When you are learning Spanish you soon come across grammatical jargon that just doesn’t make sense – things like, the ‘subject of the verb’, ‘object pronouns’, ‘possessive adjectives’ and the ‘subjunctive’! You panic as you don’t know what these all mean. The problem is most of us haven’t learnt English grammar at school so when faced with these terms it is natural to worry that you won’t understand. However, all these are, are names of parts of the language we speak all the time. For example, the subject of the verb is simply, “I”, “he”, “she”, “we”, “you” or “they”. A possessive adjective is just “my”, “your”, “his”, “her”, “our”, “their”. We use these all the time but we don’t know what they are actually called. Likewise, using the subjunctive is just the same. We use it without knowing that we are.
The subjunctive is not a tense, it is more a mood. It is used after certain expressions which often involve doubt, uncertainty, future actions and emotional feelings. There are many verbs, structures and situations when you need to use the subjunctive form of the verb but in this post we will look at the most common and useful ones for learners of Spanish to start with.
This is an Arabic word meaning “If God wills”. It is used to say “I hope …” or “If only …” and always needs a subjunctive verb after it.
Ojalá sea pronto – I hope it is soon.
Ojalá haga sol – I hope it’s sunny
Ojalá apruebe mi examen – I hope I pass my exam
Ojalá llegue rápido – I hope it arrives quickly
Cuando (when) is followed by a subjunctive when it refers to a future action or event which isn’t yet a reality.
So you would use it after the following as it involves a future action that is not yet a reality:
Cuando sea mayor viviré en Londres.
When I’m older I will live in London.
However, you would not use it after habits or past events like in this example which involves a general habit, so no uncertainty is involved:
Cuando voy de compras, siempre gasto demasiado.
When I go shopping, I always spend too much.
After “para que” (so that) often needs a subjunctive after it. Let’s look at some examples:
Para que salga bien – So that it turns out well.
Vamos a salir temprano para que lleguemos a tiempo.
We are going to leave early so that we arrive on time
Llevaré mis gafas para que pueda ver bien.
I will take my glasses so that I can see well.
You normally need to use the subjunctive after “Quiero que” (I want that …) as it implies that you wish something to happen but it may not definitely happen.
Quiero que sea fácil – I want it to be easy
Quiero que vuelvan pronto – I want them to return soon
Ella quiere que él sepa la verdad – She wants him to know the truth
These are called “impersonal expressions” because they do not refer to a specific person, they are general statements. They all need a subjunctive verb after the “que”. Let’s look at the most common examples:
Es importante que … – It is important that …
Es importante que terminemos a tiempo.
It is important that we finish on time.
Es necesario que … It is necessary that …
Es necesario que estudie más.
It is necessary that he studies more.
Es probable que … – It is likely that …
Es probable que llueva hoy.
It is likely that it will rain today.
Es posible que … – It is possible that …
Es posible que no queden entradas.
It’s possible that there aren’t any tickets left.
These are the most common and easy to use examples of subjunctive phrases in Spanish. Try out some sentences yourself to see if you can use the subjunctive “mood”. This is the key to mastering it.