March 29, 2020 · ,

How to Dominate the Subjunctive: Full Guide to Subjuntivo

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Subjetivo subjunctive in Spanish

Besides the difference between the pretérito perfecto simple and the imperfecto, few things terrify Spanish students as much as the fearsome modo subjuntivo, unnecessary to many and even illogical to some. However, the subjunctive is a very interesting topic. Understanding it, is essential to strengthening your fluency in Spanish. Do not be afraid! Next, we will give you a full guide with all the tools you could possibly need to make an ally of this terrifying beast.

First tip: The modo subjuntivo is hard! 

We are deeply sorry to tell you that but before you can dominate it, you are going to get frustrated with it many times, unless you’re a native Spanish speaker… And guess what! Even they have problems with this topic as well!

The only ones who truly understand this issue are well-read people or even philologists or linguists. Therefore, do not be discouraged if you make a lot of mistakes! That will happen, it’s normal and doesn’t mean that you’re not a good learner. 

Let’s get started: What is exactly the modo subjuntivo? 

A common mistake is that many students believe it to be a tense. However, it is not. It is way more complicated than that! The subjuntivo is a “modo verbal”, that is to say, a group of several tenses and not only one. 

As in other Romanic languages, we have three “modos verbales” in Spanish:

  1. Modo indicativo: the first one that you’re going to learn. This one has all the pasts, the conditionals, the present simple that you used in your first Spanish class to say “Me llamo…” and “Soy…”, etc. 
  1. Modo imperativo: this one is quite easy. It has only one tense and we use it to give orders or advice. For example, “¡Cerrá la puerta!” (“Close the door!”).
  2. Modo subjuntivo: many students get confused when we tell them that the subjuntivo is the mode we use for hypotheses, hopes, probabilities or things that are simply not true. This makes them believe that everything they say in the subjunctive has to be either a lie or a probability and that is not true at all. For example, you can say “Es bueno que Juan haya estudiado tanto” = “It is a good thing that Juan studied that much”. As you can see, there we are using the subjunctive and yet we are talking about something that is indeed true. 

Therefore, the best thing you can do to know when to use the subjunctive in Spanish is to learn each one of the times when this modo is grammatically necessary. 

Lucky for you, we have listed those right here:

When do I use this monstrous subjuntivo thing?

The list is quite long and, if you want to dominate the subjunctive, you’re going to have to learn it. You may think that it’s impossible, but don’t worry: it’s not! We have seen many students who have done it, even if it took them months and even over a year! Again, do not be discouraged! 

Here you have each one of the situations when you should use the subjunctive. However, first of all don’t forget that mostly we use the subjunctive in constructions that start with “que”. 

  1. Orders (órdenes) or requests (peticiones) when you don’t use the imperative. 
  2. Recommendations (recomendaciones).
  3. Wishes (deseos)
  4. Emotions (emociones).
  5. Doubts (dudas).
  6. Purposes (finalidad).
  7. “When” sentences (oraciones temporales). 
  8. Opinions (opiniones).
  9. Conditionals sentences, types 2, 3 and mixed (oraciones condicionales, tipos uno, dos y mixtas).  
  10. Concessive sentences (oraciones concesivas). 
  11. Relative clauses with a hypothetical referent (oraciones de relativo con referente hipotético).  
  12. “How” sentences (oraciones modales). 

“Oh, no! That’s A LOT of cases! And I don’t even know what some of those mean! I better just give up now”

Do not despair! We will start one by one, as we usually do with our students, and you will see that you can do it. 

  1. Orders or requests:

This is used in sentences that start with:

  • Te ordeno que
  • Te prohíbo que
  • Te permito que
  • Te pido que
  • Te exijo que                                  + SUBJUNCTIVE 
  • Te ruego que
  • Te suplico que
  • Te digo que
  • Te dejo que
  • Que… (This is a special case. We use it to give orders to a third person plural or singular who’s not present. For example: “¡Que pase!” = “Let him come in”). 

etc.

  1. Recommendations

This is used in sentences that start with:

  • Te aconsejo que
  • Te recomiendo que
  • Te sugiero que
  • Te propongo que

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  1. Wishes:

This is used in sentences that start with:

  • Quisiera que…
  • Me gustaría que…
  • Deseo que…
  • Quiero que…
  • Espero que…
  • Ojalá que…
  • Que… (This is also a special case. We usually use it for commonly used phrases, such as “¡Que duermas bien!” (“Sleep tight!”), “¡Que te diviertas!” (“Have fun!”), etc.). 
  1. Emotions:

This is used in sentences that start with:

