Past Subjunctive

French past subjunctive
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Passé du subjonctif

The past subjunctive is the past tense of the subjunctive mood. (Très logique, n’est-ce pas ?)

In other words, the exact same verbs, emotions, expressions, and conjunctions that call for the subjunctive in the present (and future) can indicate subjectivity about something that happened in the past, and when this happens, the verb in the subordinate clause is in the past subjunctive. The verb in the main clause may be in the present or past.

Main clause in present tense

The speaker describes how they feel now about something that happened (or didn’t happen) in the past.

Par exemple…

Je doute qu’il ait fini ses devoirs. I doubt he (has) finished his homework.
Il est ravi que tu sois venu à la fête. He’s delighted that you came to the party.
Elle ne pense pas que Jean ait mangé. She doesn’t think Jean ate / has eaten.

Main clause in past tense

The speaker explains they felt in the past about what happened or didn’t happen.

Par exemple…

Je doutais qu’il ait fini ses devoirs. I doubted he’d finished his homework.
Il était ravi que tu sois venu à la fête. He was delighted that you came to the party.
Elle ne pensait pas que Jean ait mangé. She didn’t think Jean had eaten.

 Here’s something for the strict grammarians out there: consider what happens if you use verbs that don’t call for the subjunctive:

Je croyais qu’il avait fini ses devoirs. I believed he’d finished his homework.
Il a dit que tu étais venu à la fête. He said that you’d come to the party.
Elle pensait que Jean avait mangé. She thought that Jean had eaten.

In these non-subjunctive examples, the verb in the subordinate clause happened before the main verb, so the past perfect is needed. This means that when the subjunctive is called for with a main verb in the past, the verb in the subordinate clause should, according to strict rules of French grammar, be in the past perfect subjunctive. But in reality, the past perfect subjunctive is literary and extremely rare; the past subjunctive is used  instead.

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French subjunctive

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