Lesson Topics

Subjunctive: Part I

Notes:

  1. The written lesson is below.
  2. Links to quizzes, tests, etc. are to the left.

All too frequently, the topic of the subjunctive is made far more difficult than is necessary. Let's try a slightly different approach, with the goal of making this topic less troublesome.



The subjunctive is not a tense; rather, it is a mood. Tense refers to when an action takes place (past, present, future), while mood merely reflects how the speaker feels about the action. The subjunctive mood is rarely used in English, but it is widely used in Spanish.



Here are some examples of the subjunctive being used in English:

The doctor recommends that he take the pills with food.
Subjunctive conjugation: he take

The law requires that you be 18 years old to vote.
Subjunctive conjugation: you be

If I were a rich man, I wouldn't have to work hard.
Subjunctive conjugation: I were



So far, you have studied verb tenses in the indicative mood. The indicative mood is used to express factual information, certainty, and objectivity.

Usted va al Perú en diciembre.

You are going to Peru in December.

The above sentence merely reports the fact that you are going to Peru in December, so the indicative mood is used.



Let's change the above example slightly:

No dudo que usted va al Perú en diciembre.

I don't doubt that you are going to Peru in December.

In the above sentence, the clause "no dudo" introduces a quality of certainty, -- the speaker has no doubt, so the indicative mood is used in the second clause (va) as well as the first (no dudo).



Let's make another slight change to our example:

Dudo que usted vaya al Perú en diciembre.

I doubt that you are going to Peru in December.

In the above sentence, the clause "dudo" introduces a quality of uncertainty, -- the speaker does have doubt, so here the subjunctive mood is used in the second clause (vaya).



The subjunctive mood is used to express everything except certainty and objectivity: things like doubt, uncertainty, subjectivity, etc.

Yo dudo que usted vaya al Perú en diciembre.

I doubt that you are going to Peru in December.

Since the above statement does not express certainty, the subjunctive (vaya) is required in the second clause.



The difference between indicative and subjunctive is the difference between certainty/objectivity (indicative) and possibility/subjectivity (subjunctive).

Indicative

John goes to the store.
(This sentence merely states the certain, objective fact that John goes to the store.)

I know that John goes to the store.
(The clause "I know" tells us that the speaker feels that it is a certain, objective fact that John goes to the store.)

There is no doubt that John goes to the store.
(The clause "there is no doubt" tells us that the speaker feels that it is a certain, objective fact that John goes to the store.)

Subjunctive

I want John to go to the store.
(The clause "I want" tells us that the speaker feels that there is uncertainty as to whether John goes to the store.)

I hope that John goes to the store.
(The clause "I hope" tells us that the speaker feels that there is uncertainty as to whether John goes to the store.)

It is possible that John will go to the store.
(The clause "it is possible" tells us that the speaker feels that there is uncertainty as to whether John goes to the store.)

It's good that John goes to the store.
(The clause "it's good" alerts us that the speaker is about to express a subjective opinion.)

It's important that John goes to the store.
(The clause "it's important" alerts us that the speaker is about to express a subjective opinion.)



Because there must be some uncertainty or subjectivity to warrant the use of the subjunctive, you will usually see it in sentences that contain a main clause which introduces a quality of uncertainty or subjectivity.

I hope she will come.
I hope = main clause

I know she will come.
I know = main clause

I feel she will come.
I feel = main clause.

The above examples all have main clauses, but only the first and the third introduce an element of uncertainty or subjectivity.



In learning to use the subjunctive, it is quite helpful if one can first recognize such clauses. The following is a list of clauses commonly associated with the use of the subjunctive:

a menos que ...
unless ...

antes (de) que ...
before ...

con tal (de) que ...
provided that ...

cuando ...
when ...

conviene que ...
it is advisable that ...

después (de) que ...
after ...

dudar que ...
to doubt that ...

en caso de que ...
in case ...

en cuanto ...
as soon as ...

es aconsejable que ...
it's advisable that ...

es bueno que ...
it's good that ...

es difícil que ...
it's unlikely that ...

es dudoso que ...
it is doubtful that ...

es fácil que ...
it's likely that ...

es fantástico que ...
it's fantastic that ...

es importante que ...
it's important that ...

es imposible que ...
it's impossible that ...

es improbable que ...
it's unlikely that ...

es incierto que ...
it's uncertain that ...

es increíble que ...
it's incredible that ...

es (una) lástima que ...
it's a pity that ...

es malo que ...
it's bad that ...

es mejor que ...
it's better that ...

es menester que ...
it's necessary that ...

es necesario que ...
it's necessary that ...

esperar que ...
to wish that ...

es posible que ...
it's possible that ...

es preciso que ...
it's necessary that ...

es preferible que ...
it's preferable that ...

es probable que ...
it's probable that ...

es raro que ...
it's rare that ...

es ridículo que ...
it's ridiculous that ...

estar contento que
to be happy that ...

es terrible que ...
it's terrible that ...

hasta que ...
until ...

insistir en que ...
to insist that ...

mandar que ...
to order that ...

más vale que ...
it's better that ...

mientras que ...
while ...

negar que ...
to deny that ...

no creer que ...
not to believe that ...

no es cierto que ...
it's not certain that ...

no estar convencido de que ...
to not be convinced that ...

no estar seguro de que ...
to not be sure that ...

no es verdad que ...
it's not true that ...

no imaginarse que ...
to not imagine that ...

no parecer que ...
to not seem that ...

no pensar que ...
to not think that ...

no suponer que ...
to not suppose that ...

ojalá que ...
if only he would ...

para que ...
in order that ...

pedir que ...
to ask that ...

preferir que ...
to prefer that ...

prohibir que ...
to prohibit that ...

puede ser que ...
it may be that ...

querer que ...
to want that ...

recomendar que ...
to recommend that ...

rogar que ...
to plead that ...

sentir que ...
to regret that ...

sin que ...
without ...

sugerir que ...
to suggest that ...

tan pronto como ...
as soon as ...

temer que ...
to fear that ...

tener miedo de que ...
to be afraid that ...



As you can see, the list is quite long, and this isn't even a complete list! There are even more expressions that trigger use of the subjunctive that we haven't included. Instead of trying to memorize such a long list, why not familiarize yourself with a much shorter list of expressions with which the subjunctive is not used?

creer que ...
to believe that ...

no dudar que ...
to not doubt that ...

es cierto que ...
it is certain that ...

es claro que ...
it is clear that ...

es evidente que ...
it is certain that ...

es obvio que ...
it is obvious that ...

estar seguro que ...
to be sure that ...

es verdad que ...
it is true that ...

no cabe duda que ...
there's no doubt that ...

no es dudoso que ...
it is not doubtful that ...

no hay duda que ...
there is no doubt that ...

Since these expressions introduce a quality of certainty, they do not trigger the use of the subjunctive.



If you encounter a sentence with a main clause followed by a second clause, and the main clause introduces a quality of certainty or objectivity, the sentence will use the indicative mood in the second clause, since the sentence will be reporting something certain.



If you encounter a sentence with a main clause followed by a second clause, and the main clause does not introduce a quality of certainty or objectivity, the sentence will usually use the subjunctive mood in the second clause, since the sentence will not be reporting something certain.



Let's add another flashcard to remind us of the fundamental difference between the indicative and subjunctive moods:

Verb Flashcards
Complete List

Indicative Mood
certainty and objectivity

Subjunctive Mood
uncertainty and subjectivity

Items of Interest