How to use the Spanish Subjunctive

Finally learn the essentials of how to use the Present Subjunctive in Spanish.

They say that learning a language is also learning another way of seeing the world, and the Spanish subjunctive is exactly that! This verb form pushes you to analyze both reality and the feelings you want to express before uttering a sentence in Spanish. Isn’t that cool?

If you’re unsure of when to use the present tense of the Spanish subjunctive mood, then it’s your lucky day because here, at Global Spanish, we’ll teach you the essentials that you need to master in order to use this verb form with confidence. Let’s get learning!

What’s the Subjunctive Mood?

Before diving into the subjunctive mood, it’s important for us to understand what the indicative mood is in Spanish. The short answer is that the indicative mood is used when we talk about facts and reality from the speaker’s viewpoint. This includes things that are objective and that already happened in the past, are happening in the present, or will for sure happen in the future. This is also something that comes up when you learn how to ask the right questions.

If you haven’t learn how to do it, you can also check one of our articles here to understand the questions that connects with Subjunctive in a conversation.

Let’s take a look at these sample sentences in Spanish:

Paula estudió español ayer.     Past
Paula estudia español ahora. Present
Paula estudiará español mañana. Future

All the Spanish sentences above are objective and, while we don’t know whether Paula will actually learn some Spanish tomorrow, it’s a planned and objective action that isn’t displaying the feelings of the speaker.

Expressions of desires & doubts

When we do wish to talk about our subjective point of view through the expression of desires, doubts, value judgment, possibility, among other subjective feelings, we use the Spanish subjunctive mood. 

Let’s look at the examples above in the subjunctive mood:

Quiero que Paula estudie español hoy.

Wish

No creo que Paula estudie español hoy, quizás mañana.

Doubt

Es probable que Paula estudie español hoy.

Possibility

Me encanta que Paula estudie hoy.

Value judgment

¡No puedo creer que Paula estudie hoy!

Surprise

¡Que te vaya bien estudiando hoy, Paula!

Desire

Since the use of one or the other mood also depends on what the speaker believes reality is, we use the indicative mood when we want to express certainty in Spanish. 

Here’s an example:

Estoy segura de que Paula estudia español hoy. Certainty
Es claro que Paula estudia hoy. Certainty
El español se puede aprender en un día.  Although this statement isn’t true, the speaker is expressing how certain they are about it being true.

 

As you can see, what we express in the indicative mood in Spanish isn’t necessarily true, but it does convey the speaker’s attitude towards reality and factual information. This mood sounds like it could solve a lot of misunderstandings, right?

Confident student reading financial papers while sitting in cafe

Now, why are these two called moods and not tenses? You’ve probably already figured out the answer to this question, but: while tenses refer to points in time, moods refer to manner of expression, that is, the way we choose to express ourselves. That’s why you can also check another article about subjunctive where we explain the both of these moods can also change with different tenses. Here, however, we’ll only focus on the present tense of the Spanish subjunctive mood.

When Should I Use the Subjunctive Mood?

As previously mentioned, we use the Spanish subjunctive mood when talking about our subjective point of view through the expression of wishes, uncertainty, possibility, value judgment, among other feelings. Luckily for you, there are a few words that you’ll most often use together with the subjunctive mood in Spanish. 

Here’s a list with a few useful examples:

Ojalá / Quiero que / Espero que 

(conveying a wish or desire)

Ojalá Paula pueda estudiar español hoy.

(I hope Paula is able to learn Spanish today)

Probablemente / Quizá / Tal vez / Posiblemente / Puede (ser) que 

(conveying probability)

Posiblemente Paula pueda estudiar español hoy.

(Paula probably won’t be able to learn Spanish today)

No creo que / No es posible que / No pienso que 

(conveying uncertainty or doubt)

No creo que Paula pueda estudiar español hoy.

(I don’t think Paula will be able to learn Spanish today)

Te aconsejo que / Te sugiero que / Te prohíbo que / Te recomiendo que 

(conveying advice and prohibitions)

Te sugiero que estudies español.

(I suggest you to learn some Spanish)

Cuando / Apenas / Después de que / Antes de que 

(conveying a condition)

Quiero que estudiemos español cuando vengas a mi casa.

(I want us to learn Spanish when you come to my house)

Es [bueno / terrible / malo, etc.] que 

(conveying a value judgement)

Es muy bueno que ustedes estudien español.

(It’s nice that y’all are learning Spanish)

¡Que… ! 

(conveying a desire about an outcome)*

¡Que aprendas mucho hoy!

