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The Spanish Subjunctive

Some useful hints and tips.


One of the most difficult aspects of learning Spanish is the subjunctive. My Spanish is not too bad but I still have problems with it. After using the subjunctive of "Saber" in a complex sentence correctly I still feel as if I have passed through the linguistic equivalent of white water rafting. Before we published this we got Sole, our friend from the university of Granada to check our text to make sure we didn't "meter la pata" (slip up, make a mistake).

What is the subjunctive?
It can be a way to show that the speaker is reacting emotionally to the event referred to. e.g. "me alegro que trabaje aquí" (I'm glad that she works here). Other common examples in this category are:- "es una lástima que" (it's a pity that), "me sorprende que" (it surprises me that")

Another big use of the subjunctive is in subordinate clauses where there is a change of subject if the event in the subordinate clause is not a reality or doubtful (because it hasn't happened yet) e.g. "no creo que lo compren" (I don't think that they'll buy it)

Note: the subordinate clause is the bit that comes after the "que"

If you are a beginner than this may be too complex for you although you should be aware that the subjunctive exists, so that when someone says "espero que sepas lo que haces" (I hope you know what you are doing) you will know why they didn't say "espero que sabes"

How to form the subjunctive?
Generally speaking we put the endings of -er verbs onto the end of -ar verbs and the -ar verbs take the endings which are normally on - er and -ir verbs. There are many common irregular verbs and the subjunctive is often responsible for the use of words like "vengas", "sea", "diera", "sepas", "quepa", etc.

You can see the conjugation of the subjunctive in regular verbs by using these links

-AR hablar  -ER beber  -IR vivir

The intention of this subjunctive tutorial is not to give a full explanation of the theory of the subjunctive but rather to give a few hard and fast rules about when the subjunctive is used with examples.

para que / de modo que
Llevaré un paraguas para que no nos mojemos.
in order that / so that
I'll take an umbrella so that we don't get wet.
sin que
Se fue sin que me diera cuenta.
He went without me realising.
a condición que
Te diré dónde vamos a estar a condición que no vengas.
on condition that
I'll tell you where we are going to be on condition that you don't come.
con tal que
Lo haré esta noche con tal que no me molestes más.
provided that / as long as
I'll do it tonight provided that you don't bother me any more.
*no es seguro que
No es seguro que venga.
it's doubtful that
It's doubtful that he'll come.
a no ser que
Quedaremos en casa a no ser que haga sol.
We'll stay at home unless it's sunny.
es posible que
Es posible que vayamos a la playa mañana.
it's possible that
It's possible that we'll go to the beach tomorrow.
es probable que
Es probable que llueva mañana.

It's likely to rain tomorrow.
hasta que
Tienes que quedar hasta que lo hayas terminado.
You have stay until you've finished it.
cuando* (when referring to the future)
Ven cuando quieras.
Come when you want.

antes (de) que* (when referring to the future)
Vámonos antes de que lleguen.

Let's go before they arrive.
después de que* (when referring to the future)
Iré a casa después de que todos se hayan ido.
I'll go home after they've all gone.
en cuanto / tan pronto como* (when referring to the future)
Llámame en cuanto llegue.
as soon as
Phone me as soon as he arrives.
mientras* (when referring to the future or unknown)
Mientras me pague, no me importa.
as long as
As long as he pays me, I don't mind.
siempre que* (when referring to the future or unknown)
Puedes quedar siempre que no te muevas.
provided / providing
You can stay provided you don't move.
quizá(s) / tal vez / acaso** perhaps

* When these verbs refer to the future or the unknown they are followed by the subjunctive. When they express something habitual you don't use the subjunctive:

e.g. Me matará cuando se entere. = He'll kill me when he finds out.
BUT Siempre nos ayuda cuando es necesario. = She always helps us when necessary.

