. 3
( 19)


je sache, tu saches, il/elle/on sache, nous sachions, vous sachiez, ils/elles
je veuille, tu veuilles, il/elle/on veuille, nous voulions, vous vouliez,
ils/elles veuillent

Imperfect subjunctive tense

99 Formation and usage
The imperfect subjunctive is extremely rare in everyday usage “ see 145. When it occurs,
it is normally the third person singular form that is found.
It is normally formed by taking the ¬rst person singular form of the past historic tense,
deleting the last letter and adding the appropriate endings.
Obtaining the stem “
portai ’ porta“, ¬nis ’ ¬ni“, courus ’ couru“, vendis ’ vendi“,
recus ’ recu“
¸ ¸
The endings are
singular plural
“sse “ssions
“sses “ssiez
“ˆt “ssent
Note that for the third person singular a circum¬‚ex accent is added to the vowel of the

100 Examples of the imperfect subjunctive
Group 1
je portasse, tu portasses, il/elle portat, nous portassions, vous portassiez,
ils/elles portassent
j™allasse, tu allasses, il/elle/on allat, nous allassions, vous allassiez,
ils/elles allassent

Group 2
je ¬nisse, tu ¬nisses, il/elle/on ¬nˆt, nous ¬nissions, vous ¬nissiez,
ils/elles ¬nissent
je courusse, tu courusses, il/elle/on courut, nous courussions, vous
courussiez, ils/elles courussent


Group 3
je vendisse, tu vendisses, il/elle/on vendˆt, nous vendissions, vous
vendissiez, ils/elles vendissent
je fusse, tu fusses, il/elle/on fut, nous fussions, vous fussiez, ils/elles

Group 4
je recusse, tu recusses, il/elle/on recut, nous recussions, vous recussiez,
¸ ¸ ¸ ¸
ils/elles recussent
j™eusse, tu eusses, il/elle/on eut, nous eussions, vous eussiez, ils/elles
je pusse, tu pusses, il/elle/on put, nous pussions, vous pussiez, ils/elles

Perfect and pluperfect subjunctive tenses

101 Formation
The perfect subjunctive is formed by combining the present subjunctive of the auxiliary
verbs avoir or etre with the past participle of the verb, and the pluperfect subjunctive
similarly by combining the imperfect subjunctive of the auxiliary verbs avoir or etre
with the past participle of the verb.

102 Examples of Group 1“4 verbs
Group 1
j™aie port´ , j™eusse port´
e e

Group 2
j™aie ¬ni, j™eusse ¬ni

Group 3
j™aie vendu, j™eusse vendu
´e ´e
j™aie et´ , j™eusse et´

Group 4
j™aie recu, j™eusse recu
¸ ¸
j™aie eu, j™eusse eu

104 Compound tenses

Pronominal verbs

103 Pronominal verbs
A pronominal verb is one which is accompanied by an unstressed object pronoun (see
208) in all its forms. The verbs are conjugated in exactly the same way as non-pronominal
verbs “ those ending in “er are conjugated like other verbs ending in “er with the same
quali¬cations as apply to the latter (subgroups); and the same applies to the other groups
of verbs. The pronouns are me, te, se (for third person singular and plural), nous,
Present tense

Group 1
se lever = to get up
je me l` ve, tu te l` ves, il/elle/on se l` ve, nous nous levons, vous vous levez,
e e e
ils/elles se l` vent

Group 2
se souvenir = to remember
je me souviens, tu te souviens, il/elle/on se souvient, nous nous
souvenons, vous vous souvenez, ils/elles se souviennent

Group 3
se plaindre = to complain
je me plains, tu te plains, il/elle/on se plaint, nous nous plaignons, vous
vous plaignez, ils/elles se plaignent

Group 4
s™asseoir = to sit down
je m™assieds, tu t™assieds, il/elle/on s™assied, nous nous asseyons, vous
vous asseyez, ils/elles s™asseyent

104 Compound tenses
The major difference between pronominal and non-pronominal verbs occurs in the area
of compound tense formation. Whereas the majority of non-pronominal verbs use avoir
as their auxiliary when they form their compound tenses (see 63, 64), and only a small
minority do not, all pronominal verbs without exception use etre for their compound
tenses “
se lever “ je me suis lev´ (e)
se souvenir “ je me suis souvenu(e)
se plaindre “ je me suis plaint(e)
s™asseoir “ je me suis assis(e)


105 Agreement of past participles
The fact that the compound tenses of pronominal verbs are conjugated with etre and
not avoir has consequences for the agreement of the past participles “ see 64. How-
ever, the situation is not quite so straightforward as with non-pronominal verbs con-
jugated with etre. Agreement depends upon the syntactic status of the object pronoun
“ whether it is direct object or indirect object. In the former case, agreement occurs; in
the latter it does not. It is important, therefore, to interpret the value of the pronouns

106 The variable values of re¬‚exive pronouns “ how to
interpret the pronouns
The pronouns that are used in conjunction with pronominal verbs have a number of

1 They may be direct objects
The pronoun is directly affected by the action of the verb “
je me lave = I get washed, I wash myself
However, at times the action exerted by the verb is less obvious “
je me couche = I go to bed
je me suis assis = I sat down
elle s™est promen´ e = she went for a walk
In all these cases, in compound tenses, the past participle agrees with the subject of the

2 They may be indirect objects
In this case the pronoun is not directly affected by the action of the verb, and no agreement
occurs “
je me suis dit que . . . = I said to myself that . . .
je me lave les mains = I am washing my hands
“ here les mains is the direct object, what is being washed; the indirect object indicates
that the hands belong to the subject (see 257).

