I wanted you to do it
Je voulais que tu le fasses
Notice how the main verb is in the past, but how the subjunctive verb in the dependent clause is in the present subjunctive. This is a common (and grammatically correct) occurrence.
You wanted him to come (to) see you, right?
Tu voulais qu'il vienne te voir, n'est-ce pas?
Here, the main action takes place in the past, but the present subjunctive is used in the dependent clause. This is because the action described there would have presumably occurred after the action of the main clause.
What is the past subjunctive and when is it used?
The past subjunctive is used in the same situations as the present subjunctive -- following verbs or expressions denoting doubt, demands, opinions, emotions, or elements of subjectivity.
The only difference is that it's used when the verb in the dependent clause (the subjunctive verb) describes an action that occurred before the action of the main verb.
Recall that there is no future subjunctive. The present subjunctive is used for future (subjunctive) actions.
How do you conjugate the past subjunctive?
Take the present subjunctive of the auxiliary verbs être or avoir, then add the appropriate past participle. For example, the first-person singular form of parler in the past subjunctive is j'aie parlé.
I wanted you to have already done it (by then)
Je voulais que tu l'aies déjà fait
Here, the main action is in the past, so the subjunctive verb is in the past subjunctive. The action of the dependent clause (the subjunctive verb) takes place before the action of the main clause.
It was important that you guys had given it to Paul
C'était important que vous l'ayez donné à Paul
Note the past subjunctive of donner. If the direct object pronoun l' represented a feminine object, the past participle would be donnée.
She doubted that we had understood. She doubted that we understood
Elle doutait que nous ayons compris. Elle doutait que nous comprenions
Note the past subjunctive of comprendre in the first sentence. The second sentence, on the other hand, uses the present subjunctive.
It is good that she came
Il est bon qu'elle soit venue
The past subjunctive can be used even when the main action is in the present tense. This is perfectly acceptable as long as the action of the subjunctive verb takes place before the main action.
I am sorry that you didn't see Marc yesterday
Je suis désolé que tu n'aies pas vu Marc hier
Here, the main clause contains a verb in the present tense, but the subjunctive verb in the dependent clause is conjugated in the past subjunctive.
It is the most beautiful city that I have seen
C'est la plus belle ville que j'aie vue
Recall that when a verb follows a superlative expression, it is typically in the subjunctive mood. Here, the past subjunctive is used. Also note how the past participle agrees with the preceding direct object.
I don't (wouldn't) dare go to his birthday
Je n'ose pas aller à son anniversaire
to dare - oser. Note that si j'ose le dire means "if I dare say so" or "if I may say so."
Do you guys know where the dog was found?
Savez-vous où l'on a trouvé le chien?
In formal, written French, it is common to come across l'on in place of on. Adding the l' is normally a matter of simply improving the way the resulting sentence/clause sounds. Here, l'on is used to avoid où on.
Christophe cooks more than he eats
Christophe cuisine plus qu'il ne mange
In comparisons between verbs, the ne explétif is sometimes needed before the second verb, particularly after plus and moins.
She doesn't dare do it
Elle n'ose le faire
In written, formal French, there are certain verbs that can be negative by taking ne without pas. This pattern is called the ne littéraire, and some of the verbs that do not need pas to be negative are: oser, pouvoir, cesser, manger, and bouger.
What is the simple past tense?
The simple past tense (or passé simple) is a literary tense used to describe past actions. It is rarely used outside of literature and formal writing. Its equivalent is the passé composé.
Depending on the ending of the verb, the simple past tense can be conjugated in a few different ways.
How do you conjugate regular -ER verbs in the simple past?
Drop the -ER ending and add the following endings: -ai, -as, -a, -âmes, -âtes, -èrent.
Conjugate parler in the passé simple.
- je parlai
- tu parlas
- il/elle/on parla
- nous parlâmes
- vous parlâtes
- ils/elles parlèrent
I ate some zebra in Africa (*simple past*)
Je mangeai du zèbre en Afrique
Note how -ger verbs like manger keep the "e" before "a" for the sake of pronunciation.
Pierre looked at his mother (*simple past*)
Pierre regarda sa mère
Remember that this has the same meaning as Pierre a regardé sa mère.
Yesterday he went to Guillaume's house on foot (*simple past*)
Hier il alla chez Guillaume à pied
Note that aller is a regular verb in the simple past.
(formal) Did you find the monkey? (*simple past*)
Trouvâtes-vous le singe?
We listened to the radio all day (*simple past*)
Nous écoutâmes la radio toute la journée
I dreamed about France last night (*simple past*)
Je rêvai de la France hier soir
I threw the ball to Marie (*simple past*)
Je lançai la balle à Marie
The stem for lancer becomes lanç- for every form besides the ils/elles form, lancèrent.