** They can be followed by the subjunctive or indicative. When the subjunctive is used, there is a greater degree of doubt.

e.g. Quizá se han equivocado. Perhaps they've made a mistake.
       Quizá lo haga mañana. Perhaps I'll do it tomorrow. (more doubt)

(wanting, requesting, permitting, forbidding, causing, necessity)
querer que
¿Quieres que me vaya?
to want
Do you want me to go?
preferir que
Sus padres prefieren que estudie medicina.
to prefer
His parents would prefer him to study medicine.
pedir que
Me pidió que le prestara mil pesetas.
to ask
He asked me to lend him a thousand pesetas.
prohibir que
Te prohíbo que me hables así.
to forbid
I forbid you to speak to me like that.
decir a alguien que
Le dije que no lo hiciera.
to tell someone to
I told him not to do it.
persuadir a alguien de que
Me persuadió de que aceptara su oferta.
to persuade someone to
She persuaded me to accept his offer.
hacer falta
No hace falta que os vayáis los dos.
to be necessary
It's not necessary for both of you to go.
es preciso* que
Es preciso que te vayas ahora mismo.
to have to / must
You must go right now.
no es preciso que
No es preciso que vengamos todos esta noche.
there's no need
We don't all need to come tonight.
* In general, the construction SER + ADJECTIVE + QUE needs the subjunctive.
e.g. Es necesario que vayamos todos. It's necessary for us all to go.
       Va a ser muy difícil que acepte. It's very unlikely that he'll accept.

The exceptions to this are SER + VERDAD and its synomyms (OBVIO, CLARO, EVIDENTE, etc.)
e.g. Es verdad que trabaja demasiado. It's true he works too much.
      Es claro que no ha estudiado. It's clear he hasn't studied.
      Es evidente que será cantante como su madre. It's obvious that she'll be a singer like her mother.

dudar que
Nunca dudé que viniera.

to doubt
I never doubted that he would come.
negar que
Negó que hubiera robado la botella.
to deny
He denied that he had stolen the bottle.
es increíble que
Es increíble que lo hayas creído.
it's incredible that
It's incredible that you believed him.
no creer que
No creo que seas la persona adecuada para el trabajo.
to believe
I don't think you're the right person for the job.
no parecer que
No parece que estemos tan distintos.
to not seem
We don't seem to be that different.
sentir que
Siento que tengas que marcharte.

to be sorry that
I'm sorry you have to go.

alegrarse de que
Me alegro que hayas venido.
to be glad
I'm glad you came.
extrañarse de que
Me extrañó de que no nos hubiera visto.

to be surprised that
I was surprised he hadn't seen us.

tener miedo de que
Tengo miedo de que vuelvan.
to be afraid / scared
I'm scared they'll come back.
ser raro que
Es raro que no lo hayas encontrado.
to be strange that
It's strange that you haven't found it.
esperar (a) que
Esperamos a que venga mañana.
to expect
We expect him to come tomorrow.
esperar que
Espero que no llegues tarde.
to hope that
Buscan un hombre que hable inglés para el trabajo.

But: Conozco un hombre que habla inglés.
They are looking for a man who speaks English for the job. (unspecific)
I know a man who speaks English. (SPECIFIC)
2. AFTER QUE (wishing someone something)
¡Que aproveche! Bon appétit! / Enjoy your meal!
¡Que tengan un buen viaje! Have a good journey!
(i) túform negative
No lo hagas.
(Remember tú form affirmative: Siéntate aquí - Sit here.)

Don't do it.
(ii) usted form affirmative / negative
Hágalo ahora.
No lo haga todavía.

Do it now.
Don't do it yet.
(iii) ustedes affirmative / negative
Háganlo ahora.
No lo hagan todavía.

Do it now.
Don't do it yet.
(iv) vosotros negative
No lo hagáis.
(Remember vosotros affirmative: Cerrad la puerta - Close the door.)

Don't do it.
Ojalá que
Ojalá que no llueva mañana.
Let's hope
Let's hope it doesn't rain tomorrow.
5. CONDITIONAL SENTENCES (when a future event is improbable or to talk about the past)
Si viniera, iríamos a ver la Alhambra. If he came, we'd go to see the Alhambra.
Si hubiera sabido, no lo habría hecho. If I had known, I wouldn't have done it.

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