The subjunctive mode
The subjuntive mode (in Spanish subjuntivo) is used to convey ideas in the realm of all areas other than those of objective facts: concepts that are hypothetical, contrary to fact, those which embody the expression of feelings of the speaker toward a state or action. This article will explain the use of the presente, pretérito imperfecto, futuro, perfecto and pluscuamperfecto in subjunctive mode in Spanish.
The subjuntivo appears, mostly, in subordinate clauses behind a conjunction like que (that), si (if) and aunque (despite). The tense applied depends on the tense of the primary clause. Below you can read in more detail how this works for each tense.
The present tense in subjunctive mode is used in expressions beginning with a form of ser + adjective (to be + adjective) where not the fact but the opinion of the speaker toward a hypothetical state or action is stated. For example:
- Es bueno que trabajes mucho.
It is good that you work a lot.
Also in the following situations the subjunctive is used:
- No es seguro que mañana llueva.
It isn't sure that it rains tomorrow.
...a wish or desire:
- El policía manda que el ladrón levante las manos.
The policeman orders the thief to raise his hands.
- Se permite que el perro corra libremente por el parque.
Dogs are allowed to run freely in the park.
- El guardia impide que el prisionero escape.
The guard prevents the prisoner from escaping.
- Te pido que me ayudes con mis deberes.
I ask you to help me with my homework.
- Te aconsejo que dejes de fumar.
I advise you to stop smoking.
- Mi padre sugiere que vayas al médico.
My father suggests that you go to the doctor.
- Insisto en que tú me devuelvas los libros.
I insist that you give me back the books.
- Exigimos que los responsables sean procesados.
We demand that those responsible will be prosecuted.
Imperfect tense Pretérito imperfecto
When the verb on which the subjuctive depends goes in pretérito indefinido, imperfecto, pluscuamperfecto or condicional, we will have to use the pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo. For example:
- Tenía miedo de que no me vieras/vieses.
I was affraid you didn't see me.
- Me había alegrado de que hiciera/hiciese sol.
It would have appreciated me that the sun would shine.
Also the imperfect tense is used for (current) opinions on past events:
For a hypothetical proposition the subjunctive imperfect is used. Note that the result of the condition stated is in the conditional mode:
- Si yo fuera tú, no dejaría pasar esta oportunidad.
If I were you, I would not miss this opportunity.
A polite request:
- Quisiera reservar una mesa para dos personas.
I'd like to reserve a table for two persons.
You might have noticed there are two variants for the pretérito imperfecto in subjunctive mode. One conjugation ends with -ra, -ras, -ramos, etc. and the other ends with -se, -ses, -semos, etc. The variants are interchangable. For both variants the stem of the verb is formed by the 3rd person plural of the indicative preterite (in Spanish pretérito indefinido) with the -ron removed, for example: tuvieron becomes tuviera and tuviese.
Future tense Futuro
The futuro de subjuntivo is used very rarely. So we don't treat the use of it here.
Present perfect Pretérito perfecto
The present perfect of the subjunctive mode (in Spanish pretérito perfecto del subjuntivo) is used to express actions in the past, but near the present. It is formed by the present subjunctive tense of the auxiliar verb haber with the participle of the verb in question. For example:
Pluperfect Pretérito pluscuamperfecto
The pluperfect is used to express actions preceding an action in the past. For example:
Also it can be used for hypothetical prepositions. This is then formulated with si (if):
- Si hubiera estudiado más, ahora entendería mejor la gramática.
If I had studied more, I would now understand grammar better.
Subjunctive versus Indicative
To summarise the subjunctive it is good to compare it with the indicative mode. Where the indicative speaks about facts, the subjunctive speaks about opinions, feelings, uncertainties, etc.
In case of an uncertainty the subjunctive mode is used:
- Compraré este libro aunque no le guste.
I will buy this book, even though she may not like it.
If we rephrase this into a certain fact the indicative mode is used:
- Compraré este libro aunque no le gusta.
I will buy this book, even though she doesn't like it.