Subjunctive: head verbs and heart verbs

The subjunctive grammatical mode is often used in the French language 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, the subjunctive is an essential mode for expressing your thoughts.

Because its use is sometimes complex, I will explain in this lesson how to use it with the concordance of tenses thanks to the verbs of head and verbs of heart.

The subjunctive in French: reminder of its use

The subjunctive is used in French to express a doubt, a desire, but also to indicate a hypothetical or envisaged action.

There are four subjunctive tenses: the present, the imperfect, the passé composé and the plus-que-parfait. Only two of these are used in everyday speech: the present and the imperfect. The other two are mainly used in writing.

The subjunctive 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 the indicative and the subjunctive

It is not always obvious when to use the indicative and the subjunctive when learning French.

The indicative reflects an objective world and leads to an emotional independence of the subject. With the indicative, 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.

The subjunctive, on the other hand, reflects a subjective world and creates an emotional dependence on the subject. Perceived reality is virtual, 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.

The indicative also often refers to a certain reality, whereas the subjunctive 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 dogs exists). Je cherche un chien qui ait les yeux verts (subjonctif, because I don’t know if this type of dogs exists).

Subjonctive : head verbs and heart verbs

Subjunctive and indicative: heart verbs and head verbs

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

Objective verbs are “head” verbs and are followed by the indicative. Subjective verbs are “heart” verbs and are followed by the subjunctive.

Example of “head” verbs:

  • je constate que ;
  • j’observe que ;
  • j’affirme que ;
  • je crois que ;
  • etc.

Example : je constate que tu fais bien les choses.

Example of “heart” verbs:

  • je souhaite que ;
  • je veux que ;
  • j’exige que ;
  • j’ordonne que ;
  • etc.

Example : je souhaite que tu fasses bien les choses.

Special case for the subjunctive and indicative

Be careful, because there are exceptions. Some verbs are misleading.

The indicative is used after :

  • have the feeling = think
  • judge, recognise, decide = think and conclude that

The subjunctive requires two distinct subjects in a sentence, whereas the infinitive is used 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 with the subjunctive and indicative

Transform according to the model.

  • 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. > ___________________

Complete with a subjunctive or infinitive depending on the pattern.

  • 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 the subjunctive! 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, check here Subjonctif : les verbes de tête et les verbes de coeur.

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

Sincerely yours,

Élodie – Your online French teacher

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