In this article, you will:

- Learn how to use the past subjunctive in French

- See examples of the use of the past subjunctive in French

- Do exercises on the past subjunctive in French

- Understand how to use the past subjunctive in French

Reminder on the Present Subjunctive:

As a reminder, the subjunctive is a rich grammatical mood that can express a wide variety of nuances and subjective attitudes toward the action or state it describes. Here are the main uses of the subjunctive:

Will and desire: Je veux que tu sois heureux.

Obligation and necessity: Il faut que tu fasses tes devoirs.

Doubt and uncertainty: Il est possible qu'il vienne.

Fear and apprehension: J'ai peur que tu te perdes.

Emotion and feelings: Je suis heureux que tu sois là.

Judgment and opinion: Je ne pense pas que ça soit normal.

Hypothesis and condition: À condition que tu sois prêt, nous partirons.

Concession and restriction: Bien qu'il soit tard, nous pouvons sortir.

Prohibition: Il est interdit que les élèves utilisent leur téléphone en classe.

Possibility: Il se peut que nous ayons besoin d'aide.

The subjunctive thus allows for significant nuancing of discourse, offering a palette of emotional, subjective, and nuanced expressions that go beyond the mere expression of objective facts.



Construction of the Past Subjunctive:

The past subjunctive is formed with the auxiliary "avoir" or "être" in the present subjunctive, followed by the past participle of the main verb.

Verb in the present subjunctive + Past participle of the action verb

The choice of the auxiliary "être" or "avoir" depends on the main verb, similar to the formation of compound tenses in other moods.

Example: "Je craignais que la pluie n'ait déjà rendu les sentiers impraticables."

Here, "n'ait rendu" is the past subjunctive. The auxiliary "avoir" is in the present subjunctive ("ait"), and "rendu" is the past participle of the verb "rendre".



Use of the Past Subjunctive:

The past subjunctive expresses the same things as the present subjunctive (see "Reminder"), but it is used to talk about an action that is anterior to another, expressed.

Let's see some examples:

Je suis étonné(e) que tu n'aies pas vu l'éclipse hier soir.

The use of the past subjunctive ("n'aies pas vu") indicates that the speaker expresses his astonishment or surprise at the fact that the interlocutor did not carry out the action of seeing the eclipse, an action that occurred in the past.


C'est admirable qu'elle ait réussi son examen avec brio.

Here, the past subjunctive ("ait réussi") is used to express the speaker's admiration for the action accomplished by a third party (passing her exam with flying colors).


C'est regrettable qu'ils aient refusé notre invitation.

The choice of the past subjunctive ("aient refusé") shows that the speaker expresses regret or disappointment in reaction to a past action (the refusal of the invitation).


C'est surprenant que vous ayez décidé de déménager à l'étranger.

The past subjunctive ("ayez décidé") is used to reflect the surprise or astonishment of the speaker at the decision of the interlocutors to move abroad, a decision made in the past.


C'est fâcheux qu'il ait perdu son portefeuille en voyage.

The use of the past subjunctive ("ait perdu") here indicates that the speaker expresses a feeling of annoyance or dissatisfaction regarding a past event, namely the loss of the wallet.