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FRENCH IMPERFECT SUBJUNCTIVE is only used for literary writing

The imperfect subjunctive is as difficult as the present subjunctive tense, but luckily is only used in literary writing.

Unless you are doing advanced academic studies, or are at a very advanced level, it is not a tense that you should study, in depth, until you have mastered the the Present Subjunctive.

The French Imperfect Subjunctive is very uncommon in normal conversational French, even in 'high-society' circles.

It is always important to be familiar with these literary tenses like imperfect subjunctive and passé simple so that you can read older French literature, but it is less important to memorize the conjugations and more important to understand the use of the tense. Just being able to recognise the tense is often good enough.

The imperfect subjunctive, like the present subjunctive, is used to express a demand, desire, or request—the only difference is the timing of the action.

If it happened in the past but was not completed, the imperative subjunctive is used rather than present subjunctive (if it was completed, the pluperfect subjunctive tense is used).

To conjugate, drop the infinitive ending (-er, -re, -ir) and add endings as follows:

French Verbs of the first group:

-ER Verbs:

E.g. adorer (which means to adore in French)

tu adorasses
il/elle adorât
nous adorassions
vous adorassiez
ils/elles adorassent

Elle espérait qu’ils l’adorassent.
She had hoped that they might adore (her).

Le professeur voulait que les élèves expliquassent la difference entre le conditionnel et le subjonctif.
The teacher wanted the pupils to explain the difference between the conditional and the subjunctive.

Il fallait que les randonneurs escaladassent la falaise.
It was necessary for the ramblers to climb up the cliff.

In modern conversational French (and modern written French) the French Imperfect Subjunctive would not be used, but the Present Subjunctive is used.

The sentence in modern parlance would be:

Il fallait que les randonneurs escaladent la falaise.
It was necessary for the ramblers to climb up the cliff.

French Verbs of the second group:

-IR verbs with present participle ending in –issant

E.g. finir (which means to finish in French)

je finisse
tu finisses
il/elle finît
nous finissions
vous finissiez
ils/elles finissent

Je préfèrais que vous finissiez plus sérieusement.
I preferred that you would finish more seriously.

Son professeur de langues voulait qu’il choisît des etudes d’espagnol.
His teacher of foreign languages wanted him to choose Spanish for his studies in the university.

L’entraîneur regrettait que ses joueurs ne lui obéissent pas.
The coach wished his players could have obeyed him.

French Verbs of the third group:

-RE Verbs and other -IR verbs:

E.g. battre (which means to beat in French)

je battisse
tu battisses
il/elle battît
nous battissions
vous battissiez
ils/elles battissent

Nous avons eu peur qu’il nous battît.
We were scared that he might beat us.

L’idéal aurait été que vous traduisissiez ce texte en une heure.
Ideally you should have translated this text within one hour.

Elle voulait que nous attendissions l’ascenseur.
She wanted us to wait for the lift.

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French Imperfect Subjunctive
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