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The subjunctive - Easy Learning Grammar Spanish

What is the subjunctive?
The subjunctive is a verb form that is used in certain circumstances especially when expressing some sort of feeling or when there is doubt about whether something will happen or whether something is true. It is only used occasionally in modern English, for example, If I were you, ...;
So be it.; I wish you
were here.

1   Using the subjunctive

  • Although you may not know it, you will already be familiar with many of the forms of the present subjunctive, as it is used when giving orders and instructions not to do something as well as in the usted, ustedes and nosotros forms of instructions to do something. For example, if you phone someone in Spain, they will probably answer with ¡diga! or ¡dígame!, an imperative form taken from the present subjunctive of decir.
  • In Spanish the subjunctive is used after certain verbs and conjunctions when two parts of a sentence have different subjects.
Tengo miedo de que le ocurra algo.I’m afraid something may (subjunctive) happen to him.
(The subject of the first part of the sentence is I; the subject of the second part of the sentence is something.).
  • In English, in a sentence like We want him/José to be happy, we use an infinitive (to be) for the second verb even though want and be happy have different subjects (we and him/José).
  • In Spanish you cannot do this. You have to use the subjunctive for the second verb.
Queremos que él sea feliz.We want that he (subjunctive) be happy.
Queremos que José sea feliz.We want that José (subjunctive) be happy.
  • You can use an infinitive for the second verb in Spanish when the subject of both verbs is the same.
Queremos ser felices.We want to be happy.

2   Coming across the subjunctive

  • The subjunctive has several tenses, the main ones being the present subjunctive and the imperfect subjunctive. The tense used for the subjunctive verb depends on the tense of the previous verb.
  • In sentences containing two verbs with different subjects, you will find that the second verb is in the subjunctive when the first verb:
  • expresses a wish
Quiero que vengan.I want them to come.
Quiero que se vaya.I want him/her to go away.
Deseamos que tengan éxito.We want them to be successful.
  • expresses an emotion
Siento mucho que no puedas venir.I’m very sorry that you can’t come.
Espero que venga.I hope he comes.
Me sorprende que no esté aquí.I’m surprised that he isn’t here.
Me alegro de que te gusten.I’m pleased that you like them.
  • If the subject of both verbs is the same, an infinitive is used as the second verb instead of a subjunctive.
  • Compare the following examples. In the examples on the left, both the verb expressing the wish or emotion and the second verb have the same subject, so the second verb is an infinitive. In the examples on the right, each verb has a different subject, so the second verb is in the subjunctive.
Infinitive constructionSubjunctive construction
Quiero estudiar.
I want to study.
Quiero que José estudie.
I want José to study.
Maite quiere irse.
Maite wants to leave.
Maite quiere que me vaya.
Maite wants me to leave.
Siento no poder venir.
I’m sorry I can’t come.
Siento que no puedas venir.
I’m sorry that you can’t come.
Me alegro de poder ayudar.
I’m pleased to be able to help.
Me alegro de que puedas ayudar.
I’m pleased you can help.
  • You will also come across the verb + que + subjunctive construction (often with a personal object such as me, te and so on) when the first verb is one you use to ask or advise somebody to do something.
Sólo te pido que tengas cuidado.I’m only asking you to be careful.
Te aconsejo que no llegues tarde.I’d advise you not to be late.
  • You will also come across the subjunctive in the following cases:
  • after verbs expressing doubt or uncertainty, and verbs saying what you think about something that are used with no
Dudo que tenga tiempo.I doubt I’ll have time.
No creo que venga.I don’t think she’ll come.
No pienso que esté bien.I don’t think it’s right.
  • in impersonal constructions that show a need to do something
¿Hace falta que vaya Jaime?Does Jaime need to go?
No es necesario que vengas.You don’t need to come.
  • in impersonal constructions that do not express facts
Es posible que tengan razón.They may be right.
Grammar Extra!Use the indicative (that is, any verb form that isn’t subjunctive) after impersonal expressions that state facts provided they are not in the negative.
Es verdad que es interesante.It’s true that it’s interesting.
Es cierto que me gusta el café.It’s true I like coffee.
Parece que se va a ir.It seems that he’s going to go.
  • The subjunctive is used after que to express wishes.
¡Que lo pases bien!Have a good time!
¡Que te diviertas!Have fun!
  • The subjunctive is also used after certain conjunctions linking two parts of a sentence which each have different subjects.
antes de quebefore
¿Quieres decirle algo antes de que se vaya?Do you want to say anything to him before he goes?
para queso that
Es para que te acuerdes de mí.It’s so that you’ll remember me.
sin quewithout
Salimos sin que nos vieran.We left without them seeing us.
TipUse para, sin and antes de with the infinitive when the subject of both verbs is the same.
Fue en taxi para no llegar tarde.He went by taxi so that he wouldn’t be late.
Pedro se ha ido sin esperarnos.Pedro’s gone without waiting for us.
Cenamos antes de ir al teatro.We had dinner before we went to the theatre.

