Master the Subjunctive in Spanish
You may have heard that the subjunctive conjugation in Spanish has many rules—however, once you get the clear meaning behind them, you won’t need to memorize long lists of fixed phrases again.
Today, we’ll learn how to build the subjunctive form for useful verbs in Spanish. You’ll also get to know which elements are required to use the subjunctive mood in a sentence.
This blog post also offers many references to other articles where you will find more detailed relevant information.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
- The Difference Between Moods and Tenses
- The Subjunctive Mood in Spanish
- How to Use the Subjunctive in Spanish
- When to Use the Subjunctive in Spanish
- The Spanish Subjunctive with Conjunctions
- Take a FREE Multiple Choice Quiz on the Subjunctive
- Time to Practice with a Native Spanish Speaker
The Difference Between Moods and Tenses
Let’s begin by understanding that the subjunctive is a mood and it exists in many tenses.
A tense gives us information about the time an action occurs. It can be in the present, past, or future. There are 18 Spanish tenses that you will learn on your way to fluency.
A mood, on the other hand, does not emphasize the time of an action but the attitude of the speaker. The three moods in Spanish are: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive.
The first one—the Indicative mood—is used to express facts. Next up on the list we have the Imperative mood, which is used to give orders and commands. Finally—the object of our attention today—the subjunctive mood is used to express doubt when we are not sure about information being true. We also use it to emphasize the emotions that such information provokes in us.
If you’re interested in a deeper review of the three different moods in Spanish, check out how to “Master the 3 Spanish Moods.” You’ll find detailed explanations and practice exercises..
The Subjunctive Mood in Spanish
So far, we know the subjunctive mood conveys uncertainty. The famous subjuntivo is used to talk about future events which are not necessarily bound to happen.
Cuando estés en casa, llama a tu abuela.
When you’re home, call your grandma.
Here, the subjunctive mood indicates that being at home later—estar en casa—is not certain. The speaker considers it just a possibility. That’s why this mood is so useful to express ourselves about the uncertainty of future situations or contexts.
You should also use the subjunctive when you want to emphasize your attitude or emotion toward the expressed information.
Let’s see how this mood expresses an abstract or even unreal feeling.
Me entristece que tenga tantos problemas.
It saddens me that he has so many problems.
Since the subjunctive is a mood, we use it in different tenses. Here are some useful articles that will guide you through this topic:
- The Imperfect Subjunctive (so-called “past subjunctive”)
- The Present Perfect Subjunctive
- The Past Perfect Subjunctive
- 25 Common Subjunctive Phrases in Spanish Conversation
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How to Use the Subjunctive in Spanish
We first need to learn how to recognize the subjunctive mood in a sentence.
Introduction to Subjunctive Conjugation
Here are some basic rules for the present subjunctive conjugation. Please keep in mind that the subjunctive forms in different tenses will have different endings, so you will need to learn those as well.
Each subjunctive verb in the present tense has two parts: the present subjunctive stem and the subjunctive ending.
How do we get the subjunctive stem? By taking the letter “o” off from the first person singular form of the present indicative.
Let’s build the subjunctive form for the verb poder (poder – can, be able).
Since puedo is the first person singular of the present tense, we need to remove the letter “o” at the end to get the stem. Here are the stems for some other helpful verbs.
Infinitive and indicative form (first person singular)
|Present Subjunctive Stem|
|conocer, conozco (to get to know)||conozc-|
|poner, pongo (to put)||pong-|
|querer, quiero (to want)||quier-|
|tener, tengo (to have)||teng-|
|ver, veo (to see)||ve-|
There are also some irregular stem forms:
- haber (aux. to have): hay-
- ir (to go): vay-
- saber (to know): sep-
- dar (to give): de-
- estar (to be): este-
- ser (to be): sea-
Great! You’ve got the stem—now what?
We add the present subjunctive ending. Let’s take a look at the forms for -ar verbs and for -er, -ir verbs.
|-ar verbs present subjunctive endings||-er and -ir verbs present subjunctive endings|
|Yo -e||Yo -a|
|Tú – es||Tú – as|
|Él, ella, usted -e||Él, ella, usted -a|
|Nosotros -emos||Nosotros -amos|
|Ustedes -en||Ustedes -an|
|Ellos, ellas -en||Ellos, ellas -an|
Next up, you will find the complete subjunctive conjugation for the verb amar. It’s an -ar verb and its stem is am-
- Yo ame
- Tú ames
- Él, ella usted ame
- Nosotros amémos
- Ustedes amen
- Ellos, ellas amen
If you want to get some insights on the -ar verbs subjunctive endings, don’t miss the “Subjunctive Spanish Endings for -AR Verbs in Every Tense”.
