Using the Subjunctive

The subjunctive is ignored by many Spanish learners because it sounds complicated and because you can get by without it. In fact the very word “subjunctive” can strike fear into the hearts of otherwise rational students. But if you are one of those students you are missing out, because the subjunctive adds an extra layer of meaning to the language and lets you express things much more subtly than you can without it. And of course, learning some uses of the subjunctive will really impress your Spanish friends!

Teachers will often tell you that the subjunctive is used in hypothetical situations. This is true for some uses and is worth remembering, but you can get a better idea of how it’s used by thinking about how the subjunctive is used in English (yes – we do have a subjunctive in English!)

These phrases use the subjunctive in English:

  • I wish I were taller
  • If I were you
  • He requested that she attend the meeting the following day.

…and the same phrases all use the subjunctive in Spanish.

Forming the subjunctive in Spanish

For most Spanish verbs, the subjunctive “stem” is the “yo” form of the verb without the –o ending, and endings are added as follows:

-er and –ir verbs
Yo coma
Tu comas
El coma
Nosotros comamos
Vosotros comáis
Ellos coman

Yo tenga
Tu tengas
El tenga
Nosotros tengamos
Vosotros tengáis
Ellos tengan

-ar verbs
Yo cambie
Tu cambies
El cambie
Nosotros cambiemos
Vosotros cambiéis
Ellos cambien

Yo piense
tu pienses
el piense
nosotros pensemos*
vosotros penséis*
ellos piensen

*Note the irregular nosotros and vosotros forms in stem changing verbs like pensar. We will not provide an exhaustive list of irregular subjunctive verbs here, but look out for them.

Using the Subjunctive

Here are some easy phrases which must always be followed by a subjunctive phrase:

Espero que… = I hope that…
Ojala que…= I wish/I hope that..
Quizas… = Maybe…

For example:

Espero que haga sol mañana.
Deverias llevar paraguas - quizas llueva
Ojala que salga bien!

Another easy construction with the subjunctive is Que followed by a verb in the subjunctive – this translates roughly as “may” in English, as in “que tengas la fuerza contigo” – may the force be with you.

Here are a few links if you want to find out more:

Collins advanced grammar book


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