3 They may be used re¬‚exively
In such circumstances the pronouns indicate that the subjects are doing something to
themselves. This applies to all the previous examples given in 1 and 2.
je me lave = I wash myself
je me couche = I put myself to bed
Elle se croyait enceinte = she thought she was pregnant (literally she thought herself

106 Variable values of re¬‚exive pronouns

4 They may be used without a re¬‚exive value
The pronoun has no independence from the verb, and the verb and pronoun constitute
a single semantic entity “
s™abstenir = to abstain, s™en aller = to go away, se douter = to suspect, s™endormir
= to go to sleep, s™´ vanouir = to faint, se m´ ¬er = to mistrust, se repentir = to repent
e e
In all these cases, in compound tenses, the past participle agrees with the subject of the

5 They may have a reciprocal value
The pronoun is used to convey the fact that several subjects are doing the same thing to
each other.
The pronoun may be direct or indirect object “
Direct object “
s™admirer = to admire each other, s™aimer = to love each other, se d´ tester = to hate each
other, se regarder = to look at each other
Indirect object “
se dire (la v´ rit´ ) = to tell each other (the truth), s™´ crire = to write to each other,
ee e
s™envoyer (un mail) = to send each other (an e-mail), se raconter (des histoires) = to
tell each other (stories)
A consequence of this is that certain verbs may be ambiguous in interpretation, sometimes
being re¬‚exive, sometimes reciprocal.
se connaˆtre
in the singular a verb like se connaˆtre is re¬‚exive “ je me connais = I know
(= understand) myself “
but in the plural, it may be used

1 reciprocally “ ils se connaissent = they know each other or
2 re¬‚exively “ ils se connaissent = they know (= understand) themselves.

se poser
The same would apply to se poser des questions “ ils se posent des questions =
they ask each other questions or they ask themselves questions.
En Afrique, la nourriture, c™est culturel. Les maris ne se posent pas la
question de savoir si leur epouse cuisine bien = in Africa food is a cultural matter.
Husbands don™t ask themselves whether their wife is a good cook
se dire

1 Les analystes se sont dits d´ cus par le r´ sultat net du troisi` me
e¸ e e
trimestre = the analysts declared themselves disappointed by the net result of the third term
2 Les analystes se sont dit des histoires pour egayer les r´ sultats e
d´ cevants = the analysts told each other stories to enliven the disappointing results


In 1 the analysts are describing themselves (direct object) as disappointed; in 2 they are
telling stories (direct object) to themselves (indirect object).
A way of avoiding this potential ambiguity is to add the expression l™un l™autre
in the appropriate form (for number and gender) in order to reinforce the reciprocal
value “
Les hommes politiques se sont f´ licit´ s d™avoir r´ ussi leur campagne = the
e e e
politicians congratulated themselves on the success of their campaign
Les hommes politiques se sont f´ licit´ s les uns les autres d™avoir r´ ussi
e e e
leur campagne = the politicians congratulated each other on the success of their campaign
Sophie et Jessica se sont maquill´ es = Sophie and Jessica made themselves up / put their
make-up on
Sophie et Jessica se sont maquill´ es l™une l™autre = Sophie and Jessica made each
other up / put each other™s make-up on

6 As an alternative to the passive voice
The pronominal form of many verbs may be used instead of or to avoid the passive
voice “ see 114.
Le francais se parle au Qu´ bec = French is spoken in Quebec
¸ e
Il est comptable “ ca se voit bien = he™s an accountant, that can easily be seen (= that™s
Cette expression ne s™emploie plus = that expression is no longer used
Cette plante ne se trouve que dans tr` s peu de jardins = this plant is only found in
a few gardens

107 Occasional dif¬culty in deciding whether the pronoun
is direct or indirect object
It is not always immediately clear, especially for an English speaker who tries to trans-
late the French pronominal verb directly into English, whether the object pronoun is
indirect or direct. Sometimes a moment™s re¬‚exion is necessary to establish which pro-
noun is involved; at other times, in order to grasp the relationship between the pronoun
and the verb, mental gymnastics are required, as some of the examples quoted above
The case of se souvenir = to remember and se rappeler = to remember
As far as se souvenir = to remember (see below) is concerned, the se is direct object,
but, in the case of se rappeler = to remember, it is indirect object “ the test here is that se
souvenir is followed by de, so that what is remembered depends upon a preposition,
consequently making the se direct object (= I remind myself ); whereas in the case of se
rappeler what is remembered is the direct object and consequently the pronoun, as
with se laver earlier, indicates who is being reminded (= I recall to myself (?)).
Elle s™est souvenue de mon anniversaire but elle s™est rappel´ mon
anniversaire = she remembered my birthday
If the pronominal verb is followed by de, the pronoun is treated as a direct object.

109 Verbs that are always/sometimes pronominal

108 The agreement in compound tenses of pronominal verbs
with direct objects and those with indirect objects
1 Perfect tense of pronominal verbs with a direct object pronoun
se laver
je me suis lav´ /lav´ e, tu t™es lav´ /lav´ e, il s™est lav´ , elle s™est lav´ e, nous
e e e e e e
nous sommes lav´ s/lav´ es, vous vous etes lav´ /lav´ e/lav´ s/lav´ es, ils se
e e e e e e
sont lav´ s, elles se sont lav´ es
e e
Other examples “
s™asseoir, s™attaquer = to attack, se baigner = to have a swim, se battre = to ¬ght,
se blesser = to hurt yourself, se cacher = to hide, se coucher = to go to bed, s™´ tendre
= to stretch out, s™habiller = to get dressed, s™installer = to settle down, se lever, se
mettre debout = to stand up, se mettre en route = to set out, se promener, se
raser = to get shaved, se retrouver = to turn up, se rouler = to roll, to wrap
yourself up
2 Perfect tense of re¬‚exive verbs with an indirect object pronoun
se rendre compte = to realise
je me suis rendu compte, tu t™es rendu compte, il/elle s™est rendu compte,
nous nous sommes rendu compte, vous vous etes rendu compte, ils/elles
se sont rendu compte
Other examples “
s™admettre = to admit, se demander = to wonder, se dire = to say to yourself, s™´ crire e
= to write to yourself, se parler = to talk to yourself, se reprocher = to reproach yourself, and
all examples where an action is being undertaken on part of the body “ se brosser les
dents = to brush your teeth, se casser la jambe = to break a leg, se frotter les mains
= to rub your hands, se laver le visage = to wash your face
For agreement of past participles with a direct preceding object, see 214.

