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…</span 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 June 25, 2021.

11.2 Forms of the Present Subjunctive

Forms of regular verbs have their subjunctive ending in what is often called the “opposite vowel.” For –ar verbs, the opposite vowel is e. For –er and –ir verbs, the opposite vowel is a. With regular verbs, it now becomes more important to know whether the verb’s form in the subjunctive is from an –ar versus an –er or –ir verb, as the endings in the present subjunctive versus the present indicative normally differ by only one vowel.

tomar leer abrir
yo tome lea abra
tomes leas abras
él, Ella, Ud. tome lea abra
Nosotros tomemos leamos abramos
Vosotros toméis  leáis abráis
ellos, ellas, Uds. tomen lean abran

Subjunctive forms of –ar and –er verbs undergo the stem change in the same persons as in the present indicative:

pensar volver
yo piense vuelva
pienses vuelvas
él, Ella, Ud. piense vuelva
Nosotros pensemos volvamos
Vosotros penséis volváis
ellos, ellas, Uds. piensen vuelvan

In –ir stem-changing verbs, the e to ie type gives an i in the first and second persons plural:

sentir
1st sienta sintamos
2nd sientas sintáis
3rd sienta sientan

The o to ue type of stem-changing verbs uses a u in these same two persons:

dormir
1st duerma durmamos
2nd duermas durmáis
3rd duerma duerman

In –ir stem-changing verbs of the e to i type, the entire present subjunctive shows the stem change:

pedir
1st pida pidamos
2nd pidas pidáis
3rd pida pidan

Remember that verbs ending in vowel plus –cer or –cir insert a z in the first person singular of the indicative, which appears in the entire present subjunctive, as it is the first person singular of the present indicative on which the present subjunctive is based (except in stem-changing verbs and the four irregular verbs):

traducir
1st traduzca traduzcamos
2nd traduzcas traduzcáis
3rd traduzca traduzcan

These forms of the subjunctive of irregular verbs may be easier to recognize than those of regular verbs. This is one of many cases in Spanish in which one tense “builds on” another. By mastering or recognizing earlier-studied forms, it becomes easier to recognize other new ones as they are presented.

tener
1st tenga tengamos
2nd tengas tengáis
3rd tenga tengan

Other verbs irregular in the first person singular that undergo the same phenomenon are:

Example verbs
infinitive > 1st person sing. Present Indicative
Subjunctive
decir > digo diga
hacer > hago haga
oír > oigo oiga
poner > pongo ponga
salir > salgo salga
traer > traigo traiga
venir > vengo venga
ver > veo vea

The verbs dar and estar are technically irregular in the present subjunctive because of the accent marks on some forms, which indicate spoken stress and also differentiate them from otherwise identical forms.

dar estar
yo (versus de [prep.] esté (versus este [dem. adj.])
des estés
él, Ella, Ud. esté
Nosotros demos estemos
Vosotros deis estéis
ellos, ellas, Uds. den estén

The only truly irregular verbs in the present subjunctive are the following four, in which the differences from the present indicative should help these forms stand out:

haber haya
ir vaya
saber sepa
ser sea

The ir + a + infinitive construction, which renders future meaning without using the future tense in the indicative mode (e.g., Sé que van a tener tiempo), can also do the same in the subjunctive mode.

Dudo que vayan a tener tiempo para hacer todo lo necesario. I doubt that you’re going to have time to do everything necessary.

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

asesinar- to murder, to assassinate
atracar- to hold up
dudar- to doubt
encarcelar- to imprison (cognate: incarcerate)
negar (ie)- to deny, to negate
proscribir (p.p: proscrito)- to outlaw, to forbid
raptar- to kidnap
secuestrar- to kidnap, to hijack (false friend)
sentir (ie)- to regret, to be sorry
sobornar- to bribe

Sustantivos:

el asesinato- murder, assassination
el atraco- hold-up, mugging
el delito- crime
la pena de muerte- death penalty
la policía- police (force), policewoman
el policía- policeman
el rapto- kidnapping, abduction
el secuestro- kidnapping, hijacking
la violación- rape, violation, transgression

Expresión:

hacer trampas- to cheat

Last revised on June 21, 2021.

11.3 Summary of Uses of the Subjunctive

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.

A. Emotion*

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.

H. Nonexistence

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.

I. Purpose

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.

K. Purpose

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.

L. Certainty

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

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

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

Sustantivos:

la beca- scholarship
el/la consejero/-a- counselor, adviser
los consejos- advice
el horario- schedule
el impuesto- tax
el puro- cigar (false friend)

Adjetivo:

desgraciado- unfortunate (false friend)

Adverbios:

acaso- perhaps
quizá(s)- perhaps
tal vez- maybe

Conjunciones:

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
dondequiera- wherever
en cuanto- as soon as
hasta que- until
para que- in order that, so that
quienquiera- whoever
tan pronto como- as soon as

Interjección:

ojalá- if only, I hope

Expresiones:

es menester- it’s necessary
es preciso- it’s necessary (false friend)
salir bien/mal- to go well/badly, to turn out well/badly

Last revised on June 21, 2021.

