Differentiate between Tense and Mood with French Verbs
If you’re familiar with the terms tense and mood of English verbs, then you shouldn’t have any trouble differentiating between the two with French verbs because they’re defined the same way. If you’re not sure what each term means and when to use them, what follows can help you.
Tense: The tense of the verb means the time that the verb conveys. Verbs can express present, past, or future time. French has 14 tenses, seven simple and seven compound tenses.
A simple tense means that the verb is conjugated by itself without an auxiliary verb. The simple tenses are as follows:
Present indicative is the most commonly used tense to state a general fact, to describe what you or someone else does in the here and now, or to express how things are. The present tense has three meanings in English, for example, je marche means I walk, I am walking, I do walk.
Imperfect indicates an ongoing or interrupted action in the past as in je marchais (I was walking, I used to walk, I would walk).
Passé simple is a literary past tense and isn’t used in every day speech or in informal writing. It indicates a completed action in the past as in je marchai (I walked, I did walk).
Future is used to express an action or a state of being in the future as in je marcherai (I will walk).
Conditional translates as would and is used to make polite requests as in Je voudrais une tasse de café (I would like a cup of coffee) or as part of a hypothetical sentence, for example, Si j’avais le temps, je voyagerais (If I had the time, I would travel.)
Present subjunctive indicates both a present and a future action or state of being and is used in the subordinate clause when the verb or verbal expression in the main clause indicates emotion, will, wish, doubt, and subjectivity.
Imperfect subjunctive indicates an ongoing or interrupted action in the past but is used in the subordinate clause when the verb or verbal expression in the main clause indicates emotion, will, wish, doubt, and subjectivity.
A compound tense means that an auxiliary verb is used, plus the past participle of the verb of your choice. The two auxiliary verbs in French are avoir (to have) and être (to be). The seven compound tenses in French are
Passé composé indicates a completed action in the past and it’s often expressed as –ed in English as in j’ai marché (I walked).
Pluperfect indicative is a tense that is used to indicate an action that was completed prior to the passé composé. In English, this tense means had.
Past anterior is a literary tense that expresses a completed action in the past. It’s comparable to the passé composé, but it isn’t used in everyday speech.
Future perfect indicates a future action that takes place before another future action. In English, the future perfect is translated as will have.
Conditional perfect is mainly used in a hypothetical clause when the pluperfect is used in the si (if) clause. The conditional perfect translates as would have in English.
Past subjunctive is used in the subordinate clause when the verb or verbal expression in the main clause expresses doubt, emotion, subjectivity, and will, just like the present subjunctive. However, you use it when the action of the verb in the subordinate clause takes place before the action of the main clause.
Pluperfect subjunctive functions like the pluperfect indicative, but you never use it in everyday speech or informal writing. Like the present and past subjunctive, it’s placed in the subordinate clause when the verb or verbal expression in the main clause expresses doubt, emotion, will, and subjectivity.
Mood: The mood of a verb is a way of expressing yourself, or a way of speaking. A mood reveals the speaker’s attitude toward an event. French has four personal moods:
The indicative mood is the one used the most often because it indicates a fact or something that is happening, has happened, or will happen.
The subjunctive mood is the mood of doubt, subjectivity, uncertainty, emotion, and will.
When you give an order or make a request or a directive, you’re using the imperative mood, also referred to the command mood.
You use the conditional mood to make polite requests or suggestions as well as to make hypothetical sentences. This mood is translated as would in the present conditional tense and would have in the past conditional tense.