109 Verbs that are always pronominal and those that are
sometimes pronominal
It will have been clear from the above sections that certain verbs are always pronominal,
whereas others sometimes are and sometimes are not. Most non-pronominal verbs may
on occasions be used pronominally.
A small selection of verbs which are always pronominal in form “
s™abstenir = to refrain, s™en aller = to go away, se blottir = to huddle up,
s™´ vanouir = to faint, se r´ fugier = to take refuge, se souvenir = to remember
e e
A small selection of verbs which have pronominal and non-pronominal forms “
cacher = to hide (an object) “ se cacher = to hide (yourself)
laver = to wash “ se laver = to get washed
lever = to raise up “ se lever = to get up
nourrir = to feed “ se nourrir = to feed yourself
promener = to take for a walk “ se promener = to go for a walk
raser = to shave “ se raser = to have a shave



110 Active and Passive Voice
In simple terms, in the case of verbs in the active voice, the subject of the verb performs
the action indicated by the verb.
In the case of verbs in the passive voice, the subject of the verb undergoes the action
indicated by the verb “ the object of an active verb becomes the subject of a passive
verb “
Le ministre a manipul´ l™opinion publique = the minister manipulated public
opinion ’
L™opinion publique a et´ manipul´ e par le ministre = public opinion has been
´e e
manipulated by the minister
Sa femme le domine = his wife dominates him ’
Il est domin´ par sa femme = he™s dominated by his wife

111 Restrictions on conversion from active to passive voice
Unlike English, where an indirect object may be transformed into the subject of a passive
verb (eg his girlfriend gave him the CD for his birthday ’he was given the CD for his birthday by
his girlfriend), in French only direct objects can be so used. Indirect objects cannot become
the subject of a verb in the passive voice.

112 Formation of the passive voice
The passive is formed by combining the past participle of the verb with the appropriate
tense of the auxiliary verb etre. The past participle agrees with the subject of the verb.
The conjugation of porter in the passive voice “
present tense passive “
je suis port´ /e, tu es port´ /e, il/on est port´ , elle est port´ e, nous sommes
e e e e
port´ s/es, vous etes port´ /e/s/es, ils sont port´ s, elles sont port´ es
e e e e
imperfect tense passive “
´ ´ ´
j™´ tais port´ /e, tu etais port´ /e, il/on etait port´ , elle etait port´ e, nous
e e e e e
´ ´ ´ ´
etions port´ s/es, vous etiez port´ /e/s/es, ils etaient port´ s, elles etaient
e e e
port´ es
perfect tense passive “
´e ´e ´e ´e
j™ai et´ port´ /e, tu as et´ port´ /e, il/on a et´ port´ , elle a et´ port´ e, nous
e e e e
´e ´e ´e
avons et´ port´ s/es, vous avez et´ port´ /e/s/es, ils ont et´ port´ s, elles
e e e
ont et´ port´ es
future tense passive “
je serai port´ /e, tu seras port´ /e, il/on sera port´ , elle sera port´ e, nous
e e e e
serons port´ s/es, vous serez port´ /e/s/es, ils seront port´ s, elles seront
e e e
port´ es

114 Avoiding and using the passive voice

pluperfect tense passive “
´e ´e ´e ´e
j™avais et´ port´ /e, tu avais et´ port´ /e, il/on avait et´ port´ , elle avait et´
e e e
´e ´e
port´ e, nous avions et´ port´ s/es, vous aviez et´ port´ /e/s/es, ils avaient
e e e
´e ´e
et´ port´ s, elles avaient et´ port´ es
e e
The other tenses, subjunctive as well as indicative, are formed according to the same

113 Examples of the passive voice
Deux m´ decins de Palerme sont soupconn´ s d™avoir soign´ le parrain de
e ¸ e e
Cosa Nostra = two doctors from Palermo are suspected of having treated the godfather of Cosa
Un sondage a et´ r´ alis´ au mois de septembre = a survey was carried out in
´e e e
Ce mois-ci vous serez soulag´ e d™ajouter le mot « ¬n » a votre manuscrit =`
this month you™ll be relieved to add the word ˜¬nished™ to your manuscript
La certitude d™´ tre tromp´ gagne du terrain = the certainty of being cheated on gains
e e
Un accord a et´ pass´ entre la pr´ sidence du tribunal de Paris et le
e e
barreau = an agreement has been signed between the president of the Paris court and the bar
Les deux m´ thodes donnent d™excellents r´ sultats, a condition qu™elles
e e
soient ex´ cut´ es par de vrais pros = the two methods give excellent results, provided that
they are carried out by real professionals
Un peu d™activit´ s™impose, car, mˆ me si votre capital beaut´ n™est pas
e e e
encore entam´ , il vaut mieux etre pr´ voyante = a little activity is called for, because
e e
even if your beauty capital hasn™t yet been opened up, it™s better to think ahead
Votre patron n™est pas oblig´ d™embaucher, mˆ me si c™est l™esprit de la
e e
loi = your boss isn™t obliged to take on any extra staff, even if it™s in the spirit of the law

114 Avoiding and using the passive voice
In relative terms English uses more passive voice constructions than French. This is
because French has a number of strategies that are regularly employed as alternatives to
the passive voice. In other words, where a passive voice would be used in English, French
sometimes uses a different construction. There are two strategies that are commonly
used as alternatives to the passive voice in situations where, in English, a passive would
be used.
1 The impersonal pronoun on
On is much more common as a pronoun in French than its equivalent one is in
English “ see 226 “
On dit que = it is said that
On croit que = it is thought that
On lui a r´ par´ sa voiture = his car has been repaired
e e


2 The pronominal form of the verb
L™ordinateur s™est inexorablement int´ gr´ dans le paysage professionnel =
computers have inexorably become an integral part of the professional scene
Une prise de conscience qui s™accompagne d™une sacr´ e p´ riode de ee
maturation = a pang of conscience accompanied by a jolly good period of growing up
Nous pensons que ce retard s™explique par une offre inacceptable = we think
that this delay may be explained by an unacceptable offer
See also 106.
Using the passive voice
As the examples in 113 have shown, despite the comment that French avoids the passive
voice, there are many instances where the passive voice is used. These tend to be in
technical and semi-technical circumstances “ in manuals, brochures, reports, of¬cial
documents and so on.


