There are six French verb moods. Four are personal moods, in which case the mood indicates the mind set of the subject, and two are impersonal: the verb doesn’t change according to who is speaking.
It will all make sense with the examples below.
1. What is a Mood?
First, let me explain the personal French verb moods.
A – French Personal Verb Moods
The mood indicates the mind set of the subject.
Is the subject…
- making a statement (indicative mood = l’indicatif, the most common mood)
J’apprends le français – I’m learning French
- giving a command or order (imperative mood = l’impératif)
Apprenez le français ! – Learn French!
- describing a condition or the possibility of something (French conditional mood = le conditionnel)
J’aimerais apprendre le français – I would like to learn French
- expressing doubt, unlikelihood or subjectivity (French subjunctive mood = le subjonctif, a mood very rare in English but quite common in French)
Il faut que vous appreniez le français – It’s necessary that you learn French
So, it’s not a question of being in a good or bad mood, but it does have to do a bit with this notion: it has to do with the subject mind set. The mood you choose will affect the conjugation of the verb.
B – French Impersonal Verb Moods
Note that there are also impersonal moods in French, which are invariable, meaning they always use the same form and the verb doesn’t change according to who is speaking.
- Adjectival form of the verb (the participle = le participe)
- Nominal form = the name of the verb (the infinitive = l’infinitif)
Whether the use of the word “mood” for conjugation makes sense or not to you, you need to understand what it refers to and learn it. It’s a grammatical term that is essential in your French studies… and exams!
2. What is a Tense?
- A simple tense consists of a one-word verb form (ie: ‘I speak’).
- A compound tense consists of one or more auxiliary verbs + a main verb (ie: ‘I am speaking’, “I have been thinking’).
3. What is the Difference Between a Mood and a Tense?
- A tense indicates the “when” of the verb: whether the action takes place in the past, the present, or the future.
- A mood describes the feeling of the verb; more specifically, the speaker’s attitude towards the action of the verb: Is s/he saying that the action is true or uncertain? Is it a possibility or a command?
Moods and tenses work together to give verbs a precise meaning. Each mood has at least two tenses, present and past, though some moods have more.
When you conjugate a verb, you do so by first choosing the appropriate mood and then adding a tense to it.
4. What are the Most Common French Moods and Tense?
Some tenses are much more common than others and the same goes for moods.
The indicative mood is the most common – it’s the “normal” mood – and has eight tenses.
The most common tense in French is the present tense: the present tense tells you what is happening now. It can be when the speaker is speaking, a habitual action or a general truth.
The other tenses are somewhat based on the present indicative tense, for regular as well as for irregular French verbs.
This is the reason why, if you followed my À Moi Paris method, we spent so much time on the present indicative tense. All of À Moi Paris Level 1 and Level 2, and most of Level 3 are written using only the present tense.
In À Moi Paris Level 4, I started using the other tenses. And then I explained in depth all the tenses in the upper intermediate Level 5 . In Level 6, I used more advanced vocabulary and sentence structures, and started using the other French moods: the Imperative, the Conditional and the Subjunctive, which we are going to study in depth in my advanced French audiobook learning method.
5. How to Say “Mood” in French?
Now, let me go over some vocabulary that can confuse the student of French.
The grammatical mood is “le mode”, it’s masculine:
Conjuguez le verbe au mode conditionnel – Conjugate the verb in the Conditional mood
In the feminine, “la mode” is fashion in French:
J’aime bien suivre les tendances de la mode parisienne – I like to follow the Parisian fashion trends
It’s also used in the plural for the same meaning, although this is more old-fashioned.
Un magasin de modes – a fashion store
French uses the word “un mode” in different situations:
- Un mode de transport – means of transportation
- Un mode d’emploi – instruction manual
- Un mode de vie – lifestyle
- Un mode de jeu – (video) game mode
Finally, the most frequent way to translate “mood” in French would be the feminine word “l’humeur”.
- Je suis de bonne humeur – I’m in a good mood
- Il a souvent des sautes d’humeur – he has frequent mood swings (yes, it is “saute” with an e… a weird French expression).