Table of Contents
§82. Subjunctive Mood
In this commentary I jump around amongst the various subsections 82A, B, C, and D, so I have ditched the Author’s divisions and come up with my own sub-headings.
What can one say about the subjunctive mood? Certainly, far more than the Author does. What should one say? That is the difficult question.
The mood was already a grab bag in Classical Latin (and no doubt even earlier), and it continues to be so in modern French (and other romance languages) — with this important difference, for which any reasonable person will be thankful: in modern French, it is mostly restricted to subordinate uses, whereas in Classical Latin it was used all over the place.
In modern French, by and large, the subjunctive doesn’t appear out of nowhere; it is used in situations of doubt (potentiality) and situations involving an important affect (emotion), particularly desire (or its opposite). The introductory expression (of doubt or an emotion), or the introductory conjunction, is what elicits the subjunctive form of the verb in the subsequent construction.
If you are curious to what extent English has a subjunctive mood, you may wish to consult the Language File The Elusive English Subjunctive.
If you feel like a somewhat different presentation of the forms, see the Language File Formation of the Present Subjunctive.
How to Translate
The Author, at §87A, p153, says: “The present subjunctive is translated by the present or future.” True enough: in many cases, you can get by translating the subjunctive as if it were an (ordinary) indicative. Is it important to know, otherwise, that a subjunctive verb is, in fact, subjunctive, given that, in English translation, we will often simply use an ordinary humdrum indicative? (The question may seem all the more pertinent, in that so many subjunctive forms in modern French are indistinguishable from the indicative.)
However, we will not always translate the French subjunctive as a plain-Jane indicative in English. Consider the case of the subjunctive used after what I call (elsewhere) an “impersonal judgment”:
- Il faut qu’il vienne.
It will not do to translate the subjunctive vienne (cf. indicative vient) as an ordinary English indicative:
- “It is necessary that he *comes.”
One has to translate vienne with a modal (“should come”) or use the “s”-less base form of the verb:
- “It is necessary that he come.”
For more on this strange “-s”-less form of the 3rd-person singular verb, see the Language File The English Subjunctive Part IIB.
In practice, with the impersonal Il faut construction it often makes sense to redo the sentence using a personal verb. Some examples:
|French||Ungainly English||Gainly English|
|Il faut qu’il vienne.||“It is necessary that he should come.”||“He / has to / must / come.”|
|Il faut que je sorte. Il faut que je marche.||“It is necessary that I should go out, that I should walk.”||“I’ve got to get out. I’ve got to walk.”|
|Il faut que je m’en aille.||“It is necessary that I should depart.”||“I’ve gotta go.”|
|Il faut qu’ils nous disent la vérité.||“It is necessary that they should tell us the truth.”||“They / must / have to / have got to / tell us the truth.”|
In other cases English will use an infinitive construction or a gerund rather than a clause with a personal verb. Note these examples.
- (Exercise 15 in this chapter:) Une période de quatre à six mois est nécessaire pour que le protactinium ait le temps de se désingtégrer. (A period of four to six weeks is necessary for the protactinium to disintegrate.)
- Je ne peux rien faire sans que tu me fasses des reproches. (I can’t do anything without your criticizing me.)
See also Exercise 19 in this chapter.
Nonetheless, and all in all, I am inclined to think that it is good to try to get a sense of the subjunctive and its various potentialities, regardless of how you end up translating it in a particular case.
Check out the Language File French Subjunctive, Main Uses.
Homonymies fâcheuses (Irksome Homonymies)
There is a lot of overlap, as I said above, between indicative and subjunctive forms. It is worst for –er verbs, because the present subjunctive personal endings are identically similar to indicative personal endings (present or imperfect), for all six forms!
|–er verbs: present indicative endings||all verbs: present subjunctive endings|
(The two present subjunctive endings that differ from the present indicative are yellow-highlighted.)
Persons 1, 2, 3, and 6 (6 = 3rd-person plural, i.e., 3 x 2) will be identically similar, for –er verbs, in present indicative and present subjunctive; and for the nous and vous forms, the subjunctive present will be identically similar to the indicative imperfect.
With the majority of other verbs, we are a little better off, in that the three singular forms will look and sound noticeably different in the subjunctive; e.g.:
(The three singular subjunctive forms are orange-highlighted.)