3   Forming the present subjunctive

  • To form the present subjunctive of most verbs, take off the -o ending of the yo form of the present simple, and add a fixed set of endings.
  • For -ar verbs, the endings are: -e, -es, -e, -emos, -éis, -en.
  • For both -er and -ir verbs, the endings are: -a, -as, -a, -amos, -áis, -an.
  • The following table shows the present subjunctive of three regular verbs: hablar (meaning to speak), comer (meaning to eat) and vivir (meaning
    to live).
to speak
to eat
to live
Quiero que comas algo.I want you to eat something.
Me sorprende que no hable inglés.I’m surprised he doesn’t speak English.
No es verdad que trabajen aquí.It isn’t true that they work here.
  • Some verbs have very irregular yo forms in the ordinary present tense and these irregular forms are reflected in the stem for the present subjunctive.
to say
to do/make
to put
to leave
to have
to come
Voy a limpiar la casa antes de que vengan.I’m going to clean the house before they come.
  • Note that only the vosotros form has an accent.
TipThe present subjunctive endings are the opposite of what you’d expect, as -ar verbs have endings starting with -e, and -er and -ir verbs have endings starting with -a.

4   Forming the present subjunctive of irregular verbs

  • The following verbs have irregular subjunctive forms:
dar to givedesdemosdeisden
estar to beestéestésestéestemosestéisestén
haber to havehayahayashayahayamoshayáishayan
ir to govayavayasvayavayamosvayáisvayan
saber to knowsepasepassepasepamossepáissepan
ser to beseaseasseaseamosseáissean
No quiero que te vayas.I don’t want you to go.
Dudo que esté aquí.I doubt if it’s here.
No piensan que sea él.They don’t think it’s him.
Es posible que haya problemas.There may be problems.
  • Verbs that change their stems (radical-changing verbs) in the ordinary present usually change them in the same way in the present subjunctive.
pensar to thinkpiensepiensespiensepensemospenséispiensen
entender to understandentiendaentiendasentiendaentendamosentendáisentiendan
poder to be ablepuedapuedaspuedapodamospodáispuedan
querer to wantquieraquierasquieraqueramosqueráisquieran
volver to returnvuelvavuelvasvuelvavolvamosvolváisvuelvan
No hace falta que vuelvas.There’s no need for you to come back.
Es para que lo entiendas.It’s so that you understand.
Me alegro de que puedas venir.I’m pleased you can come.
  • Sometimes the stem of the nosotros and vosotros forms isn’t the same as it is in the ordinary present tense.
dormir to sleepduermaduermasduermadurmamosdurmáisduerman
morir to diemueramuerasmueramuramosmuráismueran
pedir to ask forpidapidaspidapidamospidáispidan
seguir to followsigasigassigasigamossigáissigan
sentir to feelsientasientassientasintamossintáissientan
Queremos hacerlo antes de que nos muramos.We want to do it before we die.
Vendré a veros cuando os sintáis mejor.I’ll come and see you when you feel better.

5   Tenses with the subjunctive

  • If the verb in the first part of the sentence is in the present, future or imperative, the second verb will usually be in the present subjunctive.
Quiero (present) que lo hagas (present subjunctive).I want you to do it.Iremos (future) por aquí para que no nos vean (present subjunctive). We’ll go this way so that they won’t see us.
  • If the verb in the first part of the sentence is in the conditional or a past tense, the second verb will usually be in the imperfect subjunctive.
Me gustaría (conditional) que llegaras (imperfect subjunctive) temprano.I’d like you to arrive early.Les pedí (preterite) que me esperaran (imperfect subjunctive). I asked them to wait for me.

6   Indicative or subjunctive?

  • Many expressions are followed by the indicative (the ordinary form of the verb) when they state facts, and by the subjunctive when they refer to possible or intended future events and outcomes.
  • Certain conjunctions relating to time such as cuando (meaning when), hasta que (meaning until), en cuanto (meaning as soon as) and mientras (meaning while) are used with the indicative when the action has happened or when talking about what happens regularly.
¿Qué dijo cuando te vio?What did he say when he saw you?
Siempre lo compro cuando voy a España.I always buy it when I go to Spain.
Me quedé allí hasta que volvió Antonio.I stayed there until Antonio came back.
  • The same conjunctions are followed by the subjunctive when talking about a vague future time.
¿Qué quieres hacer cuando seas mayor?What do you want to do when you grow up? (but you’re not grown up yet)
¿Por qué no te quedas aquí hasta que vuelva Antonio?Why don’t you stay here until Antonio comes back? (but Antonio hasn’t come back yet)
Lo haré en cuanto pueda or tan pronto como pueda.I’ll do it as soon as I can. (but I’m not able to yet)
Grammar Extra!aunque is used with the indicative (the ordinary verb forms) when it means although or even though. In this case, the second part of the sentence is stating a fact.
Me gusta el francés aunque prefiero el alemán.I like French although I prefer German.
Seguí andando aunque me dolía la pierna.I went on walking even though my leg hurt.
aunque is used with the subjunctive when it means even if. Here, the second part of the sentence is not yet a fact.
Te llamaré cuando vuelva aunque sea tarde.I’ll ring you when I get back, even if it’s late.

