The Spanish subjunctive is often referred to as a “mood” rather than a tense. It is called a mood because it expresses the speaker’s feelings about a particular action or scenario. The subjunctive is a distinctive way of conjugating a verb where a situation is doubtful or dependent on something else occurring.
Characteristics of the Spanish Subjunctive
The subjunctive is often difficult for native English speakers to understand because it is very rarely used in English. It is a very important part of the Spanish language that is used to reflect uncertainty or subjectivity. Learning how to use the subjunctive correctly is a vital element of communicating in Spanish.
Using the Spanish Subjunctive
There are two parts to any phrase that uses the subjunctive in Spanish. The first part expresses the element of uncertainty or subjectivity. This is conjugated in the regular present tense. The second part of the phrase is whatever is in doubt, and this is where the subjunctive conjugation is used. The two sections are connected by the word “que” which means “that” in this situation.
Conjugating verbs to form the subjunctive is very easy. First, find the “yo” conjugation of the verb in the present tense (for example, “yo hablo”). Then, drop the “o” and add the following new endings:
AR verbs – e, es, e, emos, en
ER/IR verbs – a, as, a, amos, an
Examples of the conjugated Spanish subjunctive are:
Hablar – hable, hables, hable, hablemos, hablen
Vivir – viva, vivas, viva, vivamos, vivan
To understand how this works in practice, consider the sentence “I want you to eat this cake”.
In this sentence the first part of the sentence “I want” is certain and not in doubt so we use the present tense conjugation – “yo quiero”
The second part of the sentence is what is hoped for (that the other person eats the cake) so we use the subjunctive for this verb – “tú comas”
So, the complete sentence in Spanish becomes – “Quiero que comas esta torta”.
Another use of the Spanish subjunctive is to express doubt or uncertainty about a particular situation occurring. Consider the following example:
Estoy seguro que voy a la fiesta esta noche – I’m sure that I’m going to the party tonight.
In this sentence the use of the phrase “estoy seguro” (I’m sure) means that there is no doubt or uncertainty about the action so the subjunctive is not necessary. If this state of certainty changes, then the subjunctive is necessary. For example:
No estoy seguro que vaya a la fiesa esta noche – I’m not sure that I’m going to the party tonight.
In this sentence the verb in doubt is IR (to go) so the conjugation changes from the regular conjugation (voy) to the Spanish subjunctive conjugation (vaya).
The subjunctive has some irregular verb conjugations. One of the most common of these is “IR” (to go) which is conjugated as follows:
El / Ella / Usted vaya
Ellos / Ellas / vayan
You will learn more of the irregular conjugations as you study the subjunctive in greater detail.
Differences between European Spanish and Latin American Subjunctive
The subjunctive is used in the same way in all Spanish speaking countries.
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