The Subjunctive in Spanish
The subjunctive is best described as a mood – it means using a completely different verb form so it is not just another tense. Its importance in Spanish cannot be over-emphasised. It doesn’t seem to be disappearing from everyday use, so it is worth getting to know the subjunctive well. As you explore it in greater detail, you will gain a feel for when to use it.
Essentially, it reflects uncertainty, doubt, vagueness, negativity and so on. Although it is mainly used in subordinate clauses, often starting with ‘que’, it can also occur in main clauses, and in some forms of the imperative.
The opposite of subjunctive is indicative, which is the ‘mood’ you will use most of the time.
Use of the Subjunctive
As ImperativeThe subjunctive mood is used in some very common imperative or command forms which you hear all the time.
‘Traiga’ (‘bring’) is common in restaurants, and ‘diga’ ( ‘speak’) is what you say when you pick up the phone. ‘Oiga’ – ‘hear’ – is the standard response.
Subjunctive after Expressions of InfluenceUse the subjunctive after verbs or noun phrases in which the subject of the main clause gets someone or something else to perform an action. Expressions of wanting, liking, ordering, forbidding, advising, insisting and so on come into this category.
Pedir (to ask, request) and decir (to tell someone to do something) must always be used with the subjunctive.
Have a look at the following sentences. The subjunctive verbs are in capitals.
Mi esposa siempre me dice que VIAJE en tren.
My wife is always telling me to travel by train.
Ella no quiere que yo VAYA.
She doesn’t want me to go.
Subjunctive after Value Judgements and Emotional ReactionsThe subjunctive is used after verbs and noun phrases which amount to an expression of emotional value. Again, in the examples below, the subjunctive is in capital letters.
Es una pena que TENGA que viajar a Sevilla sin mi esposa.
It’s a shame that I have to travel to Seville without my wife.
Es natural que ella SE PREOCUPE por mí.
It is natural that she should be worried about me.
Me alegro de que CONSIDERE invitar a su hermana.
I am glad she is considering inviting her sister.
Subjunctive after Expressions of Doubt, Denial and DisbeliefThese are as opposed to positive statements of certainty – which take the indicative.
Yet more examples:
Dudo que la empresa CAMBIE su política.
I doubt whether the company will change its policy.
No creo que VAYA a haber huelgas por este asunte.
I don’t think there are going to be strikes over this matter.
Subjunctive after Expressions of Possibility and ProbabilityAlways use the subjunctive after the following:
- Es possible que - It is possible that
- Puede (ser) que - It may be that
- Es probable que - It is probable that
- La posibilidad de que - The possibility that
- La probabilidad de que - The probability that
Expressions of TimeThe subjunctive is used in subordinate clauses where the action was not a reality at the time of the action of the main verb.
A classic example is expressions such as ‘when’, ‘as soon as’ and so on. Look at these :
Cuando llegue a Sevilla, llamaré a mi esposa.
When I arrive in Seville, I will call my wife.
Cuando llegué a Sevilla, llamé a mi esposa.
When I arrived in Seville, I called my wife.
Here are some expressions which take the subjunctive when they refer to events that have not happened.
Antes de que before
Tan pronto como as soon as
Una vez que once
Mientras que while
Clauses of PurposePhrases, which contain the basic idea ‘in order that something shall happen’ need the subjunctive, since this action has not yet happened. These include ‘para que’ and ‘a fin de que’, which both mean ‘in order that’ or ‘so that’.
Clauses of ConcessionUse the subjunctive after the following phrases when they refer to something hypothetical rather than a fact:
Aunque (although, which, with the subjunctive tends to be the English equivalent of ‘even though’)
a pesar de que (in spite of the fact that)
Clauses of ConditionThe subjunctive is always used after:
a condición de que on condition thata menos que unless
Other conjunctions taking the subjunctive include ‘sin que’ (without) and ‘en el caso de que’ (in the event that).
¡Ojalá!This expresses a strong wish, and takes the subjunctive.
¡Ojalá SE JUBILE el jefe!
If only the boss would retire!
The Subjunctive in Common Phrases!The following set phrases contain the verb in the subjunctive:
Que yo sepa – as far as I know
Sea como sea – be that as it may
O sea - in other words