace que with si

When the subjunctive is expressing doubt, you can replace que with si.

Je ne suis pas sûr qu’il soit là.
   > Je ne suis pas sûr s’il est là.
 I’m not sure he’s there.
Elle doute que nous ayons assez de temps.
   > Elle doute si nous avons assez de temps.
 She doubts that we have enough time.

Eliminate a subject

When a sentence has two subjects, you might be able to get rid of one of them and use an infinitive to avoid the subjunctive:

Il aide pour que tu sois content.
   > Il aide pour te rendre content.
 He’s helping so that you will be happy.
   > He’s helping (in order) to make you happy.
Maryse lit à haute voix afin que le bébé s’endorme.
   > Maryse lit à haute voix afin d’endormir le bébé.
 Maryse is reading out loud so that the baby falls asleep.
   > Maryse is reading out loud to make the baby fall asleep.

Use an adverb

Sometimes you can just take out the entire subjunctive structure and use an adverb instead.

Il est possible que je vienne.
   > Je viendrai, peut-être.
 It’s possible that I’ll come.
   > I will come, maybe.
Il est heureux qu’elle soit travailleuse.
   > Heureusement, elle est travailleuse.
 It is fortunate that she is hard-working.
   > Fortunately, she is hard-working.<br>

Change negative to affirmative

For structures that require the subjunctive only when used negatively, you can avoid the subjunctive by inverting the negative and affirmative.

Je ne crois pas qu’il soit là.
   > Je crois qu’il n’est pas là.
 I don’t think he’s there.
   > I think he’s not there.
Il n’est pas évident qu’il ait de l’argent.
   > Il est évident qu’il n’a pas d’argent.
 It’s not obvious that he has money.
   > It’s obvious that he doesn’t have money.

Note that this changes the meaning to a certain extent by removing the doubt.

 En résumé

As you can see, there is usually at least one way to avoid the French subjunctive in any given sentence, but there is often some change in meaning that you need to be aware of.

* These techniques are not meant to make you believe that you don’t need to know how to use the subjunctive, because you certainly do.

But for those times when an alternative is available and the meaning change is acceptable, feel free to go ahead and avoid the subjunctive.

 More French subjunctive

 Related lessons

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Avoiding the French subjunctive
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