Subjunctive vs. Indicative in Spanish
- The subjunctive mood is used to talk about desires, doubts, wishes, conjectures, and possibilities.
- The indicative mood is used to talk about facts and other statements that are believed to be true and concrete.
- The imperative mood is used to give commands.
Mood vs. Tense
Grammatical mood reflects a speaker's attitude toward a statement. As stated above, Spanish has three moods: the subjunctive, the indicative, and the imperative.
Grammatical tense refers to when an action takes place. Spanish has three tenses: the past, the present, and the future.
General Rules for Differentiating Between the Indicative and the Subjunctive
The indicative mood is used to talk about things that are objective and/or certain. This includes things like facts, descriptions, and scheduled events.
The subjunctive mood is used to talk about things that are subjective and/or possible, but not certain. This includes things like doubts, wishes, recommendations, unknowns, and opinions about the likelihood of other events occurring.
Take a look at the following sets of examples and ask yourself why each one uses either the indicative or the subjunctive. (Hint: if the sentence has two verbs, concentrate on the second verb). Don't worry if you're stumped; you'll find the answers below.
Indicative or Subjunctive?
|Examples||Indicative or Subjunctive?||The Why|
|Victoria estudia español.||Indicative||From the speaker’s viewpoint, the idea that "Victoria studies Spanish" is an objective fact.|
|Es posible que Victoria estudie español.||Subjunctive||From the speaker’s viewpoint, the idea that "Victoria studies Spanish" is a hypothetical situation that may or may not be true.|
|Estoy seguro que Victoria estudia español.||Indicative||From the speaker’s viewpoint, there is no doubt about Victoria studying Spanish.|
|Dudo que Victoria estudie español.||Subjunctive||From the speaker’s viewpoint, there is doubt about Victoria studying Spanish.|
Did you notice the repetition of the phrase "from the speaker's viewpoint" above? This is key to understanding a very important point: "indicative" does not mean "true." As long as a speaker feels that what they're saying is true, the indicative can be used. This does not, however, mean that what they're saying is actually true.
Example: Estoy seguro que los seres humanos tienen alas. (I'm sure that human beings have wings.)
The above statement is not true, but the speaker believes it is, so the second verb is in the indicative.
Features of Sentences that Use the Subjunctive
There are three main features that most sentences that use the subjunctive share: two subjects, two verbs, and a relative pronoun.
1. Two Subjects
Most subjunctive sentences will have one subject in the main clause and one in the secondary clause. The attitude of the subject in the main clause is what triggers the use of the subjunctive in the secondary clause.
2. Two Verbs
Most subjunctive sentences have two verbs: a verb in the indicative in the main clause and a verb in the subjunctive in the secondary clause.
3. A Relative Pronoun
Most subjunctive sentences have a relative pronoun (such as que or quien) that links the main (indicative) clause to the secondary (subjunctive) clause.
Words and Phrases that Trigger the Subjunctive or Indicative
Another key to grasping the differences between the subjunctive and the indicative is understanding that certain words or phrases trigger the use of each mood. For example, words and phrases that indicate uncertainty trigger the subjunctive, while those that indicate certainty trigger the indicative.
Below you'll find a list of words and phrases that tend to trigger the subjunctive in the verbs that follow them.
Table of Words and Phrases that Trigger the Subjunctive
|Concept||Related Verbs and Phrases|
|Verbs used to talk about wishes||desear, esperar, exigir, insistir, preferir, querer, pedir, necesitar|
|Verbs used to talk about emotions||alegrarse, enojarse, sentir, encantar, lamentar, sorprender|
|Impersonal expressions||es extraño que, es importante que, es fantástico que|
|Verbs used to talk about recommendations||recomendar, sugerir, aconsejar, ordenar, mandar, insistir|
|Verbs used to talk about doubt and denial||dudar, no creer, no estar seguro, no parecer, no comprender, no pensar,|
|Ojalá||For this category, there's just one word - ojalá!|
Examples of Words and Phrases that Trigger the Subjunctive
Many of the words and phrases that trigger the indicative fit into the acronym SPOCK, which stands for Speech, Perceptions, Occurrences, Certainty, and Knowledge.
Below you'll find a list of words and phrases that tend to trigger the indicative in the verbs that follow them.
Table of Words and Phrases that Trigger the Indicative
|Concept||Related Verbs and Phrases|
|Verbs used to talk about speech||decir, describir, gritar, indicar, mencionar, repetir, revelar, señalar, asegurar, comentar, afirmar, aludir a|
|Verbs used to talk about perceptions||notar, observar, oír, percibir, encontrarse, ver|
|Verbs used to talk about occurrences||ocurrir, suceder, pasar, acontecer|
|Expressions used to talk about certainty||es claro que, es seguro que, es cierto que, es obvio que, es evidente que|
|Verbs used to talk about knowledge||creer, saber, averiguar, leer, enterarse de, aprender|