Subjunctive Spanish is often referred to as the most confusing aspect of learning the Spanish language. It is one of the most difficult grammar topics for English speakers to grasp. Not only in Spanish, but in the majority of other languages as well. But, learning the dos and don’ts of Subjunctive Spanish can surely minimizes the chances of confusion.
In Spanish, the subjunctive is a way of using verbs to describe “virtual information.” In other words, rather than simply stating a fact, we express our emotional perception, bias, or attitude toward something.
And here’s the most interesting part: it’s a mood, not a tense. Before you start picturing moody verbs sitting around and moping in their conjugation groups, let us explain the distinction between moods and tenses.
To describe an action that has occurred, we use verb tenses such as presente, pretérito imperfecto (also known as the imperfect tense in Spanish), and futuro. We use moods – indicativo, subjuntivo and imperativo – to reflect how we feel about that action.
Let’s take a look at an example of the subjunctive mood in English: Phrases that appear at the start of a sentence like, “if I were you”, or “if I had known” use the English subjunctive.
Now that you are clear about what subjunctive in Spanish is? Let’s move towards some prominent dos and don’ts associated with it.
Subjunctive Spanish: Some dos and don’ts
In Spanish, the subjunctive has numerous applications. Instead of boring you with a long list of rules to memorize, we will give you everything you need to know about when – and when not – to use the Spanish subjunctive.
Use the subjunctive, when describing your attitude toward something factual or a fact about someone, provided that…
1. There are two verbs in the sentence, with a “que” in between them
- ¿Quieres que prepare algo de comer? (Do you want me to make you something to eat?)
- Carlos espera que salgamos pronto. (Carlos hopes we’ll leave early).
2. The ‘person’ of the first verb is different from the ‘person’ of the second verb
- ¿Quieres (tú) que prepare (yo) algo de comer? (Do you want me to make you something to eat?) (Literal translation: do you want that I make you something to eat?)
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3. The first of those two verbs express uncertainty, doubt, a wish, or any kind of emotion
- Me extraña que no vengan a la fiesta. (I find it strange that they’re not coming to the party).
- No soporto que Susana nunca recoja la mesa. (I can’t stand the fact that Susana never clears the table).
If a sentence checks all three of these boxes, you will almost certainly need to use the subjunctive. Remember that the first of the two verbs are always in the indicative, while the second is always in the subjunctive.
Now here are some exceptions to this rule.
Ojalà, a common Spanish word for hope, is always followed by the subjunctive, regardless of whether the verb is followed by a “que.”
- Ojalá no llueva mañana. (I hope it won’t rain tomorrow).
- Ojalá que apruebe el examen. (I hope I pass the exam).
When you express your best wishes to someone, whether it’s their birthday, they are going on a trip, or they are not feeling well, the “que” comes first, followed by the subjunctive.
- ¡Que pases un buen finde! (I hope you have a nice weekend!)
- ¡Que tengas buen viaje! (I hope you have a good trip!)
- ¡Que te mejores! (I hope you get better!)
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Don’t use the subjunctive…
1. When you are talking about the same person
You don’t need to use the subjunctive if both verbs refer to the same person when describing an emotion, feeling, or making a wish and you have two verbs.
In such cases, there is usually no need for a “que”; instead, the second verb is in the infinitive form (like comer – to eat).
- Tengo ganas de verte. (I’m looking forward to seeing you).
- Espero ir a la fiesta del sábado. (I hope I’ll go to the party on Saturday).
- Me encanta aprender español. (I love learning Spanish).
2. If there is no signal
There will always be some kind of ‘signal’ that will cause the subjunctive to be used. It could be another verb or expression that describes any emotion; a change in person; good wishes expressed to someone else; or the word “ojalá.”
Whatever the signal is, it will always be present. So, before you jump the gun and give the subjunctive a cautious try, make sure the signal – the thing that gives you the all-important green light – is present.
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Don’t think of the Spanish subjunctive as a tedious set of rules to remember. You will end up scratching your head for days on end, getting nowhere. Because, when it comes to the subjunctive, it’s the meaning that counts, not the rules.
Instead, take a moment to consider what you want to say or write. Keep this guide handy and take the guideline where required.
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