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French Verbs: Watching Your Mood

Verbs are divided into various moods. Linguistically, the mood of a verb is a way of expressing oneself, or a way of speaking. A mood shows the speaker's attitude toward an event. The French language has seven such moods that are divided into two categories: personal moods and impersonal moods.

Making it personal

The verbs in the personal moods are conjugated in order to correspond to the subject pronouns. They are divided into four groups:

  • The indicative mood (which is the mood that's used most often) indicates that the speaker is talking about a fact, or something that's happening, will happen, or has happened.
  • The subjunctive mood (which you use more often in French than in English) is the mood of doubt, uncertainty, emotion, will, and command.
  • The imperative mood expresses an order, a request, or a directive. The imperative mood uses the present tense of most verbs and the conjugations of the following three subject pronouns: tu, nous, and vous. However, you never use the subject pronouns in an imperative construction.
  • The conditional mood appears in a hypothetical sentence where you place the conditional form of the verb in the result clause. For example, you may say Si j'avais de l'argent, je voyagerais. (If I had money, I would travel.) You may also use the conditional to make polite requests or suggestions.

Don't take it so personally: The impersonal mood

Unlike the personal moods, the impersonal mood verbs aren't conjugated because they don't correspond to any particular subject pronoun. These impersonal mood verbs include the infinitive, the gerund, and the participle:

  • The infinitive mood is often used as a noun. An example is in the French saying Vouloir, c'est pouvoir, which translates to Where there's a will, there's a way. Literally, it means To want to is to be able to.
  • The gerund can be used as an adverb, like it is in the sentence On réussit à la vie en travaillant dur, meaning One succeeds in life by working hard.
  • The participle can be used as an adjective, as in the example Les devoirs finis, ils ont joué au basket, which means Once the homework was finished, they played basketball.
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