11.4 Formal Commands

All formal commands (the affirmative and negative forms of Ud. and Uds.) take the present subjunctive. The subject pronouns either goes after the command or is omitted.

Diga la verdad. Tell the truth.
No digan mentiras. Don’t tell lies.
Lean Uds. este artículo. Read this article.

All object pronouns are attached to affirmative commands and precede negative commands.

Díganos todo. Tell us everything.
No me diga nada del asunto. Don’t tell me anything about the matter.

It remains important at times to remember infinitive endings so that you know, for example, that escribe means “he (she, you) write(s)” and that escriba is the command “write.” Context should clarify when a command is being given. (Exclamation points are common, but optional, with commands in Spanish). When affirmative commands have objects pronouns attached to them, they should be easy to recognize:

Léamelo. Read it to me.
Véndaselo. Sell it to him (her, them).

The negative commands corresponding to the above ones are No me lo lea and No se lo venda.

At times one sees the command as a plus infinitive:

¡A marchar! Leave! (Get going!)

Other times one sees the present indicative used as a command:

Tú te callas. You be quiet.

Impersonal commands, especially on signs in public, are often expressed by nothing more than the infinitive:

No entrar. No entrance.
No fumar. No smoking.
Salir aquí. Exit here.

 

Last revised on June 25, 2021.

11.5 Exclamations

Exclamations should present few or no comprehension problems.

¡Qué bien hablan español!

¡Cómo hablan bien el español!

How well they speak Spanish!

The above are both common and equivalent renderings of the English. Other exclamations are fairly literally translated; many of these insert the word másbefore an adjective as an intensifier:

¡Qué libro más largo! What a very long book!
¡Qué lectura más difícil! What a very difficult reading!
¡Qué vacaciones más aburridas! What a very boring vacation!

Vaya plus the indefinite article may be used in this construction instead of qué:

¡Vaya unos problemas que tenemos! What problems we have!
Last revised on June 23, 2021.

11.6 Equivalents of “To Become”

Spanish has no single verb that renders all of the equivalents of “to become.” When it implies “to transform” or “to convert” (“to turn into”), Spanish uses one of two obvious cognates:

La tormenta se convirtió en ciclón. The storm became (turned into) a cyclone.
Los Arreaga se convirtieron al protestantismo. The Arreagas became Protestants (converted to Protestantism).
El agua se transformó en hielo. The water turned into (became) ice.

In most instances, however, one of several other less obvious verbs renders “to become.” In the examples that follow, notice that the reflexive pronoun is not translated.

Hacerse, which you have already seen, is the most “generic” of these verbs and has the most widespread usage.

Los Gudiño se hicieron ricos. The Gudiños became rich.
La situación se está haciendo normal. The situation is becoming normal.

Ponerse is most often seen to indicate a change in emotional or physical state.

Mi padre se pone alarmado si llego a casa muy tarde. My father becomes alarmed if I arrive home very late.
Nando se puso pálido al ver el accidente. Nando turned (became) pale upon seeing the accident.

Volverse may apply to a general situation or to an emotional state, but it often carries the connotation of a sudden or quick and sometimes violent or surprising change. Volverse loco is the equivalent of “to go crazy” (literally or physically).

Gabriel se volvió furioso cuando rompí la cámara.La manifestación se volvió violenta.
Gabriel became furious when I broke the camera.
The protest became violent.

Quedar(se) also occasionally translates as “become,” especially when a negative or unfortunate connotation is implied. In this usage quedar may or may not appear as reflexive:

El señor Marroquín quedó viudo. Mr. Marroquín became a widower.
El científico se está quedando enfadado. The scientist is becoming angry.

When you see any of the above four verbs and a literal translation does not make sense, it is likely that the desired translation is “to become.”

A common expression that also translates as “to become” is llegar a ser, which may also be rendered as “to come to be.” The implication, as in the English translation, is that the process may take or have taken place over a long period of time.

Llegaron a ser ricos a través de mucho trabajo duro. They became (came to be) rich by means of much hard work.
Venancio Pelayo llegó a ser presidente del senado. Venancio Pelayo became president of the senate.

Vocabulario básico

Verbo:

exiliarse- to exile oneself

Sustantivos:

la censura- censorship
los Pirineos- the Pyrenees
el renombre- renown, fame

Last revised on June 23, 2021.

