What is the subjunctive?
The subjunctive is not a tense like other tenses (present, preterite, imperfect); rather, it is a mood.
Tense refers to when an action takes place (past, present, future), while mood merely reflects how the speaker feels about the action.
The subjunctive mood is widely used in Spanish, but rarely used in English. You will only find it in certain expressions, such as “If I were you..”
The subjunctive mood is used to express everything except certainty and objectivity: things like doubt, uncertainty, subjectivity, etc.
The difference between indicative and subjunctive is the difference between certainty/objectivity (indicative) and
Jaime va a España. James is going to Spain.
This sentence states the certain, objective fact that James is going to Spain.
Sé que Jaime va a España. I know that James is going to Spain.
"I know" tells us that the speaker feels that it is a certain, objective fact that James is going to Spain.
Quiero que Jaime vaya a España. I want James to go to Spain.
"I want" tells us that the speaker feels that it is not certain that James will go to Spain. It expresses a wish, not a fact.
Es posible que Jaime vaya a España. It is possible that James will go to Spain.
"It is possible" tells us that the speaker feels that there is a possibility, but not certainty that James will go to Spain.
Es bueno que Jaime vaya a España. It’s good that James is going to Spain.
"It’s good" tells us that the speaker is expressing a subjective opinion, not a fact.
How is the present subjunctive formed?
For most verbs, the present subjunctive is formed by following these three steps:
1. Start with the yo form of the present indicative.
2. Then drop the -o ending.
3. Finally, add the following endings: –e, –es, –e, –emos, –éis, –en (for verbs ending in –ar) / –a, –as, –a, –amos, –áis, –an (for verbs ending in –er and –ir).
Él/ Ella/Usted hable
2ª y 3ªConjugación (-ER), (-IR)
How about irregular verbs?
The formula also works for verbs that have irregular yo forms in the present indicative.
Caber (quep-a), Caer (caig-a), Hacer (hag-a), Parecer (parezc-a), Poner (pong-a), Salir (salg-a), Traer (traig-a), Valer (valg-a)…
When is the subjunctive used?
The subjunctive is used mainly in subordinate clauses. A subordinate clause is a part of a sentence which is not
the main or original idea, but rather a secondary one that follows as a consequence of the main verb in another
part, which is called the main clause.
I hope that you will be able to come to the party.
“that you will be able to come to the party” does not make sense on its own; it needs the other clause “I hope” to
make sense. Therefore, “I hope” is the main clause and “that you will be able to come to the party” is the
In Spanish the verb in the subordinate clause is the one that is in the subjunctive.
Espero que puedas venir a la fiesta.
Also, the subject in the subordinate clause is different to the subject in the main clause.
In the example above, the subject of the first clause is “I” and the subject of the second clause is “you”.
If the subject is the same in both sentences you don’t need the subjunctive.
Espero poder ir a la fiesta (I hope to be able to go to the party).
The subject of both clauses is “I”, so the subjunctive is not used.
Because often there is no exact equivalent in English, it is difficult for learners to know when to use it. Therefore, it
is a good idea to learn the verbs or expressions that signal the use of the subjunctive.
The subjunctive to express desire
es aconsejable que –> it is advisable that
es necesario que —> it is necessary that
esperar que –> to hope that, to expect that
insistir en que –> to insist that
preferir que –> to prefer that
prohibir que –> to forbid that
querer que –> to want that
pedir que –> to ask that
recomendar que –> to recommend that
sugerir que –> to suggest that
Espero que estés bien. (I hope you are well)
Quiere que vaya a su casa. (He wants me to go to his house)
Es necesario que estudies. (It is necessary for you to study)
Te sugiero que leas este libro. (I suggest that you read this book)
The subjunctive to express doubt
temer que –> to be afraid
dudar que –> to doubt that
no creer que –> to not believe that
es improbable que –> it is unlikely that
no es cierto que –> it is not true that
es posible que –> it is possible that
puede ser que –> it may be that
es aconsejable que –> it advisable that
Dudo que lo sepan. (I doubt that they’ll know)
No es probable que venga. (It is not likely that he’ll come)
Me temo que no estén en casa. (I am afraid that they may not be at home)
The subjunctive with impersonal expressions that introduce an aspect of uncertainty or subjectivity
es bueno que –> it is good that
es importante que –> it is important that
es posible que –> it is possible that
es raro que –> it is strange that
es malo que –> it is a bad idea, it is not good that
es ridículo que –> it is ridiculous that
es terrible que –> it is terrible that
puede ser que –> it could be that
es evidente que –> it is obvious that
Es bueno que estudies. (It is good for you to study)
Es raro que no esté en casa. (It is strange that she’s not at home)
Es obvio que no te gusta. (It is obvious that you don’t like it)
The subjunctive with actions that are not yet completed
a menos que –> unless
antes de que –> before
con tal de que –> as long as
después de que –> after
hasta que –> until
mientras que –> while
tan pronto como –> as soon as
Te esperamos en casa a menos que nos llames por
teléfono. (We’ll wait for you at home unless you phone us)
Esperaremos hasta que llegues. (We’ll wait for you until you arrive)
Ven a casa tan pronto como puedas. (Come home as soon as you can)
Indicative or subjunctive?
Some verbs can be used either in the indicative or the subjunctive, depending on the meaning.
Here are some examples with explanations as to why we use the indicative or the subjunctive.
Seguro que el tren llega tarde.
Es probable que el tren salga tarde.
No es seguro que el tren salga tarde.
The indicative sentence expresses certainty – the
train is sure to be late – whereas the subjunctive
expresses doubt or probability.
Busco al chico que habla español.
Busco a un chico que hable español.
The speaker in the indicative sentence knows that
there is a boy who speaks Spanish, and he is
looking for that boy. In the subjunctive sentence, the
speaker wants to find a boy who speaks Spanish,
but he is not sure whether there is anyone.
Aquí nadie habla español.
¿No hay nadie que hable español aquí?
The indicative sentence is stating a fact: nobody
speaks Spanish here. The subjunctive sentence is
asking if anyone speaks Spanish, the speaker
doesn’t know, there is doubt.
Iré a verte, aunque estoy muy cansada.
Iré a verte aunque esté muy cansada.
In the indicative sentence, the speaker is tired. It is a
fact. In the subjunctive sentence, she promises to
go even if she is tired, although she does not know
at the time of speaking how she will feel.
Creo que Juan nos está esperando.
No creo que Juan nos espere.
In the indicative sentence, the speaker feels sure
that John is waiting. The subjunctive is used
because the speaker does not believe that John will