Understanding the passé du subjonctif : Formation and implementation

Le passé du subjonctif or the past subjunctive is a verb tense used to express uncertain, desired or hypothetical actions in the past. It is usually used in subordinate sentences introduced by conjunctions such as "that", "so that", "before", "until", etc. It is generally used in a formal register of written and literary language, and is not very common in everyday spoken language.

Usage of the passé du subjonctif

Here are some common uses of the past subjunctive:

Regret or reproach in the past:

  • J'aurais aimé que tu aies pu venir à la fête hier. (I wish you could have come to the party yesterday.)
  • Il aurait fallu que vous ayez prévenu plus tôt. (You should have warned earlier.)

Wish or desire in the past:

  • J'aurais souhaité que tu aies obtenu ce poste. (I wish you had gotten that job.)
  • Nous aurions préféré que cela se soit passé autrement. (We would have preferred it to have happened otherwise)

Assumption not realized in the past:

  • Si j'avais su, j'aurais agi différemment. (If I had known, I would have acted differently.)
  • Il aurait été préférable que vous ayez attendu avant de prendre une décision. (It would have been better if you had waited before making a decision.)

Conditional action in the past:

  • Avant que tu ne sois parti, j'aurais aimé que tu aies fini ton travail. (Before you left, I wish you had finished your work.)
  • Jusqu'à ce qu'ils aient terminé leurs devoirs, ils ne pouvaient pas sortir. (Until they finished their homework, they couldn't go out.)

Insistence or insistent request in the past:

  • Il fallait absolument que tu aies fait tes devoirs avant de partir. (You absolutely had to do your homework before you left.)
  • Je voulais que vous ayez compris l'importance de cette situation. (I wanted you to understand the importance of this situation.)

It is important to note that the past tense of the subjunctive is generally used in a formal register of the language, in particular in the written language and in certain contexts specific to the oral. In addition, its use may vary depending on the French-speaking regions.

Formation of the passé du subjonctif

The formation of the past subjunctive is done by using the auxiliary "avoir" or "être" in the imperfect subjunctive, followed by the past participle of the main verb. Here are the typical conjugations to form the past subjunctive:

With the auxiliary "avoir":With the auxiliary "être":
  • Que j'aie + participe passé
  • Que tu aies + participe passé
  • Qu'il/elle/on ait + participe passé
  • Que nous ayons + participe passé
  • Que vous ayez + participe passé
  • Qu'ils/elles aient + participe passé
  • Que je sois + participe passé
  • Que tu sois + participe passé
  • Qu'il/elle/on soit + participe passé
  • Que nous soyons + participe passé
  • Que vous soyez + participe passé
  • Qu'ils/elles soient + participe passé


  • Il est dommage que tu n'aies pas fini tes devoirs à temps. (It's a shame you didn't finish your homework on time.)
  • J'aurais souhaité que vous ayez pu venir à la fête. (I wish you could have come to the party.)
  • Il est nécessaire que nous ayons terminé ce projet avant la date limite (It is necessary that we complete this project before the deadline)


  • J'aurais préféré que tu sois venu plus tôt. (I wish you had come earlier.)
  • Il est important que nous soyons partis à l'heure. (It is important that we left on time.)
  • Je souhaite que vous soyez bien arrivés. (I hope you have arrived safely.)

It is important to note that some irregular verbs have particular forms in the past subjunctive, so it is necessary to learn them individually. Additionally, the past tense subjunctive is less commonly used in contemporary language, but remains present in formal written language and in specific contexts.

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