Still, for all but a very few verbs, the nous and vous subjunctive forms will look like imperfect indicatives, and the 3rd-person plural form will be indistinguishable from the present indicative.
Who Says How You Form the Subjunctive?
The Author has his way of presenting the formation of the present subjunctive, and I have mine. (When the Author says, “The subjunctive is easy to recognize,” I can scarcely agree: see the immediately preceding section.)
For the Professor’s take on the question, see the Language File Formation of the Present Subjunctive.
Present vs. Past Subjunctive (A Question of Aspect)
The subjunctive mood has no future, so the present subjunctive does duty for both present and future. Essentially, the present subjunctive is telling you that the action of the subjunctive verb is incomplete with regard to the action of the introductory verb.
- Il n’est pas vrai qu’il vienne.
– can be translated as:
“It is not true that he is coming (right now).”
“It is not true that he is coming (in the future),”
“It is not true that he will come.”
The compound form of the subjunctive, contrariwise, called the passé du subjonctif, the past subjunctive, which is the subjunctive equivalent of the passé composé, indicates that the action of the subjunctive verb is completed with regard to the introductory verb.
|Il n’est pas vrai qu’il soit venu.||“It is not true that he / came / has come.”|
In conversation, these two subjunctive tenses (present and past) are the only ones used. They have in fact lost their temporal value, and instead have only an aspectual one: is the action completed or incomplete with regard to the introductory verb? The actual tense value of the subjunctive verb is a function in part of the tense of the introductory verb.
Study the examples in this table. Primary sequence is one in which the introductory verb is in the present or future tense; secondary sequence is one in which the introductory verb is in a past tense. Observe how the tense value of the subjunctive verb is affected by the tense of the introductory verb.
|Primary||Je ne crois pas qu’il vienne.
(I don’t think he is coming OR will come.)
|Je ne crois pas qu’il soit venu.
(I dont think he / came / has come.)
|Secondary||Je ne croyais pas qu’il vienne.
(I didn’t think he was coming OR would come.)
|Je ne croyais pas qu’il soit venu.
(I didn’t think he had come.)
There are yet more wonders in the world of the French subjunctive, which you can begin to explore in Chapter 18 of this course.
§83. Possessive Pronouns
Historically, what is now the possessive pronoun developed as a strong (stressed) form of the possessive adjective:
|weak form||strong form|
|mon, ma, mes||mien(s), mienne(s)|
|ton, etc.||tien, etc.|
Once in a great while the “strong” form will still be used as an adjective:
- Un mien ami. (One of my friends.)
§84. The Verbs partir and se servir de
This group of verbs, dormir, mentir, partir, sentir, servir, sortir, and (why not?) se repentir descend directly from 4th-conjugation verbs in Latin, whereas “regular” –ir verbs all had the –isc– infix, which is why they all have –i– in the singular and –iss– in the plural.
In contrast, these verbs attach the personal endings on to a consonant. The infinitive has two consonants; the singular forms add personal endings onto the first of these consonants, the plural onto both consonants. Take, for example, the verb seRVir:
Of this group of verbs, partir and sortir are both House of Being verbs:
- Elle est sortie de l’appartement. (She went out of the apartment.)
- Nous sommes partis de Paris. (We left Paris.)
Learn the meanings of all these verbs, and in particular learn the four functions of the verb servir, in:
1. I doubt that he will arrive tomorrow.
2. It is possible that he / will arrive / is arriving / may arrive / today.
3. We are sorry that she left.
4. The teacher doesn’t think that George understands.
5. Do you think that Marie has already left (=gone out)?
6. You / must / will have to / finish the experiment next week. (It is necessary that you / finish / should finish…)
7. It is good (desirable) that you / know / should know / the truth.
8. She is the best student I know.
9. Do you think the director is ill?
10. We must leave tomorrow. (It is necessary that we / leave / should leave…)
11. It is possible that these jet engines are too powerful.
12. It is possible that one / may / should / will / obtain a good price for this product.
13. Don’t ever show your teeth unless you can bite.1
14. There is no nation (people) that has made as rapid progress as the American(s).
15. A period of four to six weeks is necessary for the protactinium (to have the time) to disintegrate. (…in order that the protactinium should have the time…)
16. No traveller, that I know of (OR: as far as I know), mentions the Île de la Motte.
17. Let us suppose that someone has assembled in a packet the thirteen cards of the same suit (color) that are found in a deck of 52 cards.
