Although you do not have to know actively when to use the subjunctive, it is helpful to know nuances of translation (e.g., uncertainty and doubt) as well as the general patterns and possibilities of translating it. These are in general not difficult.
|Me alegro que estés aquí.
||I’m glad (that) you are here
|No me gusta que hagas eso.
||I don’t like you to do that.
I don’t like for you to do that.
I don’t like that you do that.
*At times, emotional reactions, especially to past events, are expressed by some speakers with the indicative (more often in Latin America than Spain), but this should not lead to a comprehension problem. (Occasional exceptions to the above summary of uses also exist in some in other cases, more in speaking than in writing.)
B. Persuasion, Volition
|Quiere que ayudemos.
||He wants us to help.
|Me recomienda que no vaya.
||She recommends that I not go.
She recommends me not to go.
C. Doubt, Denial
|Dudan que podamos venir.
||They doubt we can come.
|Niegan que sea así.
||They deny it is that way.
D. Opinions Stated Negatively
|No creen que tengas razón. **
||They don’t think you are right.
|No me parece que lo necesitemos.
||It doesn’t seem to me that we need it.
**When the disbelief is strong, the indicative is used. The subjunctive normally indicates doubt.
E. Impersonal Expressions
|Conviene que lo hagamos.
||It’s advisable that we do it.
|Es curioso que diga eso.
||It’s curious that she say(s) that.
|No es verdad que venga. ***
||It’s not true that he’s coming.
|Es posible que nos ayuden.
||It’s possible that they may help us.
***When expressions of certainty are used affirmatively, the indicative is used: Es verdad que viene (“It’s true that he’s coming”).
F. Pending Actions
|Te digo cuando salga.
||I’ll tell you when I leave.
|Los vamos a ayudar en cuanto podamos.
||We’ll help them as soon as we can.
G. Indefinites and Unknowns
|Buscamos un hotel que sea barato.
||We’re looking for a hotel that is inexpensive.
|Aunque haga mal tiempo mañana, vamos a salir de viaje.
||Although the weather may be bad tomorrow we’re going to leave on a trip.
|No hay nadie que pueda traducírmelo.
||There’s no one who can translate it for me.
|No hay nada que sea barato aquí.
||There’s nothing that is inexpensive here.
|Te lo explico para que lo entiendas.
||I’m explaining it to you so that you (may/might) understand it.
|Hace todo lo posible porque su marido esté libre. ****
||She’s doing everything possible so that her husband may be free.
****Porque occasionally has the meaning of “so that” or “in order that,” as does para que, but implies strong emotional resolve on the part of the speaker. The translation does not usually differ. When translating porque as “because” does not make sense, chances are you will see that it is followed by a subjunctive and translating it as “so that” or “in order that” is logical.
J. After Words of Uncertainty in a Main Clause
|Quizá(s) lo sepa.
||Perhaps she knows (may know) it.
|Tal vez lo busque.
||Maybe he is looking for it.
|Acaso nos lo digan.
||Perhaps they may (will) tell it to us.
Although it does not meet the normal criteria for subjunctive use, the conjunction como, when indicating cause (and translated as “because,” “as,” or “since”) may be followed by the subjunctive:
|Como no venga, no venimos tampoco.
||As she is not coming, we’re not either.
Expressions meaning “the fact is”- el (hecho de) que and es un hecho que– which likewise do not conform to the criteria for subjunctive use, are required by grammar rules to take a subjunctive in Spanish:
|El que te diga eso no significa que sea verdad.
||The fact that he tells you that does not mean it is the truth.
|Es un hecho que Enrique VIII se divorciara de Catalina de Aragón, hija de los Reyes Católicos, Fernando e Isabel. *****
||It is a fact that Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabella.
*****Divorciara is an example of imperfect subjunctive. See section 13.4.
M. In Indefinite Fixed Phrases
|Pase lo que pase, tienes que hacer algo.
||Come/Happen what may (happen), you have to do something.
|Sea como fuere, hay que aceptarlo.******
||Be that as it may, it’s necessary to accept it.
******Fuere is the future subjunctive, only used vestigially. (See section 17.5)
¡Ojo! There are certain instances in which it is imperative to recognize the subjunctive form versus the indicative form of regular verbs, as the one-letter difference changes the whole meaning of the sentence. This occurs most frequently with the verb decir, which, when used to tell someone what to do, takes the subjunctive. When it is used merely to inform or pass on information (without telling someone what to do), it takes the indicative. This happens occasionally with other verbs of communication, such as escribir and telefonear.
|Me dice que lo estudie.
||He tells me to study it.
|Me dice que lo estudia.
||He tells me that he’s studying it.
|Le escribe que vuelva a casa.
||She writes (to) her to return home.
|Le escribe que vuelve a casa.
||She writes (to) her that she’s returning home
advertir (ie)- to warn
avisar- to inform, to notify (false friend)
bastar- to be sufficient
convenir (ie)- to be advisable/suitable; to suit, to be appropriate (false friend)
sugerir (ie)- to suggest
la beca- scholarship
el/la consejero/-a- counselor, adviser
los consejos- advice
el horario- schedule
el impuesto- tax
el puro- cigar (false friend)
desgraciado- unfortunate (false friend)
tal vez- maybe
a condición de que- provided that
a fin de que- so that, in order that, with the purpose that
a menos que- unless
antes (de) que- before
comoquiera- however (in whatever manner)
de modo que- so that, in a manner (way) that
después (de) que- after
en cuanto- as soon as
hasta que- until
para que- in order that, so that
tan pronto como- as soon as
ojalá- if only, I hope
es menester- it’s necessary
es preciso- it’s necessary (false friend)
salir bien/mal- to go well/badly, to turn out well/badly