Everything You Need to Know About the Noun Clause in Spanish
A noun clause is one of the parts of Spanish grammar that sounds more complicated than it really is. When I cover this topic with my students, they all agree that it’s easy to understand.
The rules that govern the use of noun clauses are simple, and I will make them painless to memorize and remember. I’ll also go through some basics to make sure you’ve got the grammar fundamentals down.
In the end, you’ll be able to quiz yourself with practice exercises and see for yourself if the noun clause is as easy as I say.
What are Nouns, Clauses, and Noun Clauses?
Before we focus on the noun clause in Spanish, let’s have a quick look at some fundamental grammar points.
What are Nouns?
Nouns are one of the main parts of speech in English and Spanish. They’re usually the first words you learn as a child or when studying a foreign language.
Nouns are called sustantivos in Spanish and can be a person, place, thing, or idea.
- Person: niña (girl)
- Place: bosque (forest)
- Thing: libro (book)
- Idea: amor (love)
What is important for us is the placement of nouns in a sentence. They usually appear as the subject (the thing or person doing the action) at the beginning of a sentence or as an object (the thing or person affected by the verb) at the end. Although Spanish is more flexible than English as far as sentence structure is concerned and there can be variations to this model.
La niña compró un libro.
The girl bought a book.
La niña is the subject in this sentence and libro is the object. If you need a refresher on other parts of speech, check out Spanish Grammar for Beginners: The 8 Parts of Speech.
What are Clauses?
A clause is the smallest part of a sentence that can be separated from the main clause and has a meaning on its own. Clauses always have a subject and a verb and can have other elements, too.
Mi madre quiere que mi hermana coma más.
My mother wants my sister to eat more.
Here we have two clauses:
- Mi madre quiere que
- Mi hermana coma más
They both have a subject (madre, hermana) and a verb (querer, comer).
What are Noun Clauses?
A noun clause is a clause that functions as a noun. In Spanish, you call them cláusulas nominales or cláusulas sustantivas. Just as nouns can appear in a sentence as subjects or objects, the same applies to noun clauses.
Let’s take a look at two types of noun clauses you need to know.
Noun Clause as a Subject
A noun clause can work as a subject of the main clause. It will usually appear before the second verb in the main clause.
Lo que tú piensas es importante.
What you think is important.
Lo que tú piensas is a noun clause that works as a subject of the main clause. ¿Qué es importante? (What is important?) Lo que tú piensas.
However, we could invert the order and write this sentence like this:
Es importante lo que tú piensas.
So, you need to remember that the noun clause that works as a subject can appear both at the beginning and at the end of the sentence, although the first option is more common.
Noun Clause as an Object
It is more frequent to see a noun clause that works as an object and is usually introduced by the conjunction que (that).
Quiero que leas este libro.
I want you to read this book.
No me dijiste que ibas a venir.
You didn’t tell me you were coming.
Dime que hiciste ayer.
Tell me what you did yesterday.
Me gustó que lo hicieras.
I liked that you did it.
All the above sentences are formed by two clauses. All of them have two subjects and two verbs. However, some of them are constructed in a different way than others. Do you know what it is?
Yes, you’re right. The first and the last sentence have the subjunctive mode in the noun clause. Next, I’ll explain when to use the subjunctive mood vs the indicative mood in noun clauses.
Indicative or Subjunctive? How to Use Noun Clauses
When you first learn that there’s a subjunctive mood in Spanish, it seems to be everywhere. However, as soon as you get to know the rules, you begin to understand that its use is pretty logical.
The same happens with the subjunctive mood in a noun clause. It’s easy to understand when to use subjunctive vs indicative mood. It’s just a question of practice to make it stay in your linguistic bloodstream.
Noun Clauses in Spanish Followed by the Subjunctive
There are two things you need to check to make sure you need to use the subjunctive mood.
RULE #1: Subject 1 must be different from Subject 2
Imagine you want to say: “I want to have more money.” Is the subject different? No. It’s “I” want “myself” to have more money. So in Spanish, you’ll use the infinitive when there is no change in the subject:
Quiero tener más dinero.
I want to have more money.
Now, you want to say: I want my daughter to have more money. How many subjects? Two. “I” and “my daughter.” Therefore, you will say in Spanish:
Quiero que mi hija tenga más dinero.
I want my daughter to have more money.
But wait! Above, I put: No me dijiste que ibas a venir. There are two different subjects here, but the noun clauses use the indicative mood.
You’re right. That’s why I told you that there are two rules, you need to remember.
RULE #2: WEIRDO
After you have confirmed that there are two different subjects in the sentence, you have to check what type of verb is in the main clause.
The subjunctive mood appears when we want to express certain uncertainty or unreality. However, I must agree that this concept is a little bit too broad and vague, especially for beginners.
Luckily, there’s an acronym for different types of verbs that provoke the subjunctive mode: WEIRDO
Doubt and Negation
Let’s look at all the parts of WEIRDO in detail.
Wish verbs are all the verbs that help you express your wishes, wants, and desires. They include verbs like: querer (want), desear (desire), necesitar (need), etc.
Quiero que tengas suerte.
I want you to have luck.
Necesito que me ayudes.
I need you to help me.
Deseo que nada malo pase.
I hope nothing bad happens.
This group includes all the verbs that express emotions—positive or negative. You can use verbs like: gustar (like), alegrarse (be glad, happy), molestarse (be bothered), enojarse (get angry), odiar (hate), sorprenderse (be surprised), etc.
Me gusta que me sonrías.
I like that you smile at me.