  • Me alegra que…
  • Me pone + adjective + que… (For example, “Me pone contento que…” = It makes me happy that…). 
  • Me hace + adjective + que… (For example, “Me hace feliz que…” = “It makes me happy that…”).
  • Me extraña que… 
  • Me asusta que… 
  • Me alivia que…
  • Me sorprende que…
  • Me divierte que…
  • Me enoja que…
  • Me avergüenza que…
  • Me da asco/ ternura/ miedo/ pena/ lástima/ nostalgia/ envidia/ celos/ satisfacción que…
  • Me aburre que… 
  • Me entusiasma que…
  • Me decepciona que…
  • Me frustra que…
  • Me enorgullece que… 
  • Me atrae que… 
  1. Doubts:

This is used in sentences that start with:

  • Es posible que…
  • Es probable que…
  • Puede ser que…
  • Quizás… (Not necessarily with subjunctive).
  • Tal vez… (Not necessarily with subjunctive). 
  1. Purposes:

This is used in sentences that start with:

  • Para que…
  • Con el fin de que…
  • Con el propósito de que…
  • Con el objetivo de que…
  • A fin de que…
  1. “When” sentences:

This is used in conjunction with constructions that start with:

  • Cuando
  • Apenas
  • En cuanto
  • Tan pronto como
  • En el momento/instante en que
  • Cada vez que
  • A medida que
  • Siempre que
  • Después de que
  • Hasta que

However, these kinds of clauses only use the subjunctive when they refer to a FUTURE time. For example:

Cuando llegue a casa voy a estudiar (When I get home, I’m going to study).
This one uses the subjunctive. 

Cuando llegué a casa, empecé a estudiar (When I got home, I started studying).
This one uses the indicative, as it doesn’t refer to the future. 

  1. Opinions:

This is for when we use constructions that start with:

  • Me gusta que…
  • Me encanta que…
  • Me fascina que…
  • Me importa que…
  • Me interesa que…
  • (No) me parece + adjetivo + que…
  • No creo/pienso/opino que…
  • Es + adjective/noun + que (Except for those cases where the adjective or noun is “verdad”, “obvio”, “claro”, “evidente” or any of the sort). 
  1. Conditional sentences:
  • Type 2: clauses that refer to an unreal situation in the present. 

Si él fuera millonario, compraría un castillo.

If he were a millionaire, he would buy a castle. 

Fuera is the pretérito imperfecto of the subjunctive. 

  • Type 3: clauses that refer to an unreal situation in the past.

Si hubieras estudiado, habrías aprobado el examen.

If you had studied, you would have passed the test.

“Hubieras estudiado” is the pluscuamperfecto of the subjunctive. 

  1.  Concessive sentences:

These are the sentences that usually start with the following connectors:

  • Aunque
  • Por más que 
  • Aun cuando 
  • A pesar de
  • Aun mientras

Concessive sentences use subjunctive or indicative according to the level of certainty of the information they provide. Sometimes we say that we use subjunctive when we already know the information and indicative when we give new information. 

-Voy a salir, aunque llueve (I’m going out, even though it is raining, by the way).  

-Voy a salir aunque llueva (I don’t care if it rains: I’m still going out). 

  1.  Relative clauses with a hypothetical referent

These are relative clauses whose referent doesn’t exist yet or we still don’t know if it exists. For example…

-Estoy buscando un empleado que hable alemán (I’m looking for an employee who speaks German). 

-Quiero una casa que sea grande (I want a big house).

In these examples, both the employee and the house are still hypothetical: we are not talking about a specific person or a specific house. Instead, we are looking for them, but we don’t know if we will find them. 

  1.  “How” sentences

These constructions usually start by:

  • Como
  • Según
  • Como si
  • Sin que

As the name indicates, they tell us “how” an action is performed, but they refer to situations that are not usually true:

  • Juan actúa como si fuera nuestro jefe.
  • Juan acts as if he were our boss (But he’s not!). 

And last but not less important: Tenses

Bear in mind that the modo subjuntivo has several tenses. Let’s try to conjugate a simple verb such as “estudiar” in all the subjunctive tenses. 

  1. Presente del subjuntivo: que él estudie.  
  2. Pretérito imperfecto del subjuntivo: que él estudiara / estudiase (These two are the same, there is no difference in meaning whatsoever). 
  3. Pretérito perfecto del subjuntivo: que él haya estudiado.
  4. Pretérito pluscuamperfecto del subjuntivo: que él hubiera estudiado.

There are some other tenses, such as the future of the subjunctive. However, they are not used anymore and not even native speakers usually know about those. That’s why we don’t show them here.

When do I use each tense?

If you got this far, that means that you were able to go through the first part of our blog about the modo subjuntivo and you’ve conquered the basics! Good for you! You’re quite an advanced student!