1 Formation des verbes
Pour chacun des verbes suivants, donnez la forme qu™on vous demande “
le pr´ sent
premi` re personne du singulier “
´ ˆ
courir, craindre, cueillir, devoir, ecrire, etre, lire, savoir, venir, vouloir
deuxi` me personne du pluriel “
aller, avoir, commencer, ¬nir, manger, partir, pouvoir, prendre, voir,
deuxi` me personne du singulier “
avoir, etre, faire, ¬nir, manger, perdre, recevoir, rire, valoir, vendre
troisi` me personne du pluriel “
aller, commencer, conduire, courir, devoir, jeter, porter, recevoir,
savoir, vouloir
le futur
troisi` me personne du singulier “
acheter, aller, boire, courir, etre, pouvoir, savoir, venir, voir, vouloir
premi` re personne du pluriel “
aller, commencer, devoir, envoyer, jeter, mener, mourir, partir, tenir,


le pass´ simple
troisi` me personne du singulier “
aller, boire, croire, cueillir, etre, porter, ¬nir, pouvoir, savoir, vouloir
deuxi` me personne du pluriel “
avoir, conduire, courir, devoir, ecrire, faire, lire, mener, mettre, vivre
le pr´ sent
troisi` me personne du singulier
avoir, dire, etre, faire, ¬nir, jeter, porter, savoir, valoir, vouloir
deuxi` me personne du pluriel
aller, boire, devoir, etre, faire, manger, mettre, pouvoir, vendre,
troisi` me personne du singulier
aller, avoir, boire, commencer, etre, faire, ¬nir, mener, savoir, vouloir
premi` re personne du pluriel
acheter, courir, devoir, etre, faire, partir, porter, pouvoir, vendre,
2 Les auxiliaires
Avec quel auxiliaire est-ce que les verbes suivants se conjuguent?
aller, arriver, s™asseoir, dire, falloir, mourir, naˆtre, porter, pouvoir,
recevoir, venir
3 Les verbes pronominaux
Donnez les formes des verbes pronominaux suivants qu™on vous
demande; en plus donnez les pronoms sujets “
troisi` me personne masculine du singulier et deuxi` me personne du pluriel du
e e
pr´ sent de l™indicatif “
s™asseoir, se laver, se lever, se plaindre, se souvenir
troisi` me personne f´ minine du singulier et deuxi` me personne masculine du pluriel
e e e
du pass´ compos´ de l™indicatif “
e e
s™en aller, s™asseoir, se bercer, se laver, se lever, se m´ ¬er, se plaindre,
se porter, se rappeler, se souvenir

4 R´ ecrivez les passages suivants en transposant les verbes actifs en leur
´ ´e
equivalent passif; le cas ech´ ant, faites d™autres modi¬cations pour
garder le sens de la phrase “


a. On peut utiliser le tableau electronique interactif comme un tableau
normal “ le stylet remplace la craie. On peut egalement y projeter des
infos prises directement sur internet ou on peut trouver cartes, photos,
graphiques; on peut illustrer les cours facilement.
b. Seule une solution associant robustesse et maˆtrise totale de votre
consommation peut vous satisfaire.
` ´
c. C™est aussi un conseiller qui vous accompagne a chaque etape de votre
d. La cl´ mentine con¬te, on la trouvera chez les con¬seurs.

Chapter 2 Verbs: 2



The imperative mood
115 The imperative
The imperative is used to give commands and is, therefore, very common in everyday
speech “

sit up, listen, don™t do that, forget it
Certain sets of circumstances are very prone to generate large numbers of orders, which
are then conveyed in the imperative mood “ parents to children (and vice versa), teachers
to students, in the military, in arguments, in making arrangements. The written medium
makes less extensive use of the imperative mood “ but it is common in manuals, recipes,
instructions on products, etc.

116 The restricted forms of the imperative
The imperative is the verb reduced to its minimum proportions “ no subject pronouns
to use, used only with reference to the present time and with a very limited range of
persons; in addition, sentences containing an imperative are often only one word long.

117 The forms of the imperative
The imperative derives mainly from the ˜you™-forms of the present tense of the verb,
second person singular and second person plural; less frequently an imperative based on
the ¬rst person plural occurs.

118 Forming the imperative
For Group 1 “er verbs
The singular imperative is derived from the second person singular forms of the present
tense, forms ending in “es or “as (aller “ vas) (see 16), with the ¬nal “s deleted. This
“s is reinstated in certain situations “ see below.
The plural imperative is derived from the second person plural forms and the ¬rst
person plural forms with no adjustment.

For Groups 2 “ir, 3 “ re and 4 “oir verbs
The singular imperative is derived from the second person singular forms of the present
tense without adjustment (see 23, 30, 40“42). The ouvrir subgroup forms its singular
imperative like a Group 1 “er verb.


The plural imperative is derived from the second person plural forms and the ¬rst
person plural forms without adjustment.

Group 1 “er verbs
porter “ porte, portez, portons
jeter “ jette, jetez, jetons
manger “ mange, mangez, mangeons
aller “ va, allez, allons
The “s that has been deleted to form the imperative is reinstated when the imperative is
followed by the pronouns en and y “
Vas-y! = off you go!
Parles-en! = talk about it!
Group 2 “ir verbs
¬nir “ ¬nis, ¬nissez, ¬nissons
courir “ cours, courez, courons
ouvrir “ ouvre, ouvrez, ouvrons
venir “ viens, venez, venons
Group 3 “re verbs
vendre “ vends, vendez, vendons
dire “ dis, dites, disons
´ ´ ´ ´
ecrire “ ecris, ecrivez, ecrivons
faire “ fais, faites, faisons
mettre “ mets, mettez, mettons
Group 4 “oir verbs
recevoir “ recois, recevez, recevons

119 Exceptions
There is a very small number of exceptions to the imperative-forming principle outlined
above. However, the verbs involved are common ones “
avoir “ aie, ayez, ayons
etre “ sois, soyez, soyons
savoir “ sache, sachez, sachons
vouloir “ veuille, veuillez, veuillons

120 Forming the imperative of pronominal verbs
The forms of the verb itself are created in exactly the same way as for non-pronominal
verbs. The difference between the pronominal and non-pronominal imperative forms
is that the former use the stressed form of the singular re¬‚exive pronoun after the verb
in positive situations, but unstressed forms of the pronoun before the verb in negative

