Exploring the Intricate Nuances of the French Subjonctif Imparfait


Salut mes amis! Today, let’s delve into the fascinating world of the French language and explore one of its most intriguing verb forms – the Subjonctif Imparfait. As a teacher, I am thrilled to share with you the essential aspects, usage, and examples of this grammatical jewel that adds depth and complexity to our expressions.

What is the Subjonctif Imparfait?

The Subjonctif Imparfait is a verb form that specifically conveys an action or a state of doubt, desire, necessity, or uncertainty in the past. Unlike the Indicatif (indicative mood) which deals with facts and reality, the Subjonctif Imparfait allows us to express hypothetical or subjective events that have already happened or were happening at a specific point in the past.


Expressing Doubt or Hypotheses:

The Subjonctif Imparfait often appears in the main clause when the subordinate clause introduces doubt, a hypothesis, or a contrary-to-reality condition. For example:

  • Il était possible que tu fusses en retard. (It was possible that you were late.)
  • J’aurais aimé que nous eussions plus de temps ensemble. (I would have liked us to have more time together.)

Describing Unrealizable Wishes:

Whenever we express unfulfilled desires or unrealizable wishes in the past, the Subjonctif Imparfait comes into play. Consider these examples:

  • J’aurais voulu que tu fusses là lors de mon anniversaire. (I would have wanted you to be there on my birthday.)
  • Il aurait été bien que nous eussions réussi notre examen. (It would have been good if we had passed our exam.)

Reporting in Historical Narratives:

To recount what someone said, thought, or desired in the past, the Subjonctif Imparfait lends its elegance to historical narratives. Look at these illustrative sentences:

  • Elle voulait que nous fussions tous là. (She wanted all of us to be there.)
  • Il pensait que je fisse ces exercices tous les jours. (He thought that I did these exercises every day.)

The Formation of Subjonctif Imparfait

To form the Subjonctif Imparfait, we need to resort to the imperfect stem, which is generally identical to the nous form of the verb in the present tense, minus the -ons. This stem is then combined with the appropriate endings (-sse, -sses, -ît, -ssions, -ssiez, -ssent) to match the subject. Here is an example using the verb “manger” (to eat):

  • Que je mangeasse (That I ate)
  • Que tu mangeasses (That you ate)
  • Qu’il/elle/on mangeât (That he/she/one ate)
  • Que nous mangeassions (That we ate)
  • Que vous mangeassiez (That you ate)
  • Qu’ils/elles mangeassent (That they ate)


Voilà! We have now unlocked the enigmatic realm of the Subjonctif Imparfait, a verb form that expands the depths of our linguistic expression in French. Remember, the Subjonctif Imparfait adds subtlety, uncertainty, and doubt to our narratives and hypotheses in the past. By embracing this grammatical gem, we can elevate our language skills and truly immerse ourselves in the beauty of the French language.

Thank you for joining me on this linguistic adventure! À bientôt!