However, your battle doesn’t end here. You have learned that there are several tenses comprehended in the modo subjuntivo. Lucky for you, there are not as many as in the modo indicativo.

Nevertheless, they can get very confusing! How do you use them? When? And how do you change them to reported speech?

Fear not! Vamos Spanish Academy is here to help you!


We’ll go over the different cases when you need to use the subjunctive:

  • Orders (órdenes) or requests (peticiones) when you don’t use the imperative.
  • Recommendations (recomendaciones).
  • Wishes (deseos)
  • Emotions (emociones).
  • Doubts (dudas).
  • Purposes (finalidad).
  • “When” sentences (oraciones temporales).
  • Opinions (opiniones).
  • Conditionals sentences, types 2, 3 and mixed (oraciones condicionales, tipos uno, dos y mixtas).
  • Concessive sentences (oraciones concesivas).
  • Relative clauses with a hypothetical referent (oraciones de relativo con referente hipotético).
  • “How” sentences (oraciones modales).

Which tenses go with each one of these cases and when?

In this article, we’re going to focus in the first four cases. However, you’ll notice that the patterns tend to be quite repetitive.


Orders: Only two tenses are likely to be used here: present subjunctive and imperfect subjunctive. Which one we use will depend of the main verb of the sentence.

For example:

“Te pido (presente indicativo) que me ayudes (presente subjuntivo)” = “I ask you to help me”. Hence, present goes with present.

“Te pedí (pretérito perfecto simple del indicativo) que me ayudaras (pretérito imperfecto del subjuntivo)” = “I asked you to help me”. Hence, past goes with past.

It is possible to use the pretérito perfecto or the pluscuamperfecto, but it would have to be a very peculiar situation. For example, “Te pido que, cuando yo vuelva, ya hayas terminado la tarea” (I ask you to have your homework finished by the time I come back) or, if we go further in the past for the same sentence, “Te pedí que, cuando yo volviera, ya hubieras terminado la tarea” (I asked you to have your homework finished by the time I came back).

Recommendations: they are similar to orders, because they are also more likely to use only the present or the imperfect tense.

Presente: “The recomiendo que veas esta película” = “I suggest that you watch this movie”.

Imperfecto: “Te recomendé que vieras esa película” = “I suggested that you watched that movie”.

As you can see, these are very common sentences. However, if we want to use the pretérito perfecto or the pluscuamperfecto in a recommendation, we’re going to find ourselves building very strange and unnecessarily complicated ones!

Pretérito perfecto: “Te recomiendo que, cuando empiece la película, ya hayas ido al baño” = “I suggest that you have gone to the bathroom by the time the movie has started”.

Something similar would happen with the pluscuamperfecto: “Te recomendé que, cuando empezara la película, ya hubieras ido al baño” = “I suggested that you had gone to the bathroom by the time the movie started”.

Wishes: here it’s when it gets a little tricky. Why? Because we can wish for things to be real in the present, future or past. Therefore, all the tenses are equally susceptible to be used.

First of all, we have to remember that is not the same to say “deseo”, “desearía” or “espero”. Those three mean different things.

“Deseo” would be used literally to make a wish, like on our birthday or to a fairy or genie.

“Desearía” means the same as “Ojalá”, it’s more realistic, like “I wish this were true, but I know that’s not the case”.

“Espero” means something like “I hope”, therefore there are more probabilities for the wished thing to happen.

Let’s take a simple sentence, such as “Espero que Juan venga”, as an example.

Espero que Juan venga = I hope Juan comes
Esperé que Juan viniera = I hoped Juan came
Esperaba que Juan viniera = I hoped Juan came
Espero que Juan haya venido = I hope that Juan has come
Esperé que Juan hubiera venido = I hoped that Juan had come (but in that moment I didn’t know whether he had)

Just as with wishes, we can have emotions about facts from the past, present or future. Therefore, we are going to have several combinations of tenses.

Bear in mind that verbs such as encantar, fascinar, molestar, sorprender, importar, preocupar, divertir, aburrir, interesar, favorecer, faltar, doler, impresionar, parecer, asustar, apetecer, alegrar, etc, work just as gustar!

A Juan le alegra que su perro juegue = It makes Juan happy that his dog plays (always, in general)

A Juan le alegra que su perro haya jugado = It makes Juan happy that his dog played (It makes him happy now that his dog was playing yesterday or this morning)

A Juan le alegró que su perro jugara = It made Juan happy that his dog played

A Juan le alegró que su perro hubiera jugado = It made Juan happy that his dog had played (That day he was happy because his dog had played the day before)

So that’s all for today! If you want to keep learning about the subjunctive in Spanish, keep up with our blogs!

Also Read: Ya and Todavía

Ya and Todavia still vs yet in spanish

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