Imperfect Subjunctive

French imperfect subjunctive
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Imparfait du subjonctif

The imperfect subjunctive is a literary verb form, meaning that it’s reserved for formal, written French – mainly literature, but also history and journalism. It is (was) used when a subjunctive-requiring verb or expression had a subordinate clause in the past.

In today’s French, the imperfect subjunctive is replaced by the present subjunctive or past subjunctive, shown here in parentheses. (To its detriment, in my opinion – the use of the present subjunctive in particular lacks a certain nuance that the imperfect subjunctive provided.)

Par exemple…

Je craignais qu’il fût mort.
(Je craignais qu’il soit mort.)
 I feared he was dead.
Elle voyagea quoiqu’elle n’eût point d’argent.
(Elle a voyagé quoiqu’elle n’ait pas eu d’argent.)
 She traveled even though she didn’t have any money.
J’ai voulu qu’il choisît.
(J’ai voulu qu’il choisisse.)
 I wanted him to choose.

 Because it’s literary, you don’t need to be able to conjugate the imperfect subjunctive, but you should learn to recognize it, especially if you read classic French literature and poetry.

Imperfect subjunctive conjugations

The imperfect subjunctive endings are the same for all verbs:

… que je-sse
… que tu-sses
… qu’il-^t
… que nous-ssions
… que vous-ssiez
… qu’ils-ssent

Imperfect subjunctive of –er verbs

All er verbs, including stem-changing verbs and aller, use the il form of the passé simple as the stem. Because this conjugation ends in a, spelling change verbs require their spelling changes in all conjugations.

  donner > donna-lever > leva-aller > alla-effacer > effaça-bouger > bouge-
je/j’ donnasselevasseallasseeffaçassebougeasse

Imperfect subjunctive of –ir verbs

The imperfect subjunctive stem of all ir verbs – regular and irregular – is the il form of the passé simple minus the final t.

 choisir > choisi-partir > parti-offrir > offri-avoir > eu-

Imperfect subjunctive of –re verbs

Again, the imperfect subjunctive stem of all re verbs is the il form of the passé simple minus the final t.

 battre > batti-vendre > vendi-faire > fi-être > fu-

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French imperfect subjunctive

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