18. What is the probability that the ace will be drawn first?
19. It is not good to have students advance without (their) knowing what they think they have learned. (literally, without that they should know what they think to have learned”)
20, Teachers must put Pestalozzi’s principles to work in all the (different) kinds of instruction. (literally, It is necessary that teachers should cause Pestalozzi’s principles to serve…)
21. There is your car and mine.
22. I used our computer and yours.
23. Our laboratory is smaller (literally, less big) than theirs.
24. Paul has finished his report but Marie has not finished hers.
25. The emperor retreated (“recoiled”) for a moment before a power greater than his own.
26. Wolfe inflicted (“used to inflict”) on his readers a torture equal to his own.
27. The students / use / are using / a dictionary.
28. A dictionary / serves / is used / to define words.
(When teaching this course in real time, I dispense with these readings, and so may you. Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness I include translations of them. I should warn you however that I am not sure of the rightness of my technical language in the first translation. All in all, I recommend avoiding the first selection.)
Mass and Energy p158
 It was in 1905 that a young, very little known physicist, Albert Einstein, lay down the basic principles of a very revolutionary theory, the one that took the name of relativity. He was trying to interpret the famous experiments of Michelson, according to which measuring the speed of light always gave the same result and was perfectly independent of the state of the earth’s movement at the moment the measurement was made. The relative movement of the earth in space could not therefore be demonstrated in these experiments.
 C’est en 1905… – We are dealing here with what I call the Isolating-Emphasizing Construction (C‘est… que…). Notice that French writers keep the verb être here in the present, even though the main verb (posa) is in a past tense.
 Il s’agissait d’interpréter – The standard translation of il s’agit de is “it is a matter of”; e.g.:
- Dans cet article, il s’agit de la politique étrangère d’Emmanuel Macron.
(In this article, it is a matter of the foreign policy of Emmanuel Macron
= This article is about the foreign policy of Emmanuel Macron.)
(See this note on the construction in an earlier chapter.) However, when il s’agit de is followed by an infinitive, it can mean that the action of the infinitive is what is required in the present situation. For instance:
- Personne A: Il a cessé de respirer. Personne B: Il s’agit de le réanimer!
(“He’s stopped breathing.” “Quick! We’ve got to give him C.P.R.!”)
I take the passage to mean something like this: The Michelson experiments produced strange results that called for explanation, and Einstein’s attempting to do so resulted in the theory of relativity.
 The theory of relativity has another basis as well: the set of laws governing electromagnetism2 possesses a certain mathematical form; this form is simple3; it was found as a result of the4 experiment performed on the earth.  Now, the earth has no special status; the simple character of these laws must be the same on another body in relative and uniform movement with regard to the earth.  Now, the relationships of classical mechanics do not allow us to retain this formulation when we change thus the system of coordinates.  It was necessary to envisage other transformations, those of Lorentz, in order to make it possible, in moving from one system of reference to another in uniform translation with regard to the first (for example from one body to another in uniform relative movement), to preserve the laws of electromagnetism.  To account for all that, Einstein formulated the following two principles: 1) The laws of5 physical phenomena are the same in all systems in uniform translation with regard to each other; 2) For all these systems, the speed of light is the same in all directions.
[31, 32] Or,… — This word is a weak adversative, a weak “but.” It is used to introduce a new idea that may change the overall picture of things, but does not contradict previously introduced ideas. It is most often translatable as “now,” or “well,”. (I must say, it is rather poor style to have one Or immediately following after another, as these two sentences.)
[32, 33] un astre — The word means any heavenly body: a planet, a star (including the sun), a satellite such as our moon, a comet.
 These principles do not seem very revolutionary, but their consequences will considerably modify the notions of time and space. It is useful to draw attention to certain aspects of these principles. When we are on a train, if the movement is perfectly uniform, we are incapable of observing the movement of the train by means of mechanical experiments performed inside the wagon.  In the case in which there is acceleration, it is very different: if the train brakes abruptly, we are thrown forward and we are aware of the movement.  Einstein’s principle is, ultimately, an extension of this mechanical notion to the entirety of physical phenomena, including phenomena of light. We cannot, by means of experiments regarding the speed of light, observe the state of movement of our wagon or even of the earth we live on.
 nous sommes incapables de nous apercevoir du… AND  Nous ne pouvons pas…nous rendre compte de… — Both s’apercevoir de and se rendre compte de usually mean “to realize” in the sense of “to become aware of a thing” by some means other than through the senses. Here they mean something more like “to perceive, i.e., to observe scientifically, to take note of.”
