Introduction to Subjunctive in Spanish
When discussing the verb conjugations so far, we’ve only seen the indicative mood. The indicative mood refers to real statements and facts. It is the most common mood. Another essential mood is the subjunctive mood. This mood is used primarily to refer to subjective statements. The subjunctive is very important in Spanish. It is known as indicativo in Spanish.
The subjunctive is used in English as well. On the other hand, it is used not as often as in Spanish.
It is worth emphasizing that the subjunctive is not yet another tense, it is mood. Hence, we have more than one tense to express the subjunctive just as in the case of the indicative.
In this lesson, we go through some general essential elements of the subjunctive mood. In the upcoming three lessons, we will cover the different tenses in subjunctive and make a comparison between the indicative and the subjunctive mood.
Let’s remember what a subjunctive is by an example from English:
If I were a rich man, I would travel the world
From the sentence above we understand that the person is not rich. You would conjugate “to be” verb as “I was” normally, but in the example “were” is used instead. So, the tense was modified in agreement with the subjunctive.
This is a typical situation where you would use also the subjunctive in Spanish. Like this, there are some other instances when you would also use the subjunctive both in English and in Spanish. But in many other cases Spanish needs to use the subjunctive whereas English does not. The cases when the subjunctive must be used in Spanish are summarized further below.
Typically you will have two dependent sentences, as in the example above. The second part (would travel the world) depends on the first part. That’s why such sentences are seen as dependent. The first sentence is called the main clause and the second one is the second clause. In Spanish, the subjunctive is used mostly in the second clause. But, there are also cases where it can be the main verb of the sentence. As a general rule of thumb, if the phrase in the main clause implies a kind of uncertainty the use of subjunctive is justified. Otherwise you should use indicative.
When to use
- Keep in mind that the subjunctive is used when there is a kind of uncertainty. If from the sentence it is understood that what the speaker says may or not be true, the subjunctive is used. If there is doubt in the expression, use subjunctive.
- Subjunctive is used to express desires, wishes.
- Subjunctive is used when feelings are expressed. Or when commands and orders are made.
- Subjunctive is also used in if clauses when telling things which are not true.
The subjunctive is used in four tenses:
- Present subjunctive
- Imperfect subjunctive
- Present perfect subjunctive
- Past perfect subjunctive
The answer of the question which of the above tenses should be used in a sentence depends predominantly on the tense of the main clause. The conjugations of the subjunctive in these tenses and also the situations when to use which tense are covered in the next lessons.
Some expressions are used usually with the subjunctive. Below are some examples
dudar que to doubt that
no suponer que to not suppose that
sugerir que to suggest that
es dudoso que it is doubtful that
no es verdad que it's not true that
no suponer que to not suppose that
es necesario que it's necessary that
puede ser que it may be that
es improbable que it’s unlikely
es incierto que it's uncertain that
recomendar que to recommend that
mandar que to order that
preferir que to prefer that
pedir que to ask that
esperar que to wish that
insistir en que to insist that
no pensar que to not think that