7   Forming the imperfect subjunctive

  • For all verbs, there are two imperfect subjunctive forms that are exactly the same in meaning.
  • The stem for both imperfect subjunctive forms is the same: you take off the -aron or -ieron ending of the ellos form of the preterite and add a fixed set of endings to what is left.
  • For -ar verbs, the endings are: -ara, -aras, -ara, -áramos, -arais, -aran or -ase, -ases, -ase, -ásemos, -aseis, -asen. The first form is more common.
  • For -er and -ir verbs, the endings are: -iera, -ieras, -iera, -iéramos, -ierais, -ieran or -iese, -ieses, -iese, -iésemos, -ieseis, -iesen. The first form is more common.
  • The following table shows the imperfect subjunctive of three regular verbs: hablar (meaning to speak), comer (meaning to eat) and vivir (meaning to live).
hablar to speakhablarahablarashablarahabláramoshablaraishablaran
comer to eatcomieracomierascomieracomiéramoscomieraiscomieran
vivir to livevivieravivierasvivieraviviéramosvivieraisvivieran
  • Many verbs have irregular preterite forms which are reflected in the stem for the imperfect subjunctive. For example:
dar to givedieradierasdieradiéramosdieraisdieran
estar to beestuvieraestuvierasestuvieraestuviéramosestuvieraisestuvieran
hacer to do/makehicierahicierashicierahiciéramoshicieraishicieran
poner to putpusierapusieraspusierapusiéramospusieraispusieran
tener to havetuvieratuvierastuvieratuviéramostuvieraistuvieran
ser to befuerafuerasfuerafuéramosfueraisfueran
venir to comevinieravinierasvinieraviniéramosvinieraisvinieran

8   Forming the imperfect subjunctive of some irregular -ir verbs

  • In some irregular -ir verbs – the ones that don’t have an i in the ellos form of the preterite – -era, -eras, -era, -éramos, -erais, -eran or -ese, -eses,-ese, -ésemos, -eseis, -esen are added to the preterite stem instead of -iera and -iese and so on.
decir to saydijeradijerasdijeradijéramosdijeraisdijeran
ir to gofuerafuerasfuerafuéramosfueraisfueran
  • Note that the imperfect subjunctive forms of ir and ser are identical.
Teníamos miedo de que se fuera.We were afraid he might leave.
No era verdad que fueran ellos.It wasn’t true that it was them.

9   Present indicative or imperfect subjunctive after si

  • Like some other conjunctions, si (meaning if) is sometimes followed by the ordinary present tense (the present indicative) and sometimes by the imperfect subjunctive.
  • si is followed by the present indicative when talking about likely possibilities.
Si quieres, te dejo el coche.If you like, I’ll lend you the car. (and you may well want to borrow the car)
Compraré un bolígrafo si tienen.I’ll buy a pen if they have any. (and there may well be some pens)
  • si is followed by the imperfect subjunctive when talking about unlikely or impossible conditions.
Si tuviera más dinero, me lo compraría.If I had more money, I’d buy it. (but I haven’t got more money)
Si yo fuera tú, lo compraría.If I were you, I’d buy it.(but I’m not you)
TipYou probably need the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish after si if the English sentence has would in it.
Key points
  • After certain verbs you have to use a subjunctive in Spanish when there is a different subject in the two parts of the sentence.
  • A subjunctive is also found after many impersonal expressions, as well as after certain conjunctions.
  • Structures with the subjunctive can often be avoided if the subject of both verbs is the same. An infinitive can often be used instead.
  • The endings of the present subjunctive in regular -ar verbs are: -e, -es, -e, -emos, -éis, -en.
  • The endings of the present subjunctive in regular -er and -ir verbs are: -a, -as, -a, -amos, -áis, -an.
  • The endings of the imperfect subjunctive in regular -ar verbs are: -ara, -aras, -ara, -áramos, -arais, -aran or -ase, -ases, -ase, -ásemos, -aseis, -asen.
  • The endings of the imperfect subjunctive in regular -er and -ir verbs are: -iera, -ieras, -iera, -iéramos, -ierais, -ieran or -iese, -ieses, -iese, -iésemos, -ieseis, -iesen.
  • Some verbs have irregular subjunctive forms.

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