FR: It's sad that he doesn't/didn't understand the lesson - subjonctif présent / passé

alebeau

Senior Member
United States - English
[...]

Hello,

I've been looking at some time-dependent sentences in which the subjunctive is used. In short, whether to use the présent or passé du subjonctif can be a tricky matter. I was a French major in college, and if memory serves, part of the difficulty lies in the fact that the "imparfait" and "plus-que-parfait" du subjonctif are no longer used in modern French. They have been replaced by the present and passé du subjonctif, respectively. I've consulted other blogs such as (subjonctif présent / subjonctif passé) to help, but just want to clarify that I've got this right in my head:

It's sad that he doesn't understand the lesson.
Il est triste qu'il ne comprenne pas la leçon. (The speaker's sadness is felt simultaneously with the inability of the boy to understand the lesson.)

It's sad that he didn't understand the lesson.
Il est triste qu'il n'ait pas compris la leçon. (The speaker is expressing sadness about a previous incident in which the boy did not understand the lesson.)

It was sad that he wasn't understanding the lesson (that day).
Il était triste qu'il ne comprenne pas la leçon. *Formerly, this would have been "comprît".

It was sad that he hadn't understood the lesson.
Il était triste qu'il n'ait pas compris la leçon. *Formerly, this would have been "eût compris".

Any additional ressources or info would be appreciated.

Merci d'avance de votre aide,

André
 
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  • Yendred

    Senior Member
    Français - France
    It's sad that he doesn't understand the lesson.
    Il est triste qu'il ne comprenne pas la leçon. (The speaker's sadness is felt simultaneously with the inability of the boy to understand the lesson.)

    It's sad that he didn't understand the lesson.
    Il est triste qu'il n'ait pas compris la leçon. (The speaker is expressing sadness about a previous incident in which the boy did not understand the lesson.)
    In the second case, the subjonctif passé is indeed an explicit reference to a previous incident, but in the first case, rather than an explicitely simultaneous incident, I feel the subjonctif présent like a generality (usually he doesn't understand) and/or an independence with regard to time (he doesn't understand, in reference to a given incident, but it's not specified if it refers to a current or past incident).

    As another example of the "time independent" nature of the subjonctif présent, you can also use it in the future:
    Ce sera dommage qu'il ne vienne pas (It will be a pity that he does not come).
     
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