The Present Subjunctive in Spanish: Feelings, Opinions, and Doubts

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What Is the Subjunctive in Spanish?

The subjunctive is a “mood” (or “mode”) in the grammatical world, which is similar to a tense, but rather than expressing when something happened, it expresses the speaker’s attitude toward the subject. A few other grammatical moods are indicative (used for declarative sentences) and imperative (expressing a suggestion or command).

These moods combine with tense to pack a whole lot of information into one verb: both when something occurred and an underlying subjective mood that the speaker wants to express from their perspective. The subjective mood or attitude toward the topic in the case of subjunctive could be one of desire, an opinion, or feeling. Notice that these subjunctive sentences always have two verbs (in bold). Check out a few examples:

Espero que podamos ir al cine juntos. (I hope that we can go to the movies together.)

Me alegra que cantes. (I’m glad that you are singing.)

Es una pena que no sea del tamaño correcto. (It’s a shame it’s not the right size.)

Es necesario que estudies mucho para aprobar el examen. (It’s necessary that you study a lot to pass the exam.)

This isn’t to say that choosing when to use the subjunctive is subjective! Its use is not an extra voluntary feature: There are certain situations which always require the subjunctive in Spanish. In this guide, find out both how to form the most common subjunctive tense (present) and when to use it!

Where to start:

When to Use the Subjunctive

Syntactic Environments

Syntax deals with the structure of a sentence. Sentences which require the subjunctive have two clauses, two verbs, and two subjects. The subjunctive tense is always used in the second, dependent clause, but the main clause and main verb are important for introducing the subjunctive-type topic (doubt, desire, possibilities). You will often notice the following syntactic features of subjunctive sentences:

A. a dependent clause using que (or another phrase like a conjunction from the lists in the next sections linking a main and dependent clause – there are some exceptions to this one)

B. two different subjects in the main and dependent clauses

Dudo que él venga. (I doubt that he is coming.)

A. Dependent clause: The que functions in the same way as “that” in English in this sentence, namely linking the main clause (dudo) and the dependent clause (underlined).

B. Two different subjects: The subject of the main clause is yo (I), and the subject of the dependent clause (underlined) is él (he). The verb of the main clause (dudar) is in the present indicative. The verb of the dependent clause (venir) is in the present subjunctive.

Es importante que conduzcas con cuidado. (It is important that you drive carefully.)

B. Two different subjects: The subject of the main clause is “it,” which is sometimes called a “dummy subject” or impersonal subject because it serves as a subject without having any real meaning or referring to any real person. Many subjunctive sentences are impersonal.

This doesn’t mean that you always use the subjunctive after que. Keep your eye out for the “moody” subjective meaning of the sentence and combine that with the syntactic triggers (A and B above) to decide when to use subjunctive. Here are a few examples of sentences with the correct syntactic triggers but that don’t use the subjunctive because they are not subjective enough; namely, they are expressing too certain of a fact.

Veo que se comió todas las galletas. (I see that he ate all of the cookies.)

Escuché que el tren llega tarde. (I heard that the train is arriving late.)

Combining Different Tenses with Present Subjunctive

The present subjunctive can be used in the dependent clause to talk about something occurring presently or in the future. The action in the main clause needs to use one of the following tenses (also talking about the present or future), followed by the subjunctive in the dependent clause.

TenseMain clauseDependent clause
presentQuiero… (I want…)que venga. (her to come.) (her coming.)
progressive (estar + gerundio)Estoy deseando… (I am looking forward to…)que venga. (her to come.) (her coming.)
futureQuerré… (I will want…)…si se porta bien. (…only if she behaves herself)que venga. (her to come.) (her coming.)
future (ir + a)Voy a necesitar… (I am going to need…)que venga. (her to come.) (her coming.)
imperative¡Espera que venga! (Wait for her to come!)n/a

Semantic Environments

Coupled with your expertise on syntactic situations involving the subjunctive, you can use these meaning-based (semantic) triggers to know when to use the subjunctive. Subjunctive is commonly used with the following phrases to express desires, hopes, judgments, opinions, uncertainty, and surprise. Take a look at these common phrases that are found with the subjunctive to get an idea of what types of topics require its use.