Me alegra que tengas trabajo.
I’m glad you have a job.
Me molesta que me interrumpas.
It bothers me that you interrupt me.
Me enoja que no me escuches.
It makes me angry that you don’t listen to me.
Odio que lo hagas.
I hate that you do it.
Me sorprende que no lo entiendas.
I’m surprised you don’t understand.
Me entristece que tengas que pasar por esto.
It makes me sad that you have to go through this.
Impersonal expressions include all the expressions that follow the following formula: es + adjective + que…
Es increíble que (It’s incredible that)
Es bueno que (It’s good that)
Es lamentable que (It’s unfortunate that)
Es necesario que (It’s necessary that)
Es maravilloso que (It’s wonderful that)
Es incierto que (It’s uncertain that)
Es mejor que (It’s better that)
Es mejor que te vayas.
It’s better that you leave.
Es necesario que lo hagamos.
It’s necessary that we do so.
Es lamentable que pase esto.
It’s unfortunate that this is happening.
Es increíble que todavía exista la esclavitud.
It’s unbelievable that slavery still exists.
Es bueno que estudies.
It’s good that you study.
These verbs are often in the wish group, but here we want other people to be an active part in our wishes, and we want them to do something.
These verbs include pedir (ask), querer (want), insistir (insist), preferir (prefer), requerir (require), etc.
Te pido que me vendas esto.
I ask you to sell me this.
Quiero que me compres un vestido.
I want you to sell me this.
Insisto en que lo hagas.
I insist that you do it.
Prefiero que no me ayudes.
I’d rather you didn’t help me.
Requiero que me hagan caso.
I require you to listen to me.
Doubt and negation
If you’re not sure about the message you’re giving, the subjunctive mood will follow. The verbs of doubt and negation include: dudar (doubt), no creer (not believe), negar (deny), etc.
Dudo que tenga razón.
I doubt he is right.
No creo que me perdonen.
I don’t think they’ll forgive me.
El niega que tenga algo que ver con el robo.
He denies that he has anything to do with the theft.
Ojalá is a word that got to Spanish from Arabic. It means “may god (Allah) will it.” So, although it doesn’t look like it, you already have a subject included in this word. Therefore, if you add a noun clause, it will always include a subject different from the first one.
Considering its willing/wishing function, it makes sense to use the subjunctive mood. Ojalá is optionally followed by que.
Ojalá (que) llueva café.
I hope it rains tomorrow.
Ojalá (que) vengan mañana.
I hope they come tomorrow.
Ojalá (que) haga sol mañana.
May it be sunny tomorrow.
Ojalá (que) ganes la lotería.
May you win the lottery.
Noun Clauses in Spanish Followed by the Indicative Mood
Many students, when they start learning about noun clauses and the subjunctive that often goes with them, forget that there are cases when you have to use the indicative mood.
Even if you have two different subjects, it does not mean that you have to use the subjunctive. If the main verb is not one of the WEIRDO described above, you use the indicative.
Let’s take a look at some sentences.
Creo que ella tiene 15 años.
I think she is 15 years old.
The verb creer here does not express doubt or uncertainty. It’s the other way around, creer expresses belief and certainty, even if it’s not supported by any proof or fact. It’s different than when you say:
No creo que ella tenga 15 años.
I don’t think she is 15 years old.
In the above example, it is a WEIRDO verb, no creer expresses a doubt.
Let’s check another pair of sentences:
Me dice que lo hago bien.
He tells me that I do it well.
Me dice que lo haga bien
He tells me to do it well.
Only in the second example, you can see a WEIRDO verb that belongs to the “requesting” verbs. In the first example, the first subject does not want the second subject to do anything.
Summary and Exercises
Remember our two rules that force the use of the subjunctive mood in a noun clause:
- The subject in the noun clause needs to be different from the subject in the main clause
- The verb in the main clause needs to be a WEIRDO verb (wishes, emotions, impersonal expressions, requests, doubt, ojalá)
Do you want to try out your new knowledge? Decide if you have to use the subjunctive or the indicative mood in the following sentences.
- Les pido ______________.
- que lo hagan
- que lo hacen
- Ojalá ______________ frío mañana.
- no haga
- no hace
- Creo ______________ a llover.
- que vaya
- que va
- Es sorprendente que todavía ______________ a cura para el cáncer.
- no haya
- no hay
- Es falso que ella ______________.
- lo haya hecho
- lo ha hecho
- Temo ______________ tarde.
- que lleguemos
- que llegamos
- Me dicen ______________ los mejores.
- que seamos
- que somos
- Exigimos ______________ justicia.
- que se haga
- que se hace
- Estoy segura ______________ razón.
- que tengan
- que tienen
- El piensa que la Tierra ______________ plana.
Click here for the translation of the questions and to see the answers for this exercise.
Congratulations! It was a big chunk of grammar for one session. Now you know what a noun clause is and how to use it. What now? Now, you have to practice making your choice between the indicative and subjunctive mood in a noun clause automatic.
If you want to take your skills to the next level sign up for a free class to practice noun clauses with one of our friendly, native Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala.
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- a (requesting)
- a (ojalá)
- a (impersonal expression)
- a (doubt and negation)
- a (emotions)
- a (requesting)
- I ask you to do so.
- Hopefully, it won’t be cold tomorrow.
- I think it’s going to rain.
- It is surprising that there is still no cure for cancer.
- It is false that she did it.
- I’m afraid we will get late.
- They tell me we are the best.
- We demand that justice be done.
- I’m sure they are right.
- He thinks the Earth is flat.
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