122 Alternatives to the imperative

se cacher “ cache-toi, cachez-vous, cachons-nous
s™asseoir “ assieds-toi, asseyez-vous, asseyons-nous
se taire “ tais-toi, taisez-vous, taisons-nous
ne pas se cacher “ ne te cache pas, ne vous cachez pas, ne nous cachons pas
ne pas s™asseoir “ ne t™assieds pas, ne vous asseyez pas, ne nous asseyons
ne pas se taire “ ne te tais pas, ne vous taisez pas, ne nous taisons pas

121 Meaning of the imperative
The meaning of the second person forms is clear “ a direct order “
cours, courez = run
mange, mangez = eat up
assieds-toi, asseyez-vous = sit down
The meaning of the ¬rst person plural form is less peremptory and is equivalent to English
let™s . . .
mangeons ensemble = let™s eat together
asseyons-nous = let™s sit down

122 Alternatives to the imperative
1 The in¬nitive used to give an order
In the written medium, particularly on notices, in manuals and instructions, it is common
for the in¬nitive to be used to give an order. The impression given is of a more polite,
moderated command “
Ne pas marcher sur l™herbe = don™t walk on the grass
Tenir au frais = keep in a cool place
Battre les oeufs avec la cr` me = whisk the eggs and cream together

2 Using d´ fense to express a negative command
In negative situations, usually associated with public notices, the word d´ fense (= prohi-
bition) is sometimes used “
D´ fense d™af¬cher = stick no bills
D´ fense de se pencher dehors = do not lean out

3 The future used to give an order
See 135.

4 Using vouloir to attenuate the imperative
See 163.


123 The imperative combined with object pronouns
See 212.

Indicative and subjunctive moods
124 The indicative and subjunctive moods and tenses
Indicative mood
Past historic
Future perfect
Conditional perfect
Past anterior
Double compound
Subjunctive mood

Present tense
125 Uses “ 1: present moment; 2: habitual time;
3: universal time
Je mange is equivalent to English I eat (my lunch at one o™clock) and I™m eating (my lunch as
quickly as possible).

1 To describe events happening at the present moment
These fall into three main categories
Those relating to the present moment proper
L™anniversaire de Johnny Halliday est sans aucun doute l™´ v´ nement ee
musical de l™ann´ e = Johnny Halliday™s birthday is without doubt the musical event of the year
La France d´ pense pour sa d´ fense moins du dixi` me du budget militaire
e e e
am´ ricain = France™s defence expenditure is less than a tenth of America™s military budget
Les r´ cents feux de forˆ t montrent qu™il ne faut pas relacher l™effort pour
e e
trouver une solution a ce probl` me majeur du sud de l™Europe = the recent
` e
forest ¬res prove that it is vital not to relax efforts to ¬nd a solution to this very serious problem affecting
southern Europe

127 Other uses of the present tense

2 Those relating to habitual time
Voila la clef du myst` re “ ce littoral exquis apparaˆt couvert deux jours sur
e ±
trois par un brouillard a couper au couteau = here™s the key to the mystery “ this
exquisite coast-line is covered for two days out of three with a fog you could cut with a knife
Elle rentre a dix-sept heures tous les jours = she comes home every day at ¬ve o™clock
Son menu-carte change toutes les trois semaines et les id´ es fusent ici e
et la = he changes the menu every three weeks, and new ideas spurt out everywhere

3 Those relating to universal time
Toute r´ ussite est un travail d™´ quipe = every success story is a matter of team effort
e e
Deux et deux font quatre = two plus two makes four
Une ville a besoin d™un syst` me de transports auquel on peut faire
con¬ance = a town needs a transport system that inspires con¬dence
Avec l™age, on apprend que les autres ont peut-ˆ tre raison, mˆ me si l™on est
e e
certain qu™ils ont tort = with age, we learn that other people may perhaps be right, even if
we™re sure they™re wrong

126 4: Marking continuous time
In English it is possible to distinguish between a simple present tense (I wonder if we should
go) and a continuous present tense (I™m wondering if we should go). French does not have this
Je me demande = I wonder and I™m wondering
However, if it is desirable for a French speaker to stress the length of time an action or
event is taking, a special construction exists, involving (ˆ tre) en train de “
A ce moment elle est en train de consid´ rer toutes les possibilit´ s pour sa
e e
carri` re = at the moment she™s thinking about all her career possibilities
Il est en train de dresser des plans pour l™avenir = he™s (in the process of) drawing up
plans for the future

127 Other uses of the present tense “ 5: future; 6: past
5 To refer to the near and not-so-near future
Je viens te voir ce soir = I™ll come and see you this evening
Nous arrivons dans un instant = we™ll be arriving in a moment
On part pour le Vietnam la semaine prochaine = we™re leaving for Vietnam next week

See also the use of aller 136.

6 To refer to past time
This use of the present tense is known as the historic present, and is very common in
journalism and general literature, often to add a dramatic note or note of immediacy to
the recounting of an incident.


Au 18e si` cle les riches commencent a partir en vacances. Pour eux la
plage est une sorte de salon avec vue sur mer. On vient pour l™air marin
et la beaut´ des sites = in the eighteenth century, the rich began to go away on holiday. For
them the beach was a sort of lounge with a sea-view. They went for the sea air and the beauty of the
Apr` s son arriv´ e en France, elle trouve un poste de jeune ¬lle au pair. Elle
e e
accepte pour le salaire, 700 euros par mois = after she arrived in France, she found a
job as an au pair. She took it because of the pay “ 700 euros a month

Past tenses
128 Past tenses
Three tenses may be used to express events taking place one step back in time from the
perspective of the speaker/narrator:
the imperfect, the perfect, the past historic.
When it is a matter of two steps back from the perspective of the speaker/narrator,
other tenses may be used:
the pluperfect, the past anterior, the conditional perfect, the double compound.

Imperfect tense

129 Uses “1: duration; 2: interrupted time; 3: description;
4: repeated action
Equivalent to English I ate my lunch at college every Tuesday, I was eating my lunch when the
doorbell rang, I used to eat my lunch with my friends.