11.7 The Present Perfect Subjunctive

The present perfect subjunctive is formed by the present subjunctive of the auxiliary verb haber + past participle:

Decir

haya dicho I have said/ told
hayas dicho you (fam.) have said/ told
haya dicho he/she/you (form.) have said/told
hayamos dicho we have said/told
hayáis dicho you (fam. pl.) have said/told
hayan dicho they/you (form. pl. [fam. pl. in L.A.]) have said/told

This tense is used when one of the conditions cuing the subjunctive exists (see section 11.3) and the time frame of the subordinate clause is present perfect (see section 10.6):

Es dudoso que la ladrona haya vuelto. It’s doubtful that the thief has returned.
Es una lástima que Jacobo se haya enfermado. It’s a pity that Jacobo has gotten sick.
Espero que hayan resuelto la cuestión. I hope you/they have resolved the issue.

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

echar- to throw (out)
medir (i)- to measure

Sustantivo:

El Libano- Lebanon

Adjetivos:

disponible- available
pesado- dull, uninteresting, heavy

Expresiones:

echar a perder- ruin
echarse + a + inf.- to begin to do something
es dudoso- it’s doubtful
es imprescindible- it’s indispensable
es (una) lástima- it’s a pity, it’s too bad
es una pena- it’s a pity
una vez- once

Last revised on June 23, 2021.

11.8 Absolute Superlatives

When a very high degree of quality is expressed and no comparison is intended, Spanish employs the suffix –ísimo and its feminine and plural forms as the equivalent of “extremely” or “very (very).” (Those familiar with musical terminology from the Italian may recognize this ending to be almost identical to that of such words as “pianissimo” and “fortissimo,” among others.)

¿No crees que es una escritora de muchísimo talento? Don’t you believe she’s an extremely talented writer?
Adela se puso furiosísima. Adela became extremely furious.

There are a number of low frequency irregular absolute superlatives, all vestiges of Latin. One of the most common is pésimo (“extremely bad”) and most of the others end in –érrimo.

Last revised on June 23, 2021.

11.9 Compound Verbs

You have already seen verbs such as mantener and detener, which have as their root tener, and suponer, which has as its root poner. Many such verbs exist and they almost always have the same irregularities as those seen in the “root” verbs. Once you know the meaning of these verbs, which at times may be logically deduced, they present no general comprehension problems, provided you recognize the irregularities of the root verb.

Although some of these are not truly compound verbs, the groupings below are meant to facilitate recognition of as many verbs as possible:

English -tain = Spanish –tener

abstenerse (de) to abstain (from)
contener to contain
detener to detain, to arrest
entretener to entertain
mantener to maintain, to keep, to support financially
retener to retain
sostener to sustain, to support

English -pose = Spanish –poner

componer to compose
deponer to depose
descomponer to decompose, to break down
imponer to impose
oponer to oppose (oponerse a- to be opposed to)
proponer to propose
yuxtaponer to juxtapose

Other verbs ending in –poner but which have a different ending in English include posponer (“to postpone”) and reponer (“to reply”).

English -tract = Spanish –traer

atraer to attract
contraer to contract
distraer to distract
extraer to extract
sustraer to subtract, to take away, to remove

English -duce, -duct = Spanish –ducir

conducir to conduct, to drive
deducir to deduce
inducir to induce
introducir to introduce
producir to produce
reducir to reduce
seducir to seduce

One verb you have already seen but which has a different ending in English is traducir, “to translate.”

English -dict, at times = Spanish –decir

bendecir to bless
contradecir to contradict
maldecir to curse, to slander, to speak ill of
predecir to predict, to forecast

English -vene, at times = Spanish –venir

convenir to be suitable/ appropriate, suit; to convene, to agree
intervenir to intervene
prevenir to prevent, to warn, to forestall
provenir to come from, to originate

English -scribe = Spanish –scribir

describir to describe
inscribir to inscribe, to enroll
prescribir to prescribe
proscribir to proscribe, to prohibit
suscribir to subscribe

Compounds of ver

prever to forsee
rever to revise, to look over, to review

Compounds of hacer

deshacer to undo
contrahacer to imitate, to copy, to counterfeit
satisfacer to satisfy

Compounds of volver

devolver to return (something)
envolver to wrap, to pack

Compound of pedir

despedir(se) to dismiss, to fire (to take leave of, to say good-bye to)
impedir to stop, to impede, to prevent

Compound of salir

sobresalir to stand out, to excel, to jut out

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

amanecer- to dawn, to wake up (in a place)
anochecer- to get dark, to spend the night (in a place)
asombrar- to astound
desempeñar- to carry out, to play (un papel = a role)
desmayarse- to faint
mentir (ie)- to lie
nacer- to be born
patinar- to skate
presenciar- to witness

Sustantivos:

el asombro- astonishment
el/la brujo/-a- witch
el fantasma- ghost
el hielo- ice
la mente- mind
el porvenir- future

Adjetivos:

despectivo- pejorative
escaso- scarce, limited, scant
feo- ugly
sobresaliente- outstanding
travieso- mischievous

Expresión:

de una vez- once and for all

Last revised on June 23, 2021.