Expressing Hypothetical Possibility, Situational Dependency, or Doubt

These conjunctions join the main and dependent clauses (with or instead of que) and can be used with the subjunctive.

a condición de queon the condition that
a fin de queso that; in order that
a no ser queunless
a pesar de quealthough
aunqueeven though
como sias if
con tal de queprovided that
cuandowhen, if
de ahí quehence
después de queafter
en caso de quein the case that
hasta queuntil
mientras quewhile
para queso that, in order that
por miedo a quefor fear that
sin quewithout (which)
tan pronto comoas soon as
quizá/quizásmaybe, perhaps
tal vezmaybe, perhaps

Wish, will, or command

These expressions do not have a written “dummy subject,” but the meaning is implied.

expression + que + subjuntivo

Example: Urge que me llames. (It’s urgent that you call me.)

bastait suffices
es importanteit’s important
urgeit’s urgent
ojaláhopefully, it is to be hoped

Impersonal Expressions Expressing Opinion/Counsel

expression (with “dummy” subject es) + que + subjuntivo

Example: Es aconsejable que traigas un impermeable a Londres. (It is advisable that you bring a raincoat to London.)

es aconsejableit is advisable
es convenienteit is sensible/desirable
es fundamentalit is fundamental
es importanteit is important
es posibleit is possible
es probableit is probable
es imprescindibleit is indispensable/essential
es improbableit is unlikely
es inciertoit is uncertain
es interesanteit is interesting
es mejorit is better
es necesarioit is necessary
es urgenteit is urgent

positive vibes only hearts

Positive Vibes Only

The following verbs express doubt in the affirmative, but when combined with a negation (no), their meaning is the opposite, meaning that there is no longer the implication of possibility. When used in the negative, these verbs do not use the subjunctive.

no dudar que: to not doubt that no hay duda de que: there is no doubt that

Negative Vibes Only

Some phrases express a certain fact when used in the affirmative, but express a possibility when used in a negative sense. This means that when using the following phrases in a “negative” or contradictory way, often when asking a question to check the speaker’s understanding, the subjunctive is required.

Note that these verbs are left in infinitive in this list, though you would need to conjugate the first verb in the relevant tense.

no creer: don’t believe / don’t think no parecer: doesn’t seem no considerar: don’t consider

How to Form the Subjunctive

Subjunctive Present

The situations in which the subjunctive is appropriate will probably take some time and lots of exposure to Spanish to master. But luckily, the conjugation for subjunctive present verbs is fairly easy!

  1. Start with the yo (first person singular) present tense indicative
  2. Remove the -o ending
  3. Add the subjunctive present ending (which are “opposite” in the sense that the endings with “a” are for -ir/-er verbs and the endings with “e” go with the -ar verbs)
SubjectSubjunctive -ar EndingSubjunctive -ir/-er Ending
usted, él, ella-e-a
ustedes, ellos, ellas-en-an
InfinitiveEscribir (to write)Escuchar (to listen)
1. Start with the present ind. yoescriboescucho
2. Remove the -o ending (stem)escrib-escuch-
3. Add subjunctive present endingnosotros escribamostú escuches
Example sentenceDudo que escribamos un ensayo hoy. (I doubt that we are writing an essay today.)Dudo que escuches música todas las noches. (I doubt that you listen to music every night.)

Irregular Subjunctive Verbs

Irregular subjunctive verbs often follow this pattern as well, except that their stems may be different. For stem-changing verbs, use their new stem (already implied by step 2) to form the subjunctive.

InfinitivePensar (to think)
1. Start with the present ind. yopienso
2. Remove the -o ending (stem)piens-
3. Add subjunctive present endingtú pienses
Example sentenceDudo que pienses que los unicornios existen. (I doubt that you think unicorns exist.)

There are also a few types of verbs that require a spelling change in the subjunctive. This change takes place after you begin with its normal (present indicative) yo form stem change.

Spelling ChangeExample InfinitiveSubjunctive
-car becomes -qu-buscarbusque
-zar becomes -c-comenzarcomience
-gar becomes -gu-pagarpague
-ger/-gir becomes -j-escoger/eligirescoja/elija

Common Irregular Subjunctives

Saber has an irregular stem in subjunctive, but follows the same pattern of endings: sep-

saber (to know)

yo sepanosotros sepamos
sepasvosotros sepáis
usted, él, ella sepaustedes, ellos, ellas sepan

Ser (to be) and estar (to be) are two of the most common verbs in Spanish. Although their translation is the same in English, there are distinct contexts in which they are appropriate.

ser (to be)

yo seanosotros seamos
tú seasvosotros seáis
usted, él, ella seaustedes, ellos, ellas sean

In all person categories except for nosotros, the “e” has a written accent on it. This is the same for the verb dar (to give).

estar (to be)

yo esténosotros estemos
estésvosotros estéis
usted, él, ella estéustedes, ellos, ellas estén

Note that the accent (é) is the only thing that differentiates “I am/ he/she is” (subjunctive) from the word este, for “this.”

Subjunctive Past

Within the same category of subjunctive mood we have both present and an imperfect tense. The imperfect subjunctive is used for when the dependent clause took place in the past, but it isn’t all that common. For more details on the imperfect subjunctive, see The Ultimate Guide to Spanish Past Tense Forms..

Ready to get moody and let everyone know your hopes, dreams, and desires? Learn to speak Spanish online with Lingvist and start practicing the use of the subjunctive mood!

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