1 To express the duration of time
Son crime? “ avoir bott´ les fesses de deux garnements qui chahutaient
dans sa classe = what was his crime? “ to have kicked the backside of a couple of tearaways who
were making a nuisance of themselves in his class
L™´ picier cherchait une plus importante part du march´ en important des
e e
l´ gumes du Maroc = the grocer was hoping to get a larger share of the market by importing
vegetables from Morocco
Les repr´ sentants etaient recus a l™Elys´ e le 3 d´ cembre = the representatives were
´ `
e ¸ e e
received by the President on 3 December
Il etait conscient de ce qu™il faisait = he was aware of what he was doing

2 To express a period of time interrupted by an event
La jeune femme a obtenu le droit a un interview, pendant qu™elle dansait
avec la vedette = the young woman obtained the right to an interview, while she was dancing with
the celeb
Pendant qu™il parlait, les enfants ont ri avec impunit´ = while he was speaking,
the kids laughed with impunity

130 Past historic: uses

` ´e
Le chanteur qui roulait a 201 km/h sur l™autoroute A10, a et´ arrˆ t´ par la ee
police = the singer who was driving at 201 km an hour on the A10 motorway was arrested by the

3 To describe a set of circumstances
J™ai tr` s vite senti que je n™´ tais pas un Europ´ en, que je n™´ tais pas un
e e e e
Francais, que j™´ tais un N` gre, c™est tout (Aim´ C´ saire) = I soon realised that I
¸ e e ee
wasn™t a European, nor a Frenchman, but quite simply a Black
En latin, il y avait trois genres, en francais deux et en anglais seulement un
= Latin had three genders, French two and English only one
Le document etait sans valeur juridique = the document was without legal value

4 To express a repeated or habitual action
L™usine produisait une cinquantaine de voitures par jour = the factory produced
about ¬fty cars a day
A l™´ poque, on estimait que beaucoup de conducteurs ignoraient les
principes du code de la route = at that time, it was thought that many drivers did not know
the principles of the highway code
Il naviguait avec aisance dans la soci´ t´ parisienne = he circulated effortlessly in
Parisian society

Past historic tense
130 Uses
Il mangea is equivalent to English he ate, as in
Le Pr´ sident mangea avec ses invit´ s dans la salle a manger de l™Elys´ e =
e e e
the President had lunch with his visitors in the dining room of the Elys´e Palace
The past historic tense is used to refer to a point of time in the past with no link with or
repercussion upon the present.
However, this role may also be played by the perfect tense (see 131). Consequently, it
is important to understand the different values of these two competing tenses as far as
this usage is concerned.
Usage of the past historic has tended to become restricted to certain situations.
Written French “ it is the past tense most often used in fairly formal and formal
written French “ especially the French of novels, and in some but not all journalism.
Spoken French “ its use in spoken (as opposed to written) French is very much
con¬ned to very formal situations “ speeches, lectures, talks on the radio or television
dealing particularly with historical matters.
Using the past historic automatically evokes a formal situation “ it is completely inap-
propriate in normal spoken French.

From a novel “
Marthe haussa les epaules, prit un chandelier et courut au salon. Elle en
revint, tenant un dictionnaire d™une main et se mit a lire une d´ ¬nition =
` e


Martha shrugged her shoulders, took a candlestick and ran to the lounge. She came back with a
dictionary in one hand and began to read out a de¬nition

From a news magazine
Personne ne jugea bon d™approfondir la question “ un comit´ international e
e´ ´
fut cr´ e, pr´ sid´ par Nicolas Nabokov qui usa de sa formidable energie . . .
= no one thought it wise to go further into the matter “ an international committee was formed, with
Nicolas Nabokov as chairman who used his extraordinary energy . . .
e` ´ `
N´ e a Tunis en 1948, elle abandonna ses etudes de droit pour entrer a FR3
Marseille comme pr´ sentatrice = born in Tunis in 1948, she gave up her law studies to
enter FR3 Marseille [a radio station] as a presenter

Perfect tense
131 Uses “1: past affecting present; 2: past divorced
from present
J™ai mang´ is equivalent to English I have eaten (my lunch already), I ate (my lunch early

1 The perfect tense is used to refer to a point of time in the past
which has a link with or repercussion upon the present “
Qui a pris plus de 340 fois le Concorde? C™est un certain Pascal Leborgne =
who has ¬‚own Concorde more than 340 times? “ A certain Pascal Leborgne
Le d´ fenseur de Nantes a et´ le symbole francais. Tr` s bon avant la
e ¸ e
mi-temps, il a compl` tement plong´ par la suite = the Nantes defender was a symbol
e e
of France™s performance. He was very good in the ¬rst half, but faded completely subsequently
Les ministres des Affaires sociales allemand, japonais et italien l™ont
interrog´ sur sa m´ thode = the German, Japanese and Italian Social Affairs ministers have
e e
questioned him on his method

2 To refer to a point of time in the past with no link with or
repercussion upon the present
It is in this usage that the perfect competes with the past historic (see 130). Note that in
spoken French, the perfect tense is the normal tense for conveying past time. It is also
used in written French, particularly in journalism but also in novels, especially in those
written in an informal register. Compare the situation with the past historic, described
A 76 ans, Fidel Castro ressort [historic present, see 127] son l´ gendaire e
treillis. Il a d´ ¬l´ en tˆ te d™une manifestation contre les sanctions adopt´ es
ee e e
par l™Union europ´ enne. Au cours d™un discours muscl´ , il a menac´
e e e
les diplomates en poste de mesures de r´ torsion = at 76 Fidel Castro
got out his legendary combat fatigues and marched at the head of a demonstration against the
sanctions adopted by the EU. In a vigorous speech, he threatened the diplomats in post with retaliatory

133 Past anterior: uses

Pluperfect tense
132 Uses
Equivalent to English I had eaten my lunch when my friend joined me

