Conjunctions, at their most basic, are words that connect other words and clauses together in a sentence. These include both simple conjunctions designed to connect and compare words and clauses, such as:
And, but, or, nor, for, yet, so
And words designed to be used as part of a clause, like:
Until, before, unless, although, without, because, while (and many more)
French conjunctions do not change forms. They are set phrases, and are used the same way when applied to any gender or number of nouns. That holds true even if the conjunction itself consists of multiple words.
In practice, it’s not critical to recognize when you are using a conjunction in a sentence so much as it is that you must recognize that specific conjunctions should be followed with the subjunctive mood instead of the normal indicative present tense.
Note: The subjunctive versus indicative issue only applies to the “clause-comparing” conjunctions in the second example above. You can forget the “and”, “nor”, “but”, “for”, etc. simple conjunctions in the first example for the rest of this lesson.
List of the most common conjunctions
Clause conjunctions all end in que. There is a logic to the conjunctions that take the subjunctive, but in practice, we find it to be easier to memorize the indicative conjunctions first, since that list is shorter, and assume any other conjunctions we encounter should be used with the subjunctive.
These conjunctions, in general, convey a sense of certainty (with the exception of peut-être) about how things have taken or will take place. They probably look more familiar to you than the subjunctive list will, since French textbooks use them frequently in sample sentences and in vocabulary lists so that the authors can avoid addressing the rules for subjunctive conjunctions until that lesson comes up.
|aussitôt que||as soon as|
|tandis que||while, whereas|
Conjunctions that take the subjunctive generally express time, conditionality, purpose, negativity, or negative statements.
|à condition que||under the condition that|
|à moins que||unless|
|afin que||in order that|
|de façon que||so that|
|de crainte que||out of fear that|
|de peur que||out of fear that|
|en attendant que||while waiting for|
|jusqu’à ce que||until|
|pour que||so that|
|pourvu que||provided that|
How to get out of using the subjunctive in conjunctions
Many French students are wary of the subjunctive mood, both in recognizing when to use it and in conjugating it properly. Though ideally you would have a perfect grasp of the subjunctive, you can get around using it in some situations if 1) the subject of the first clause and the second clause are the same, and 2) that particular conjunction qualifies for the alternate structure.
The workaround for the appropriate sentences is to drop the que and add de + [the infinitive form of the verb].
The subjunctive construction: Mon ami lit souvent de crainte qu’il devienne ignorant.
The de + infinitive construction: Mon ami lit souvent de crainte de devenir ignorant.
However, the infinitive shortcut does not work for the conjunctions bien que, quoique, pourvu que, and jusqu’à ce que. You must use the subjunctive conjugation or pick a different sentence structure.
In addition to learning the major French clause conjunctions, this lesson should serve as another example of how important it to learn le subjonctif well. It’s easy to avoid in English, but it’s really difficult to completely avoid the subjunctive in French.