Let’s work on the subjunctive conjugation for the verb estar, which has the irregular stem este-
- Yo esté
- Tú estés
- Él, ella usted esté
- Nosotros estemos
- Ustedes estén
- Ellos, ellas estén
There are of course some other rules, exceptions, and stem changes in the present subjunctive form. However, for now, let’s focus on getting the idea behind the subjunctive mood.
If you are interested in delving into the intricacies of the present subjunctive conjugation now, you’ll find this ultimate guide quite effective.
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When to Use the Subjunctive Mood in Spanish
Since the subjunctive mood can be used in many tenses, you’ll find each of them will have a few specific rules.
Regardless of the tense, however, here are the highlights you’ll need to remember when using the Spanish subjunctive.
1. Two Subjects
The subjunctive mood usually appears in the subordinate clause. The subject in this subordinate clause is in most cases different from the subject in the main clause.
Yo quiero que me leas un libro.
I want you to read me a book.
As you can see in this sentence, there are clearly two subjects: I want you to read me a book.
2. Two Verbs
Because we talk about two clauses, there are usually two different verbs in these clauses. The first verb comes in the indicative mood in the main verb, and the second verb is in the subjunctive mood in the subordinate clause.
In the sentence above—yo quiero que me leas un libro— you also have two verbs: querer and leer.
3. A Relative Pronoun que or quien
The subordinate clause with the subjunctive form of the verb is usually introduced by a relative pronoun que (which, that) or quien (who, that).
Quiero conocer a alguien que sepa leer español.
I want to meet someone who can read in Spanish.
Weirdo is an acronym that helps you remember what types of verbs can introduce a clause with a subjunctive verb form. It stands for: Wishes, Emotions, Impersonal Expressions, Recommendations, Doubt/Denial, and Ojalá.
The sentence I used as an example—yo quiero que me leas un libro—has a verb querer that belongs to the “wishes” group.
Let’s see some other examples.
Me encanta que cocines para mí. (emotions)
I love that you cook for me.
Es bueno que sepa nadar. (impersonal expressions)
It’s good that he can swim.
Te recomiendo que estudies más. (recommendations)
I recommend that you study more.
Dudo que tengas razón. (doubt/denial)
I doubt that you’re right.
Ojalá llueva por la tarde. (Ojalá)
Hopefully, it will rain this afternoon.
Learn more about WEIRDO here: An Easy Guide to the WEIRDO Subjunctive
The Spanish Subjunctive with Conjunctions
The next are examples of conjunctions that trigger the subjunctive. Some of them have this effect all the time, while others only do so in certain situations.
For example, a fin de que (so that), and para que (so that) always trigger the subjunctive.
Estudia para que estés preparado.
Study so that you’re prepared.
Cuando (when) also triggers the subjunctive whenever we use it to communicate some level of uncertainty, or to introduce a verb referring to the future—and not to a habitual action.
Llámame cuando llegues. (Subjunctive)
Call me when you get here.
Siempre me llama cuando llega.
He always calls me when he gets here.
For more on conjunctions that may or must be followed by a subjunctive, check 9 Types of Subordinating Conjunctions in Spanish That Will Supercharge your Fluency.
Multiple Choice Quiz on the Subjunctive Mood
Let’s put all we have covered so far to the test with the following multiple-choice questions!
There’s only one correct answer to each question:
1. Which option is true:
2. The subjunctive endings are the same for all tenses.
3. What’s the present subjunctive stem of the verb estar?
4. What’s the present subjunctive stem of the verb poder?
5. Which is the complete present subjunctive conjugation for the verb ver?
6. WEIRDO stands for:
7. After the conjunction cuando…
8. Finish the sentence: Quiero que…
9. Finish the sentence: Dudo que
10. Es bueno que triggers the subjunctive mood because:
Time to Practice with a Native Spanish Speaker
Tackling the subjunctive mood is a huge step when you’re learning Spanish as a foreign language. It’s like gaining numerous skills all at once!
Once you start practicing your language skills using the subjunctive mood, you’ll notice how naturally you’ll be able to express yourself in Spanish.
You will get to become part of one of the fastest-growing language communities around the world.
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