1 To refer to a point of time in the past that has taken place before
another event in the past
(in other words which occurs two stages back in the past from the standpoint of the
Elle m™a dit qu™il l™avait suivie pendant deux semaines = she told me that he had
followed her for two weeks
Le directeur avait d´ cid´ de punir les etudiants qui avaient interrompu les
cours quand on l™avait appel´ pour r´ pondre aux questions d™un
e e
journaliste = the head had decided to punish the students who had interrupted the classes when he
was called to answer some questions from a reporter
Il avait cr´ e de nombreuses emissions de t´ l´ vision = he had produced a large
e´ ´ ee
number of television broadcasts
Alessandra Mussolini avait af¬ch´ son sens de la famille en se mariant a
Predappio, la ville ou son p` re est enterr´ = A M had signalled her sense of the family
` e e
by getting married at P, the town where her father was buried
Les supporters du pr´ sident ivoirien ont repris leur harc` lement des
e e
troupes francaises qui avaient empˆ ch´ les forces gouvernementales
¸ ee
d™effectuer une perc´ e vers le nord = supporters of the President of the Ivory Coast have
resumed their harassment of French troops, who had prevented the government forces from making a
breakthrough towards the north

2 To refer to a period of time in the past that has taken place before
another event in the past
Les Romains avaient occup´ la Gaule pendant quelques si` cles avant
e e
l™invasion des Francs au 5` me si` cle = the Romans had occupied Gaul for several
e e
centuries before the invasion of the Franks in the 5th century
Il est certain qu™avant d™´ crire le livre, il avait pass´ beaucoup de temps a
e e
faire les recherches n´ cessaires = it™s certain that before writing the book he had spent a lot
of time in research for it
Apr` s un bref passage sur TF1, elle etait revenue dans le service public
pour animer de nombreuses emissions = after a short time on TF1 [a TV station], she
returned to the public service and presented a large number of programmes

Past anterior tense

133 Uses
Equivalent to English She called me after I had ¬nished eating


The past anterior is used only in a very limited set of circumstances. Firstly, it is
exclusively a written tense, and secondly it only occurs in subordinate clauses of time,
when the tense of the verb of the main clause in the sentence is the past historic. (In other
words, it is never found in combination with the perfect tense.)
The most common conjunctions with which it occurs are apr` s que = after, aussitot ˆ
que = as soon as, avant que = before, d` s que = as soon as, lorsque = when, quand =
when (see 465) “
D` s qu™il eut sign´ le contrat, tout le monde le f´ licita = as soon as he had signed
e e e
the contract, everyone congratulated him

Apr` s qu™il eut cr´ e sa compagnie en 2002, il commenca ses exp´ riences
e ¸ e
sur les livres electroniques = after setting up his company in 2002, he began experimenting
with electronic books

Double compound past tense
134 Uses
This tense complements the past anterior “ in other words it may be used when the
circumstances that dictate the use of the past anterior occur in spoken rather than written
French. However, the pluperfect may also be used in these circumstances “
Elle est sortie d` s qu™elle a eu recu (or avait recu) le message de son amie =
e ¸ ¸
she went out as soon as she had got the message from her friend
Quand son ami a eu ¬ni (or avait ¬ni) son coke, ils ont quitt´ le bar e
ensemble = when her boyfriend had ¬nished his Coke, they left the bar together

Future tense
135 Uses “1: future; 2: attenuation of imperative
1 To refer to events that will take place in the future
A partir du 29 janvier nous embaucherons une douzaine de nouveaux
employ´ s = on 29 January we will take on a dozen new employees
Si tu manges moins de frites, tu ne prendras pas tant de poids = if you eat
fewer chips, you won™t put on so much weight
Il ne fait pas de doute que les r´ formes des retraites ¬niront par etre
vot´ es = there™s no doubt that the pension reforms will eventually be approved
Les m´ dailles leur seront remises par le ministre des affaires etrang` res =
e e
the medals will be presented to them by the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Le No¨ l du personnel de Matignon n™aura pas lieu comme d™habitude a
l™Op´ ra mais au Mus´ e des Arts forains = Christmas for the PM™s staff will not take
e e
place as usual at the Opera but at the Mus´e des Arts forains

2 As a means of attenuating the imperative “ see 122
Vous ouvrirez la fenˆ tre, s™il vous plaˆt = will you open the window, please?
e ±

138 Conditional: uses 1“3

Je prendrai un kilo de bananes = I™ll have a kilo of bananas

136 Other ways of referring to the future
1 By using the present tense “ see 127
It should be noted that using the present tense instead of the future implies a less motivated
intention “
Je passerai te voir ce soir suggests more determination than je passe te voir ce

2 By using aller + the in¬nitive
The use of aller + in¬nitive suggests a stronger likelihood that something will happen
Pour me maintenir en bonne sant´ , je vais aller a la piscine chaque
samedi = to keep healthy I™m going to go to the pool every Saturday
Pour expliquer le syst` me, il va utiliser les mots du professeur = in order to
explain the system, he™s going to use the words of the professor

Future perfect tense
137 Use
Equivalent to English will have (eaten), the future perfect tense describes a future event
from the standpoint of its completion “
J™esp` re que dans deux ans nous aurons achev´ la r´ novation de notre
e e e
appartement = I hope that in two years™ time we will have completed the refurbishment of our
Il est astucieux “ son nouveau tube aura paru juste avant sa prochaine
tourn´ e = he™s a cunning so-and-so “ his new hit will have been released just before his next

Conditional tense
138 Uses “1: conveying future in reported speech; 2: as
corollary of conditional clause; 3: conjecture
1 In reported speech to represent a future tense in direct speech “
Version in direct speech
Elle a dit: « Jamais personne ne viendra me voir maintenant » = she said, ˜No
one will ever come and see me now™
Version in indirect speech
Elle a dit que jamais personne ne viendrait la voir d` s ce moment-la = she
said that no one would come and see her from that moment on
Often there is no verb of speech introducing the reported item “


Ce ne serait point faire oeuvre de justice que de pr´ f´ rer les t´ n` bres a la
ee ee
lumi` re = it wouldn™t be acting justly if we preferred darkness to light

2 In the main clause of a sentence containing a conditional clause
(ie one introduced by si “ see 458)
Si tu mangeais moins, tu perdrais facilement un kilo = if you ate less you™d easily
lose a couple of pounds
Leur l´ gitimit´ serait bien plus forte s™ils s™appliquaient a eux-mˆ mes les
e e e
r´ formes demand´ es aux autres = their legitimacy would be much stronger if they applied
e e
to themselves the reforms they demand of others

