The subjunctive past tense in French

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The subjunctive past tense

The subjunctive past tense is used for actions that happen before the action in the main clause. This contrasts with the subjunctive present which describes present or subsequent actions.
Je doute qu’ils aient réussi leur examen I doubt they passed their exam (the past subjunctive qu’ils aient réussi happened before je doute).
Je doute qu’ils réussissent leur examen I doubt they will pass their exam (the present subjunctive qu’ils réussissent happens after je doute).
The subjunctive past is formed using the subjunctive present of auxiliary verbs avoir avoir, subjonctif présent or être être, subjonctif présent + the past participle of the verb.
appeler → que j’aie appelé that I called (or ‘I had called’)
comprendre → que tu aies compris that you understood (or ‘you had understood’)
avoir → que nous ayons eu that we had (or ‘we had had’)
partir → qu’ils soient partis that they left (or ‘they had left’)
Reminder:
We use the subjunctive (present and past) to express emotions (fear, joy, etc), doubt, obligation, or necessity and after certain conjunctions (bien que, although/though ; à moins que, unless ; quoique, although/even if ; pour que, in order to, etc.).
Muriel a peur que son chien ait mangé du poison. Muriel is scared that her dog ate poison.
Je vais en parler à Muriel et Marcel immédiatement à moins qu’ils ne soient déjà partis. I’ll speak to Muriel and Marcel immediately unless they have already left.

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