Subjonctif in French : head verbs and heart verbs

The grammar mode subjonctif in French is often used to express a thought, a doubt, a wish, an emotion or an uncertainty.

Whether you are taking the DELF B1/ DELF B2 or DALF exams, or the argumentative essay in any French exam, subjonctif is an essential mode for expressing your thoughts.

Because its use is sometimes complex, I will explain how to use it in accordance with tenses with the help of verbs of head and verbs of heart.

Subjonctif in French: a review of its use

Subjonctif is used in French to express a doubt, a desire, but also to indicate a hypothetical or conceived action.

There are four subjonctif tenses: présent, imparfait, passé composé and plus-que-parfait. We use only two of these in everyday speech: présent and imparfait. The other two are mainly used in writing.

Subjonctif implies the use of two subjects in a sentence and “que ” or “qu’ ” is used before the verb to indicate the mode.

Example: je veux qu’il parte.

Choosing between indicatif and subjonctif

It is not always obvious when to use indicatif and subjonctif when learning French.

Indicatif reflects an objective world and leads to an emotional independence of the subject. With indicatif, reality is not in doubt. It can be analysed and commented on.

Example: je pense que ce tableau est un Picasso. Je pense que ce tableau soit un Picasso.

Subjonctif on the other hand, reflects a subjective world and creates an emotional dependence on the subject. Perceived reality is virtual and questionable. It is filtered by the subject’s feelings, emotions and intentions.

Example: je doute que ce tableau soit un Picasso. Je doute que ce tableau est un Picasso.

Indicatif also often refers to a certain reality, whereas subjonctif refers to an uncertain reality. They express two different perceptions of reality.

Example: je cherche un chien qui a les yeux verts (indicatif, because this type of dog exists). Je cherche un chien qui ait les yeux verts (subjonctif, because I don’t know if this type of dog exists).

Subjonctif in French.  I explain head verbs and heart verbs.

here- image of the brain alongside an image of the heart
Subjonctif : head verbs and heart verbs

Subjonctif and indicatif: heart verbs and head verbs

To know when to use subjonctif or indicatif, you just have to recognise the “heart” verbs and the “head” verbs.

Objective verbs are “head” verbs and are followed by indicatif. Subjective verbs are “heart” verbs and are followed by subjonctif.

Some examples of “head” verbs:

  • je constate que 
  • j’observe que 
  • j’affirme que 
  • je crois que 

Example : je constate que tu fais bien les choses

Some examples of “heart” verbs:

  • je souhaite que 
  • je veux que 
  • j’exige que 
  • j’ordonne que 

Example : je souhaite que tu fasses bien les choses.

Special case for subjonctif and indicatif

Be careful about the usage because there are exceptions. Some verbs can be misleading.

We use indicatif after :

  • have the feeling = penser
  • judge, recognise, decide = réfléchir et conclure que

Subjonctif requires two distinct subjects in a sentence, whereas we use infinitif with a single subject:

Je désire qu’il parte. > Je désire partir. > Je désire que je parte.

Je suis désolé que tu partes. > Je suis désolé de partir. > Je suis désolé que je parte.

Exercises for subjonctif in French

Change the sentences according to the example

  • Ne pas savoir toute la vérité. > Je pense qu’il ne sait pas toute la vérité. Je voudrais qu’il sache toute la vérité.
  • Ne pas dire le fond de sa pensée. > ____________________
  • Ne pas avoir confiance en nous. > _____________________
  • Ne pas connaître bien la situation. > ___________________

Change the sentences according to the examples

  • Tu ne peux pas venir ? > Je suis désolé que tu ne puisses pas venir.
  • Je ne peux pas venir. > Je suis triste de ne pas pouvoir venir.
  • Vous êtes libre ce soir ! > Je suis ravie ____________
  • Oh la la ! Je suis en retard ! > Je ne supporte pas ____________
  • Il fait beau aujourd’hui. > Je suis contente ________________
  • Je fais la queue à la poste. > J’ai horreur _________________

Thank you for reading my article on subjonctif in French ! I hope you found this grammar point useful. Please feel free to read other blog posts on grammar, such as on articles partitifs. Would you like to ask me a question on the subject? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment on the Your Online French Teacher blog!

You want to read this article in French: Subjonctif : les verbes de tête et les verbes de coeur.

You want to study French, join French grammar workshops or conversation course or prepare for a French exam ? Contact me for a quote or for the programme of individual and group French classes.

Sincerely yours,

Élodie – Your Online French Teacher

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