3 As a means of expressing uncertainty, an hypothesis or conjecture
“ a use that does not have an equivalent in English; here a present or past tense is used
with a suggestion that the event may not be entirely true “
Chez l™homme le d´ sir serait avant tout visuel = it is suggested that for men desire is
above all visual
Les trois principaux dirigeants r´ clameraient deux millions d™euros de
dommages = it™s reported that / apparently the three principal directors have put in a claim for two
million euros damages
Cette machine neutraliserait les menaces qui pourraient nous nuire = this
machine, apparently, neutralises threats which might be harmful to us
Le b´ gaiement serait trois fois plus fr´ quent chez les hommes que chez les
e e
femmes = stammering is allegedly three times more common in men than in women
` `
Suivant certains experts de 7 a 30% des cancers seraient imputables a des
facteurs environnementaux = according to certain experts, from 7 to 30% of cancers are
attributable to environmental factors
Selon un r´ cent rapport, la moiti´ des fruits, l´ gumes et c´ r´ ales
e e e ee
consomm´ s en France contiendrait des r´ sidus de pesticides = according
e e
to a recent report, half the fruit, vegetables and cereals consumed in France contain pesticide

Conditional perfect tense
139 Uses “1: conveying future perfect in reported speech;
2: hypothesis; 3: conjecture
1 In reported speech to represent a future perfect tense
in direct speech:
Version in direct speech
On le lit dans la presse “ la compagnie a´ rienne aura vendu 150
exemplaires de l™Air Bus par 2006 = it™s in the papers “ the aviation company will have
sold 150 models of the Air Bus by 2006
Version in indirect speech

141 Differences in sequence of tenses

On a lu dans la presse que la compagnie a´ rienne aurait vendu 150
exemplaires de l™Air Bus par 2006 = we read in the papers that the aviation company
would have sold 150 models of the Air Bus by 2006

2 To refer to events that would have taken place if certain
circumstances had been ful¬lled
Les performances de l™athl` te auraient et´ beaucoup mieux, s™il avait
employ´ un autre entraˆneur exp´ riment´ = the athlete™s performance would have been
e ± e e
much better if he had used an experienced trainer
´ `
L™association n™aurait pas pu echapper a la saisie de ses biens sans les
subventions des services du Premier ministre = the organisation would not have been
able to avoid having its assets seized if it had not been for the grants made by the Prime Minister™s of¬ce
Le porte-avions « Cl´ menceau » aurait du se faire d´ membrer dans un
e e
pays eloign´ = the aircraft carrier ˜Cl´menceau™ should have been dismantled in a far-away country
´ e

3 As a means of expressing uncertainty, an hypothesis or conjecture
(see 138) “
Selon notre correspondant, la bombe aurait tu´ une vingtaine de
personnes = according to our correspondent, the bomb killed about twenty people
Le maire aurait lach´ une v´ rit´ qui tournait mal = apparently the mayor blurted
ˆe ee
out a truth which caused problems
En 2003, de 8 a 9% des Francais auraient recu au moins une fois dans
¸ ¸
l™ann´ e une eau dont la teneur en pesticides d´ passait la norme = in 2003,
e e
from 8 to 9% of the French population had reportedly been supplied at least once during the year with
water that exceeded the norm in pesticide content

140 Differences in tense usage in French and English
Tense usage is very much the same in the two languages. However, there are a few
important differences, in addition to those outlined under the tenses discussed above.
They involve
1 Sequence of tenses “
that is to say, in sentences consisting of more than one clause. Although generally, the
French pattern is very much the same as in English, there is one notable exception “
concerning the future and conditional tenses in time clauses.
2 The use of tenses with depuis, il y a, voici, voila.
3 The use of tenses with venir de = just.

141 Differences between French and English use of tenses “1:
sequence of tenses
1 Sequence of tenses involving the future and conditional tenses
The problem centres on usage with subordinate clauses of time to refer to future events.
In English, the tense of the verb in the subordinate clause in such situations is either
present or past, whereas in French a future or conditional tense is used


Future tense in subordinate clause in French where English has present tense “
Quand tu visiteras la galerie, tu seras sans aucun doute impressionn´ par e
les sculptures contemporaines = when you come to the gallery, you will undoubtedly be
impressed by the contemporary sculptures
Vous seconderez le chef de projet aussitot que vous serez embauch´ = you
ˆ e
will help the project leader as soon as you are taken on
Future perfect in subordinate clause in French where English has past tense “
Lorsqu™il aura fait ses preuves comme pr´ sident, on s™attendra a ce que la
compagnie am´ liore ses performances boursi` res = when he has proved himself as
e e
managing director, it is to be expected that the company™s performance on the Stock Exchange will
Vous serez en relation avec les diff´ rents etablissements de soin de la
r´ gion, d` s que l™´ quipe aura et´ form´ e = you will be in contact with the various care
e e e e
providers in the area as soon as the team has been set up
Conditional tense in subordinate clause in French where English has past tense “
Il m™a demand´ de trouver un traducteur de son roman, d` s que les revues
e e
seraient positifs = he asked me to ¬nd someone to translate his novel as soon as the reviews were
Elle m™avait pri´ de lui donner un coup de t´ l´ phone, quand j™aurais ¬ni
e ee
ma m´ moire = she asked me to give her a ring when I™d ¬nished my essay
Conditional perfect tense in subordinate clause in French where English has pluperfect
tense “
Elle lui a d´ clar´ qu™elle le ferait quand il l™aurait pay´ e = she stated that she
e e e
would do it as soon as he had paid her
ˆ ´e´
Aussitot que la d´ mocratie aurait et´ etablie dans les pays de l™Europe de
l™Est, on pourrait proc´ der a l™´ largissement de l™Union europ´ enne = as
e e
soon as democracy was established in the countries of eastern Europe, the enlargement of the EU could

142 Differences between French and English use of tenses “2:
depuis, il y a
2 The use of tenses with depuis, il y a, voici, voila
When the present tense of a verb is used in French with depuis, it is equivalent to an
English past tense. Depuis may be translated by for, when the emphasis is upon the
duration of the time, and by since when the emphasis is upon the starting point of the
time (see 348) “

Elle est comme ca depuis un an = she™s been like that for a year

143 Differences: venir de

starting point
Elle est comme ca depuis la mort de son chien = she™s been like that since her dog died


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