Spanish Grammar: Subjunctive – Basics

Spanish Grammar: Subjunctive - Basics

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Spanish Grammar: Subjunctive – Basics
la gramática española: el subjuntivo – los básicos

  • The subjunctive is a verb mood, not a tense in terms of time.
  • Describes how the verb is understood in the sentence.


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The mood (sometimes called the mode) of the verb expresses an attitude toward the verb or describes how it is used in the sentence. The most common mood is the indicative mood. The first forms of verbs learned in Spanish are usually in the indicative mood. The indicative is used to indicate or express actions that definitely are taking place, did take place or will take place. The subjunctive mood expresses the opposite of the indicative; it expresses what may be and is used more in Spanish than in English.

It is important to not only be able to understand the subjunctive mood but also to be able to use it correctly.

Carlos se comporta bien. (Indicative)

Los padres de Carlos quieren que él se comporte bien. (Subjunctive)

Ellos insisten en que él sea cortés. (Subjunctive)

The first sentences states what is and is in the indicative mood. The second set of sentences state what Carlos’ parents would like to be. Those sentences are in the subjunctive mood. Even though Carlos’ parents want him to behave well and insist that he be polite, it is not a fact that he will act as they want. Because it may or may not happen, the subjunctive must be used in Spanish.

The subjunctive is used when we do not know if the action will take place. If we know that it is or will be a reality, the indicative is used. The subjunctive is used to express doubt, how a person feels about an action or state of being, a wish, intent or command. It can also be used to express facts that are the opposite of reality.

The subjunctive used to be used in English more than it is today but we still can hear the subjunctive in more formal speech. Seeing how the subjunctive is used in English may help you decide better when to use it in Spanish.

I would like it if he were my father.
(expresses desire)

I insist that he go. We recommended that he fill out the form.
(expresses a request or advice)

Let’s compare the indicative and the subjunctive.

 Indicative  Subjunctive
 Indicates or points something out  Is subjective (not objective)
 Is factual  Not factual
 Statement stands alone  Statement cannot stand alone
 Is independent  Is dependent on something

Studying the chart above can be helpful in learning the uses of the subjunctive as it compares to the indicative. The Spanish subjunctive also occurs primarily in dependent clauses.  Each clause must have a different subject and the clauses are linked by que.


Espero que el esté feliz.
I hope that he is happy.

Siento que tengas frío.
I’m sorry you are cold.

Le jefa quiere que los empleados estén contentos.
The boss wants the employees to be happy.

Es necesario que Juan estudie más.
It’s necessary that Juan study more.

Quiero que hables con todos tus amigos.
I want you to speak to all your friends.

Espero que vengan mis amigos.
I hope my friends come.

Ellos temen que yo no esté real.
They fear that I am not real.

Sus padres insisten en que ella estudie mucho.
Her parents insist that she study a lot.

Es importante que ellos tengan buenos modales.
It’s important that they have good manners.



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