They looked for the lost dog (*simple past*)
Ils cherchèrent le chien perdu
How do you conjugate regular -IR and -RE verbs in the simple past?
For -IR and -RE verbs, add the following endings to the infinitive stem: -is, -is, -it, -îmes, -îtes, -irent.
Conjugate sortir in the passé simple.
- je sortis
- tu sortis
- il/elle/on sortit
- nous sortîmes
- vous sortîtes
- ils/elles sortirent
He passed his exam (*simple past*)
Il réussit son examen
They ran down the stairs because there was a fire (*simple past*)
Ils descendirent les escaliers parce qu'il y avait du feu
We finished our homework (*simple past*)
Nous finîmes nos devoirs
Don't tell me you lost your keys (*simple past*)
Ne me dis pas que tu perdis tes clés
I did not hear you (*simple past*)
Je ne t'entendis pas
We left abruptly (*simple past*)
Nous partîmes brusquement
Voltaire said, "You can't desire what you don't know." (*simple past*)
Voltaire dit, "On ne peut désirer ce qu'on ne connaît pas."
Dire is an irregular verb in the simple past. Its stem is simply d-, and it takes the endings for regular -IR and -RE verbs.
He updated everyone about the itinerary (*simple past*)
Il mit à jour tout le monde à propos de l'itinéraire
The simple past stem for mettre is simply m-. Note that mettre à jour is "to update."
They only took the best students with them (*simple past*)
Ils ne prirent que les meilleurs étudiants avec eux
Prendre is irregular in the past tense: its stem is pr- and it takes the regular -IR/-RE endings.
That day, they wanted to go to Christophe's house (*simple past*)
Ce jour-là, ils voulurent aller chez Christophe
Verbs with past participles ending in -u are often irregular in the simple past. The past participle is used as the stem, paired with the endings -s, -s, -t, -ˆmes, -ˆtes, -rent.
He was able to go to the concert (*simple past*)
Il put aller au concert
Pouvoir is irregular in the simple past. Its conjugations are je pus, tu pus, il/elle/on put, nous pûmes, vous pûtes, ils/elles purent.
I knew that song (*simple past*)
Je connus cette chanson
This dog lived a long time before his death (*simple past*)
Ce chien vécut longtemps avant sa mort
Note how the past participle of vivre, vécu, is used as the stem in the simple past.
Conjugate the verb avoir in the simple past.
- tu eus
- il/elle/on eut
- nous eûmes
- vous eûtes
- ils/elles eurent
Note how the past participle of avoir, eu, is used as its stem in the simple past.
They got married and had lots of children (*simple past*)
Ils se marièrent et eurent beaucoup d'enfants
This old man had seven grandchildren (*simple past*)
Ce vieil homme eut sept petits-fils/petits-enfants
They saw each other last week (*simple past*)
Ils se virent la semaine dernière
Voir is irregular in the simple past. Its stem is simply v- and it uses the regular -IR/-RE endings.
He died in his apartment in Paris as a result of a very serious illness (*simple past*)
Il mourut dans son appartement à Paris à cause d'une maladie très grave
Mourir is an irregular verb in the simple past. It does not use its past participle as its stem. Instead, it uses its infinitive stem along with the endings -us, -us, -ut, -ûmes, -ûtes, -urent.
Georges Pompidou was born in 1911 (*simple past*)
Georges Pompidou naquit en 1911
Note that the irregular verb naître uses the stem naqu- in the simple past. It takes the regular -IR/-RE endings.
They drove from New York to Montreal (*simple past*)
Ils conduisirent de New York à Montréal
Conduire is an irregular verb in the simple past. Its stem is conduis-, and it takes the regular -IR/-RE endings.
We made a new friend today (*simple past*)
Aujourd'hui, nous fîmes un nouvel ami
The simple past stem for the irregular verb faire is f-. It uses the -IR/-RE conjugation endings.
(formal) You came to my party without bringing any wine (*simple past*)
Vous vîntes à ma fête sans apporter du vin
Venir is an irregular verb in the simple past. Its conjugations are je vins, tu vins, il/elle/on vint, nous vînmes, vous vîntes, ils/elles vinrent.
Conjugate the verb être in the simple past tense.
- je fus
- tu fus
- il/elle/on fut
- nous fûmes
- vous fûtes
- ils/elles furent
They were happy to see me (*simple past*)
Ils furent heureux de me voir
She was glad that Marie came to the party (*simple past*)
Elle fut contente que Marie soit venue à la fête
Note the use of the past subjunctive after the expression être content que.