(I hope you learn a lot today!)

*Note: you can’t use this sentence to talk about yourself and taking in front of the mirror. You can also watch a video about this in our youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lL0UM-mW9Q 

While the list above isn’t comprehensive, these words will for sure help you identify a lot of the cases in which you have to use the Spanish subjunctive mood. 

 

If you’re an observant person, you probably noticed that a lot of the sample sentences above contain the word “que” in Spanish. This word is also one of the main indicators of the subjunctive mood: if there are two verbs in a sentence, with a “que” between them, and the subject of the first verb is different from the subject of the second verb, then you’ll have to use the Spanish subjunctive mood in the second verb. 

Here are a few examples in Spanish:

Espero que puedas estudiar. (Yo) espero que (tú) puedas estudiar.

(I hope you’re able to study today)

No creo que tengamos suficiente tiempo. (Yo) no creo que (nosotros) tengamos suficiente tiempo.

(I don’t think we’ll have enough time)

Le gustaría que estudien español. (A Paula) le gustaría que (ustedes) estudien español.

(Paula would like y’all to study Spanish)

No soportamos que no estudién español. (Nosotras) no soportamos que (ustedes) no estudien español

(We can’t stand the fact that y’all aren’t learning Spanish)

¿Quieres que te ayude con tus estudios? ¿(Tú) quieres que (yo) te ayude con tus estudios?

(Would you like me to help you with your studies?)

As mentioned above, the first verb is expressed in the indicative mood and the second one in the Spanish subjunctive mood. Although the sentences above have two different subjects, you can also use the Spanish subjunctive mood when talking about yourself. 

Take a look at these sample sentences in Spanish:

Dudo que salga al parque hoy. (Yo) dudo que (yo) salga al parque hoy.

(I don’t think I’ll go to the park today)

Espero que pueda aprender palabras nuevas hoy. (Yo) espero que (yo) pueda aprender palabras nuevas hoy.

(I hope I can learn new words today)

The first sentence above expresses uncertainty about a future action that you might not carry out. The second one, displays your hopes about an action that you wish to carry out. Since you’re expressing your wishes, uncertainties, and hopes about actions that pertain to you, you can use the word “que” followed by the subjunctive. However, there are a few cases in which you shouldn’t use the Spanish subjunctive mood when talking about the same person.

When Shouldn’t I Use the Subjunctive Mood?

You might’ve noticed that the verb “querer” was mentioned above as one of the indicators of when to use the Spanish subjunctive mood. This use is correct when there are two different subjects in a sentence and, you guessed it right, when we use “que” between them.

Let’s look at this example in Spanish: 

Queremos que hablen español con nosotras. (Nosotras) queremos que (ustedes) hablen español con nosotras.

(We want you to speak Spanish with us)

This sentence is perfectly correct when it includes two different subjects, but you cannot use it when talking about the same person in Spanish. In that case, you’ll have to use an infinitive verb after “querer”. This also applies to other similar verbs. 

Let’s look at a few Spanish sample sentences

Yo quiero ir a Costa Rica

(The only subject is yo)

Yo quiero que nosotros vayamos a Costa Rica.

(There are two subjects: yo and nosotros, as well as “que”)

Julieta ama aprender español.

(The only subject is ella)

Julieta ama que ustedes aprendan español.

(There are two subjects: ella and ustedes, as well as “que”)

Desean aprender más en la próxima clase.

(The only subject is ellas)

Desean que aprendamos más en la próxima clase.

(There are two subjects: ellas and nosotros, as well as “que”)

With that said, if 1) there isn’t a trigger or a signal (i.e. ojalá), 2) you’re talking about a reality you’re certain of, and 3) you’re talking about your own wants and desires in Spanish, then you’ll most likely use the indicative mood (or the infinitive form of the verb). 

Keep in mind that the subjunctive mood isn’t just another tense, it’s a way of expressing meaning and feelings. Unlike other tenses, this mood shouldn’t be daunting or boring, it should challenge you to think differently about your objective and subjective reality, and that’s the fun in learning languages like Spanish! You get to see the world in an entirely different way.

So, the next time you want to make a statement, take a moment to think: will I express my feelings? Or will I express facts or reality from my point of view?

Continue daring yourself to think differently than you would in your mother tongue and come up with a few sentences using the Spanish subjunctive mood. What are you uncertain of? What’s a possibility? Who would you like to wish luck to? Think of examples in Spanish!

 

If you learned a lot of new phrases with this article, make sure to check out one of our other useful Spanish articles. You’ll always learn something new!