11.1 Concept of the Subjunctive Mode

Both Spanish and English have the subjunctive mode of verbs, in contrast with the indicative mode, to which all verb tenses studied up until now belong. Unlike in English, in which the subjunctive mode is, in essence, vestigial, it is routinely used in Spanish, even by the uneducated, in four different tenses.

The subjunctive mode is extremely common in Spanish. While the indicative mode expresses facts, certainly, reality, truths, and beliefs (affirmation of what one perceives to be reality), the subjunctive mode expresses doubt, uncertainty, emotions, pending (future) actions (not yet completed and whose probable completion is therefore unknown), indefinites, nonexistence, persuasion, volition, as well as opinions and attitudes when combined with a negative and/or with most impersonal expressions.

Some examples of the indicative:

Vimos que llegó. We saw that he arrived. (known reality)
Sé que hablas inglés. I know that you speak English. (information)
Es cierto que lo sabe. It’s true that he knows it. (certainty)
Es aquí donde comimos. Here is where we ate. (definite place)
Cree que es verdad. She believes it’s true. (affirmation of belief in what one perceives to be reality or true)

Now focus on the different ways of translating the subjunctive, which is almost always preceded by que or a conjunction.

  • direct object pronoun plus infinitive:
Quiere que (yo) vaya. She wants me to go.
  • prepositional phrase plus infinitive:
No es posible que ella venga. It’s not possible for her to come.

It’s not possible that she come.

It’s not possible that she will come. (future)

  • literal translation plus word of uncertainty:
Aunque esté enferma… Although she may be ill…

Although perhaps she’s ill…

  • use of English subjunctive:
Si estuviera aquí… If she were here…
Es necesario que estén allí. It’s necessary that you all be there.
  • word-for-word translation from English:
Cuando lo sepa, te lo digo. When I know it, I’ll tell it to you.
  • use of English future tense
No es posible que vayan. It’s not possible that they will go.

 

Last revised on May 31, 2022.