HomeQ&AI don't understand completely the subjunctive form in spanish. Could I have some clarity and examples of use there, por favor?

I don't understand completely the subjunctive form in spanish. Could I have some clarity and examples of use there, por favor?


I understand the other forms of conjugation but the subjunctive form keeps throwing me off. For example, "tenga". I can't understand the grammatical difference in subjunctive and the other forms...I generally just avoid using it, but I would like to know how to use it. Please incle examples and comparisons to the other tenses so that I can understand the difference. Thank you so much!


updated SEP 27, 2012
posted by gringita320

6 Answers


Don't feel to bad about this. It will begin to make sense. The reason you, and all native English speakers, have so much difficulty with the subjunctive mood is that it has almost disappeared in English so you have no frame of reference for it. In fact, if you use it in many public schools in the U.S., you may be told that it is incorrect when, in fact, it is proper English. Here are some examples that you most likely don't use but will likely recognize:

For example, in "I asked that it be done yesterday," be done (a present subjunctive) has no present-tense sense because it appears as past tense but implies that it hasn't been done yet. Similarly, in "If that were true, I would know it," the verb were is in the subjunctive mood.

Here is another one: "It is high time that we bought a new car". Although bought appears to be the past tense of the verb to buy, actually the car has not been purchased yet. Here, the past subjunctive is used to express a wish or a suggestion.

Here are some more: "If I had known (yesterday), I would have done something about it; If I had seen you, I definitely would have said hello; I would not be here if he had not helped me. When used in a counterfactual statements like these, it shows up paired with the conditional perfect "If I had [not] X, then I would [not] have Y".

Here are some more: If I were to die tomorrow, then you would inherit everything; If you were to give the money to me, then I would say no more about it; If I were the President... / Were I the President. The subjunctive in English also appears in many fixed phrases which are archaic in construction but which remain in use:

if need be

as it were

if I were you; were I you

be that as it may

come Monday (Tuesday, etc.)

come what may

far be it from (or for) me

until death do us part

so be it

suffice it to say

If you can get a feel for it in English, it may help you to understand it in Spanish.

updated SEP 27, 2012
edited by ocbizlaw
posted by ocbizlaw
It doesn't apear to have disappeared at all. It's more that we don't recognize it when we use it. - 0074b507, SEP 22, 2009
Yes, that is true, and once I began to think about the subjunctive in my native language, English, the subjunctive in Spanish became more understandable. - ocbizlaw, SEP 23, 2009
Belated, I know (Sept2012), but thank you for that excellent exposition. Further proof of the difficulty of learning Spanish, or any language, through "total immersion," rather that through the medium of the language you already know best. - miceal, SEP 27, 2012

Hi Lauren,

The subjective is tricky sometimes, however, if you'll look in the learn spanish video section, you''ll see that there are a few videos discussing it.

The first video is in lesson 2, there are actually two videos discussing it, but only one of them has subjunctive in the title, so I can only refer you to one of them at the moment. It is lesson "2.15."

The others are in lesson 3, lessons "3.1" and "3.11"

Beyond that there is a wonderful reference article about the subjunctive on this site that can help you master the concept well enough for you to start asking specific questions about things that aren't easily comprehended by most students.

I would love to help you more, but I am native English speaker and my grasp of the subjunctive isn't well enough to make me fit to express the concept.

I would like to note though, that my current understanding of the subjunctive leads me to believe that in most cases where the subjunctive needs to be used it will follow this format. "conjugated verb + que + subjunctive."

Prefiero que te vayas. I would prefer that you leave.

Paralee puts it forward rather aptly in an acronym. "weirdo" Wishes, emotions, impersonal expressions, recommendations, doubts, and Ojalá(prayers/hopes). I would also include in there intentions/desires, and purpose, but that would make the acronym a bit odd yeah?

Two cases where you'll always use the subjunctive, just to get you started.

"Recomiendo que tome dos pastillas y te acuestes." I recommend you take two pills and sleep. (although I probably mangled that te acuestes bit)

and "¡Ojalá que llueva!" I hope it rains.

updated SEP 25, 2009
edited by Fredbong
posted by Fredbong

Hi Everyone,

There is a question that I have wanted to ask for sometime. There are many wonderful threads on this site. Some that I have enjoyed so much that I would like to return to them for references. Is there an easy way that these can be bookmarked on this site as favorites, like we are able to do with flashcards.

updated SEP 22, 2009
posted by Tamara-Van-Hook
sorry I meant this as a question - Tamara-Van-Hook, SEP 22, 2009
Beneath the Ask a Question button there are bookmark options. Pick Favorite. It will save a link to this thread in your browser Favorites. Not quite like the Flashcard favorites but the best option available. - 0074b507, SEP 22, 2009

You can't compare the subjunctive to other tenses. The subjunctive is a mood and would have to be compared (contrasted) with the other moods: indicative and imperative. The subjunctive mood is far too complex to provide you with examples of all of it's uses. A very basic, general statement would be that while the indicative mood declares something, the subjunctive mood shows subjective reactions/feelings/emotions/uncertainty about the something.

updated SEP 22, 2009
edited by 0074b507
posted by 0074b507

If you can get a feel for it in English, it may help you to understand it in Spanish.

ocbizlaw: Thank you for the great post. It gave me better feel/understanding of the "subjuctive" from your wonderful examples in English.

updated SEP 22, 2009
posted by Daniel

Thank you all, that was helpful! It is true that this tense is somewhat lost in English and hard to grasp. My friends use "tenga" with me a lot and I do not understand...I guess that's a good example to start with...however, I will go watch a video first. Thank you for the link!

updated SEP 22, 2009
posted by gringita320
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