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Verbs subjunctive present: elle est la seule qui ait

Elle est la seule qui ait une voiture. (She is the only one who has a car.) I've been puzzling over the use of the subjunctive in this sentence. I wondered if the use of the subjunctive hinted at a little doubt or uncertainty in the French which doesn't come over in the English translation offered. Can anyone who understands this confirm this, or put me on the right track if I am wrong.

November 1, 2012



The nuance is very thin between 'la seule qui ait une voiture' (correct form) and 'la seule qui a une voiture' (often used, mostly by those who don't master subjunctive forms!). It is more a matter of conditional (if+) than doubt or uncertainty. It is the type of expression you use if you do not want to suggest any judgemental skew nor definitive statement. Am not sure I have been clear... let me know.

  • 1566

Here is a good explanation to know which mode (indicative or subjunctive) you should use after expression such as "la seule qui" or "le seul qui":



If you say "c'est la seule qui ait une voiture', you may mentally add 'as far as I know', so it is a matter of how much you want to state or suggest something, how much you want to sound self-assured or careful... At the top of the article Remy suggested, there is an important mention : "it depends on how concrete the speaker feels about what is being said." I suspect the French being said to be more "direct" than Brits, their "précautions de langage" are less frequent. So, you might as often hear "c'est la seule qui a une voiture".


I wrote "She's the only one who would have a car" and Duolingo rejected that translation.


"would have" is conditional and back translates to "la seule qui aurait une voiture".


(Edited because I have had this open for hours and didn't see Remy's reply.) Thanks Sitesurf and Remy. I have read some of about.com on the subjunctive but missed the reference to "seul" as a marker for the possibility of the subjunctive. It is nice and clear. In the duolingo example, then, the subjunctive allows for the possibility that someone else may have a car and that the speaker is not absolutely sure of that. Feel I'm beginning to see a ❤❤❤❤❤ of light. Thanks again.

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