Cuando vea los ojos que tengo en los míos tatuados.

-Alejandra Pizarnik


Verbs are used in poetry to create different effects; they are used to make a sentence more interesting and to help describe the action of the subject. Poets also use verb tenses to manipulate time in their poems. So, if you like poetry, you should read this article. You'll learn a little more about the subjunctive and the imperative in Spanish, while being exposed to some Spanish language classics. Enjoy!


In the quote at the beginning of this article, we can observe the subjunctive form of the verb ver (to see) in the first person singular (yo), which is vea. The subjunctive (not often found in English, but common in Spanish) is typically used to indicate that something is not factual, but rather probable, unlikely, hoped for or feared.


The Subjuctive


The Spanish subjunctive expresses sentiment or wishes, doubt about a future event, or conditionality. For most verbs, the present subjunctive is formed by following these three steps:


  1. Start with the yo form of the present indicative.
  2. Drop the -o ending.
  3. Add the corresponding subjunctive ending, as seen below:



Endings (-ar verbs)

Endings (-er,-ir verbs)



















We can see this Spanish mood in the following poem, El Fantasma (The Ghost). This poem was written by Gabriela Mistral (pseudonym: Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga), the first female Latin American poet to receive the Nobel Prize in literature.


A menos que él también olvide Unless he forgets too 

y que tampoco entienda y vea. And does not understand or see.


The subjunctive mood is often present in subordinate clauses that begin with que. For example, A menos que always introduces a subjunctive clause because the actions are uncertain or otherwise dependent on something else.


While learning to use the subjunctive, it is important to recognize some clauses. The subjunctive is always used after the following phrases:


  • A menos que: Unless
  • Con tal que: Provided that
  • Cuando: When
  • Después que: After
  • En cuanto: As soon as
  • Es importante que: It's important that well as a few other similar ones.  


There are only six truly irregular verbs in the subjunctive (dar: to give, estar: to be, haber: to have, ir: to go, saber: to know, ser: to be). All other "irregulars" are only irregular in the stem or in their spelling. The example below includes the subjunctive form of the verbs ser (sea, seas, sea, seamos, seáis, sean) and estar (esté, estés, esté, estemos, estéis, estén):


Sea invierno, sea verano, In summer, in winter

esté dormida, esté despierta. sleeping or walking.


The Imperfect Subjunctive


To make the imperfect subjunctive, you use the same verb stem that is used in the third person plural form (they) of the simple past tense (preterite). You get this by simply removing the -ron ending, and adding –ra, -ras, -ra, -ramos, -rais, or -ran in its place. And now, you’ve got your imperfect subjunctive.


For example, in the poem El Fantasma (The Ghost) by Gabriela Mistral, we can observe the imperfect subjunctive of the verbs ver and volver in use.


Aquí estoy si acaso me ven, I’m here, if they happen to see me,

y lo mismo si no me vieranAnd here if they never see me,




En un turno de mando y ruego, Now pleading, now commanding,

y sin irme, porque volviera, Not leaving, for I’ll be back again


The Imperative


The imperative mood is used to tell someone to do something in a direct manner, or simply as a command. Spanish has two ways to address someone directly based on formality ( and usted), so there are two different ways to express such commands.


The following is by Mariano Melgar, a Peruvian poet best known for his famous poetic love songs, known as yaravíes. We can see the positive imperative informal here.


Vuelve, que ya no puedo Come back, I cannot

Vivir sin tus cariños Live without your affection




Salva tu mejor prenda Save your best garment

Ven al seguro asilo. Come to this safe sanctuary


The positive imperative for  is identical to the third person singular present in the indicative. For the negative form, we use the second person singular in the present subjunctive. The pronoun is omitted.


The Imperative with Reflexive Verbs


In the affirmative form, the reflexive pronoun is joined to the imperative form. For example: Quédate aquí. Remember, you will need to put an accent on the verb to show the stress. In the negative form, the reflexive pronoun goes before the verb:


No te quedes sin labios do not remain without lips 

No te duermas sin sueño do not sleep without being sleepy 

No te pienses sin sangre do not think of yourself without blood 

No te juzgues sin tiempo do not judge yourself without time.


This poem, called No Te Salves (“Don't Save Yourself” or “Don't Play it Safe”), shows a few examples of the negative imperative with reflexive verbs. Its author is the famous Uruguayan poet, Mario Benedetti


The Imperative with Object Pronouns


Pronouns are not always placed before the verb in a command (for more information, click here). Instead, the pronouns change positions depending on whether the command is positive or negative.


In affirmative commands, object pronouns are attached directly to the end of the imperative form of the verb. These new words usually have an accent to maintain the original stress of the verb. Here is an example:


Hostígame en la sangre, que cada cosa cruel sea tú que vuelves. 

¡No me dejes dormir, no me des paz! 




No me pierdas como una música fácil, no seas caricia ni guante;

tállame como un sílex, desespérame.


In negative commands, object pronouns are placed before the verb, and follow the usual rules for Spanish pronouns. Since they maintain their positions as individual words, no additional accents are needed.


No me importa ignorarte en pleno día, 

saber que juegas cara al sol y al hombre. 



If both the direct and indirect object pronouns are attached, the indirect object pronoun always comes before the direct object pronoun. For example: We say Compártelo, in which the indirect object te comes before the direct object lo.

The poem above, Encargo (Petition), belongs to El Nombre Innombrable, from the book Salvo el Crepúsculo, written by Argentinean Julio Cortázar. While it is not the genre that he is most known for, his poetry is absolutely wonderful, stunning and breathtaking.





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