 Special relativity has many consequences, but one of the most important is the identity of mass and energy. Starting from the principles stated above, it is possible to define a relationship between the mass of a body and its energy, or rather between the changes of mass of a body and the corresponding energy. Einstein’s formula6 is E = mc2.  That signifies that to every energy there corresponds a mass, and reciprocally: thus, when, in a reaction, there is a release of energy, that means that7 there is necessarily a loss of a part of the mass, which can be very easily calculated by means of Einstein’s formula. The most extraordinary example is that of uranium fission.
Napoleon’s Entrance into Moscow (Chateaubriand) p159
Another selection from Chateaubriand’s Mémoires d’outre-tombe. (The first was in Chapter 5.)
 The debacle had begun in Moscow; the roads to Kazan were covered with fugitives on foot, alone or accompanied by servants.  At the approach of the convoys of Russian wounded who appeared at the gates, all hope vanished.  Kutusoff had cajoled Rostopschine into defending the city with 91,000 men that he still had. Rostopschine remained alone.
 blessés russes —Following the rule I enunciate in the Language File Placement of Adjectives. Part IV. Where’s the Noun?, strictly speaking, in the phrase blessés russes, blessés is the noun and russes is the adjective. In this case, to be sure, it really doesn’t make much difference if you translated it as “wounded Russians.” The rule is nonetheless an important one, and it often does make a difference which of the words you interpret as a noun.
 s’évanouit — Since it is a regular ir-verb, this form could be either present or simple past; but the context makes simple past better.
 Rostopschine — (Also spelled as Rostopchine, Rostopschin.) The governor of Moscow. His decision to burn Moscow led ultimately to his and his family’s being forced into exile – to the benefit of French literature as it turned out, because of his daughter Sophie.
 Kutusoff avait flatté Rostopschine de défendre — Flatter quelqu’un de followed by an infinitive is unusual, whereas se flatter de + infinitive is frequent; it means “to think you are capable of (doing something).” The meaning here is perhaps that Kutusoff convinced Rostopschine that he (R) would be able to get by in the circumstances with a mere 91,000 men. (The Author glosses flatter as “to persuade (by flattery).”
 Night was falling: Emissaries went and knocked mysteriously on the doors, announced that it was necessary to leave and that the city was condemned.  Flammable materials were introduced into the public buildings and the markets, into the shops and private homes. The fire pumps were removed. Rostopschine then ordered the prisons to be opened; the freed evildoers received, along with their pardon, the instructions to proceed to the burning of the city when the moment had come.  Rostopschine was the last to leave Moscow, just as the captain of a vessel is the last to abandon ship in a shipwreck.
 descend, vont, annoncent [44-46, 50-62] – On the French predilection for the historical present, see the Language File Uses of the Present. Part IV. The Historical Present.
 maisons particulières – Recall that particulier can mean “private; separate; personal,” as in:
- une maison particulière = a “home” (maison) that is a separate building (in English, a “house”).
- des cours particuliers = “private lessons”
- un hôtel particulier = “a town-house” (particularly of the rich and famous back in the Ancien Régime: the Hôtel (now Musée) de Cluny was a residence in Paris owned by the Abbaye de Cluny and used by its monks when they had business in Paris).
- un ami particulier, une amitié particulière = “a special (private, personal) friend, a special friendship.” In religious communities of yore, one was told to avoid them.
- un particulier = “a private person; a simple citizen.” (See sentence  in Chapter 17.)
Particulier, referring to a person, can also mean: “strange, peculiar, eccentric.”
 Napoleon, on horseback, had met up with8 his vanguard. Moscow glittered in the daylight, with its 295 churches, its 1500 châteaux, its carved houses colored yellow, green, pink.  The Kremlin formed part of this mass covered with polished or painted iron. In the midst of elegant brick and marble villas, the Moskva River flowed among parks adorned with woods and pines.  It was the 14th September (1812), at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, when Bonaparte9 viewed his new conquest.
