Question about Subjunctif passé
Yesterday I was shining the Past Subjunctive skill in my French tree, when I got confused by two sentences:
- Il faut que son ami en soit informé. - It is necessary that his friend is informed of it.
This sentence is in present subjunctive afaik, informé is only a participe of informer. If one uses an adjective instead, it should become obvious: Il faut que son ami soit grand.
So far, no confusion.
- Il fallait que mon oncle en soit informé. - It was necessary that my uncle was informed of it.
Now the whole English sentence is in past tense, but the French subjunctif clause is not. Shouldn't the correct answer one of these two?
Il fallait que mon oncle en ait été informé.
Il fallait que mon oncle en fût informé.
My guess would be that the second one is correct since now the whole sentence is in the imparfait tense, but afair I have never seen this form in the tree, I took it from a grammar overview I own.
Thank you for any help on this.
Pretty good question!
In the first case: Il fallait que mon oncle en ait été informé, the sentence is not correct because the first verb is in the imparfait but the second one is in the subjonctif passé. This tense should be used with the present tense. - Source
In the second case: Il fallait que mon oncle en fût informé, the sentence is perfectly correct. That's very proper French. However, it is absolutely never used...orally. The subjonctif imparfait doesn't exist anymore in oral French. In written French you often find it, especially in literature and in some modern novels (not all of them since we tend to write more and more as we speak, to make the novel more realistic. It's a stylistic choice) - Source
You could also say : Il fallait que mon oncle en eût été informé. Proper but not used in oral French :)
Thank you for your reply. So let me try to get it straight:
There are (or were) four different tenses of the subjonctif: Présent, Passé, Imparfait and Plus-que-parfait.
Présent and Passé are used if the main clause is in the present tense, Imparfait and Plus-que-parfait are used of the main clause is in Imparfait (what about the other past tenses?).
Je ne pense pas qu'il travaille. (subjonctif présent)
In the moment I speak, I don't think that he is working right now.
*Je ne pense pas qu'il ait travaillé. (subjonctif passé) * In the moment I speak, I don't think that he has worked in the past.
Je ne pensais pas qu'il travaillât. (subjonctif imparfait)
At a moment in the past, I wasn't thinking that he worked at that moment.
Je ne pensais pas qu'il eût travaillé. (subjonctif plus-que-parfait)
At a moment in the past, I wasn't thinking that he had worked before that moment.
But in nowaday's French, the last two tenses are only used in formal, written language and are otherwise replaced by the first tenses respectively.
Am I correct or totally wrong ?
You are correct. A few comments and additions:
The tense to be used in the subordinate clause is determined by a few factors:
1) tense used in the main clause:
- indicative present/future and past (passé simple, passé composé, imparfait, plus-que-parfait) + marginally: futur antérieur and passé antérieur
- conditional present or passé
2) position in time of the second action vs the first one:
- simultaneous, prior or subsequent
3) register of speech:
- subjunctive imparfait and plus-que-parfait (formal) respectively replaced by present and past (informal)
4) there is no subjunctive future
5) other language bits (adverbs) are often necessary to position prior or subsequent actions, especially in informal speech.
PS: Il fallait que mon oncle en ait été informé (avant) is indeed correct, as a substitute to il fallait que mon oncle en eût été informé (plus-que-parfait - prior). But as it is passive, it is not easy to manage.