I got an email today with this question:
It’s a nice data point regarding something that’s difficult for us English speakers to remember: penser que (“to think that”) takes the indicative in the present affirmative (that is, when you’re making a statement). However, it takes the subjunctive when it’s used in a question, and when it’s used in a negative.
The Lawless French web site has a succinct description of how it works at this web page. Using the example of devoir that showed up in the email, we would have this (hopefully one of you native speakers out there will double-check me):
- Je pense que tu dois… I think that you should… (present affirmative, takes indicative dois)
- Je ne pense pas que tu doives… I don’t think that you should… (present negative, takes subjunctive doives)…
- Penses-tu que je doive… (present interrogative, takes subjunctive doive)
I hate it when Anglophones complain about the subjunctive–I think it’s charming. I bring this up only because it’s a corner of the grammar that puzzled the heck out of me today. How does this work in the future tense? I have no clue. I’d love to be able to say “I don’t think that Trump will win the election”–present tense? Subjunctive? No clue. Native speakers?