 An acclamation arose: “Moscow! Moscow!” cried the French soldiers. The acclamations ceased; they descended silently towards the city. No deputation emerged from the gates to present the keys on a silver plate.  The movement of life was suspended in the great capital. A few of our officers penetrated into the city; they returned and told Napoleon: “Moscow is empty!” “Moscow is empty? That’s incredible! Bring me the boyars!”10 Not a boyar to be found; there remained only poor people, who were hiding. Abandoned streets, closed windows: no smoke rose from the hearths whence, soon, torrents would escape. Not the least sound. Bonaparte shrugged.
 Murat, having advanced as far as the Kremlin, was received by the shouts of the prisoners who had been freed in order to deliver their country. It was found necessary to break down the gates with cannon fire.
 Napoleon rode down the Moskva; he met no one. He returned to his lodging, named Marshal Mortier governor of Moscow. The imperial guard and the troops were in dress uniform before an absent people.  Bonaparte soon learned with certainty that the city was threatened by some occurrence. At 2:00 a.m. he was informed that fire was starting up.  The victor left the Dorogomilow district and took shelter in the Kremlin: it was the morning of the 15th. He experienced a moment of joy as he entered the palace of Peter the Great.
 At first the occupiers contained the fire, but the following night it broke out on all sides. A violent wind scattered sparks and cast them on to the Kremlin: the complex contained a powder magazine; an artillery park had been left under Bonaparte’s very windows.  From quarter to quarter our soldiers were put to flight by the effluvia of the volcano.
 The rumor spread that the Kremlin had been set with explosives.11 Servants were taken ill, soldiers resigned themselves. The Tower of the Arsenal, like a tall candle, burned in the middle of a fiery sanctuary.  How was one to flee? Looking on all sides, someone found a postern that opened on the Moskva. The victor, with his guard, snuck out through this safety hatch.  Around him, in the city, arches bellowed as they collapsed,12 bell-towers listed, came loose, and fell. Frames, beams, roofs splitting and crackling, fell into a Phlegethon whose ardent blade they caused to spurt up along with millions of golden sparks.  Bonaparte was able to13 escape only over the newly cold embers of a quarter already reduced to ashes.
 From the banks of Saint Helena, Napoleon could still see Moscow burning.14 “Never,” he said, “in despite of poetry, never will all the fictions of the burning of Troy equal the reality of that of Moscow.”
Essential Word Review IV p162
- amener, apporter – For many circumstances, the -men- element is used in preference with people, the -port- element in preference with things. Prefix a- means “to, towards”; prefix em- (from Latin inde) means “away from,” giving a total of six forms: mener, amener, emmener; porter, apporter, emporter.
- When spoken, amener (to bring [a person to a place]) and emmener (to take [a person from a place) are hard to distinguish: amener [amne], emmener [ɑ̃mne]
- entraîner – Traîner means “to draw, drag” (something). The en- prefix means “away from” (Latin inde). Entraîner thus means “to drag from a place.” Metaphorically, it can mean:
- “to bring about as a necessary (automatic, unintended) consequence”
- “to train athletically”
- essayer – You would be wise to know the several verbs meaning “to try” (to do something): essayer de, tenter de, tâcher de, and chercher à.
- A construction with infinitive could have been used here: Ne montrez jamais les dents à moins de pouvoir mordre.
- Or, as the French has it: “the set of laws OF electromagnetism.”
- Meaning, not double, not compound…singular? On the various meanings of this adjective, see in the Language File Placement of Adjectives: simple.
- OR: “an”?
- There must be a word missing in the French, most likely des: Les lois des phénomènes physiques.
- I know, I am sorry, I have changed my translation in midstream of the French word relation. If you insist, for La relation d’Einstein you could say: “The relationship as formulated by Einstein…”
- Redundant phrasing: to put cela veut dire que just shortly after Cela signifie que!! I have to say, this piece is not an example of the best French prose.
- See the note on joindre, rejoindre in the Language File -Vindre Verbs: joindre.
- In the 19th century, French writers who were not fans of Bonapart spelled his last name with an “e” as a way of recalling his Corsican origins.
- More literally, “Let someone bring me the boyars!” See the Language File Imperative Mood. Part II. The Third-Person Imperative.
- One of the meanings of the verb miner is to dig underneath a structure AND THEN put explosives there to blow it up.
- More closely, “arches collapsed while bellowing.”
- I added: “was able to.” The French has: “B escapes only…”
- Napoléon revoyait: literally, “Napoleon saw again…”