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Avoiding the French Subjunctive

Hate the subjunctive? Try these techniques to avoid using it

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The subjunctive is a fairly difficult verb mood for many students of French. Between the conjugations and deciding when to use it, the subjunctive can be very tricky. Although the subjunctive is commonly used in French, there are numerous ways to avoid it.

Impersonal expressions

For impersonal expressions, replace que with de and change the conjugated verb to an infinitive.

Il est important que tu sois là > Il est important d'être là.
It's important that you be there > It's important to be there.

C'est utile que Jacques connaisse trois langues > C'est utile de connaître trois langues.
It's useful that Jacques 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

Impersonal verbs can be followed with que + subjunctive, or you can drop the que and use the infinitive.

Il faut que tu sois là > Il (te) faut être là.
It is 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

For many conjunctions that end in que and require the subjunctive, you can change the conjunction to a preposition (either by replacing que with de or by dropping que) and use the infinitive instead. Note that this can only be done 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.

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.


Sometimes you can rewrite a sentence with two subjects in order to get rid of one of them and thus be able 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.

Élise lit à haute voix afin que le bébé s'endorme > Élise lit à haute voix afin d'endormir le bébé.
Élise is reading out loud so that the baby falls asleep > Élise is reading out loud to make the baby fall asleep.


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

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.

Il doute que nous ayons assez de temps > Il doute si nous avons assez de temps.
He doubts that we have enough time.


Replace subjunctive structure

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.


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.


As you can see, there is usually at least one way to avoid the 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.
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