Expressing Uncertainty or Conditional Outcomes with the Subjunctive

Overview

The subjunctive is one of the three moods in Spanish, the other two being the indicative (actions, events, facts) and the imperative (commands). You can find more on the differences between the subjunctive and the indicative here!

WEIRDO

Many of the verbs and phrases that require the subjunctive fit into the acronym WEIRDO: Wishes, Emotions, Impersonal expressions, Recommendations, Doubt/Denial and Ojalá. Although this topic doesn't fit into our fancy acronym, it's still important to learn. Let's get started!

Conditional Outcomes

This type of sentence describes what will happen if another action is completed. These actions are conditional upon another action being completed, so the subjunctive is used to convey a sense of uncertainty. Many phrases with conditional circumstances have a connecting phrase or conjunctive expressions which introduce time limitations, conditions, concessions, or results.

As you can see below, the the key action (the one that must be completed for the second action to occur) is in the subjunctive.

Limpiaré el cuarto después de que salgan.
I will clean the room after they leave.
 
Me hablará tan pronto como llegue.
He will speak with me as soon as I arrive.
 
No iremos a la playa a menos que vayan también.
We won’t go to the beach unless they go as well.
 

Time Expressions

These conjunctions or conjunctive expressions are often used in the type of sentence discussed in this article.

Time Limitations

These expressions introduce the idea of a time limitation.

SpanishEnglish
antes (de) que
 
before
hasta que
 
until
cuando
 
when
luego que
 
as soon as
después (de) que
 
after
siempre que
 
whenever
en cuanto
 
as soon as
tan pronto como
 
as soon as
mientras
 
while
Llámame antes de que vengan.
Call me before they come.
 
Estemos aquí hasta que llegue nuestro amigo.
Let’s stay here until our friend arrives.
 
Cuando vea a sus padres los saludaré.
When I see your parents, I will tell them hello.
 

Conditions

These expressions introduce the idea of a condition, an action dependent on something else occurring.

SpanishEnglish
dado que
 
given that, since
a no ser que
 
unless, lest
en caso (de) que
 
in case (that), if
a menos que
 
unless, lest
sea que
 
whether, if
con/a condición de que
 
on condition that
siempre y cuando que
 
provided that, as long as
con tal (de) que
 
provided that
sin que
 
without
con tanto que
 
provided that
Debemos esperarnos aquí dado que regrese.
We should wait here since she might return.
 
No voy, a no ser que vayas conmigo.
I am not going unless you go with me.
 
Me iré, sea que se decidan a salir o no.
I will leave whether they decide to go or not.
 

Concessions

These expressions introduce the idea of a concession, an action occurring despite something else.

SpanishEnglish
aunque
 
although, even if, though
aun cuando
 
even if, even when
a pesar de que
 
in spite of
por...que
 
however
Aunque sea un hombre difícil, sabe los negocios.
Although he might be a difficult man, he knows business.
 
Aun cuando no tenga nada, no debe perder la esperanza.
Even if you have nothing, you shouldn’t lose hope.
 
Por delicioso que sea, no quiero comerlo.
However delicious it may be, I don’t want to eat it.
 

Aunque and a pesar de que do not always take the subjunctive. If the conditional statement is considered hypothetical, you will use the subjunctive and if it is factual, you will use the indicative.

Example:

Aunque es un hombre difícil, sabe de negocios.  (Although he is a difficult man, he knows about business.)

Results

These expressions introduce the idea of a result.

SpanishEnglish
a fin de que
 
in order (that), so that, so as
de manera que
 
in order (that), so that, so as
de modo que
 
in order (that), so that, so as
para que
 
in order (that), so that, so as^^
que
 
in order (that), so that, so as
Vine para que tenga suficiente gente para el juego.
I came so that you would have enough people for the game.
 
Voy a cerrar las ventanas a fin de que no entren moscas.
I am going to close the windows so that flies won’t come in.
 
Estudiaré mucho de manera que entienda mejor el español.
I will study a lot so I can understand Spanish better.
 

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