To form the present subjunctive, start with the stem of the first person (yo) of the present indicative. Then remove the “o” at the end.
|Verb||Indicative (yo)||Remove the "o" at the End|
*This is why it is so important to build from the “yo” form! If the 1st person is irregular in the present indicative, it will use this same irregular root to build all of the present subjunctive forms. Maybe it would be a good idea to take a look at the irregular present tense verbs in Unit 1?
Now that you have the correct stem, add the endings of the present subjunctive. The opposite vowel is used in the verb ending.
A change in spelling to maintain the correct sound of verbs ending in -car:
c → que
explicar → explico → expliqu
explicar (c → qu) yo explique tú expliques él/ella/Ud. explique nosotros/as expliquemos vosotros/as expliquéis ellos/ellas/Uds. expliquen
Other verbs that follow a similar pattern: acercar, atacar, buscar, calificar, clasificar, colocar, complicar, criticar, dedicar, educar, equivocar, explicar, indicar, justificar, practicar, provocar, sacar, secar, tocar, ubicar.
A change in spelling to maintain the correct sound of verbs ending in -zar:
z → c
empezar → empiezo → empiec
empezar (z → c) yo empiece tú empieces él/ella/Ud. empiece nosotros/as empecemos vosotros/as empecéis ellos/ellas/Uds. empiecen
Other verbs that follow a similar pattern: abrazar, alcanzar, almorzar, amenazar, caracterizar, cazar, colonizar, comenzar, cruzar, empezar, enfatizar, forzar, gozar, realizar, rechazar, utilizar.
A change in spelling to maintain the correct sound of verbs ending in -gar:
add "u" after "g"
llegar → llego → llegue
Without the addition of the “u”, how would “ge” be pronounced? It would sound like “hey”. In order to maintain a hard “g” sound, you need the “gu” before the letter “e” (or “i”).
llegar (add "u" after "g") yo llegue tú llegues él/ella/Ud. llegue nosotros/as lleguemos vosotros/as lleguéis ellos/ellas/Uds. lleguen
Other verbs that follow a similar pattern: apagar, castigar, entregar, jugar, juzgar, negar, obligar, pagar.
To describe doubt or the reactions of the speaker:
If the speaker is expressing doubt, disbelief or uncertainty in the main clause, the subjunctive is used in subordinate clause to signal this.
- --Mi amigo duda que nuestro equipo gane el campeonato. [ganar]
- My friend doubts that our team will win the championship.
- --Yo no creo que mi amigo tenga razón. [tener]
- I don’t believe that my friend is right.
The following phrases often appear in main clauses and trigger the use of the subjunctive in the subordinate clause:
- Es imposible que...
- Es (im)probable que...
- No es seguro que...
It is easy to get confused about the difference between representing the speaker’s point of view and the actual truth value of the speaker’s statements. Remember that the subjunctive is only signaling viewpoint (that the speaker doesn’t believe it or thinks it improbable), not whether something is actually true or not. For example:
- --No creo que el cielo sea azul. [ser]
- I don’t believe that the sky is blue.
Obviously the sky is blue regardless of the speaker’s beliefs, but we use the subjunctive to express her point of view.
- --Creo que el cielo es verde. [ser]
- I believe that the sky is green.
Here we use the present indicative to signal that this is something that speaker believes and is asserting (even though we know that what she is saying is not true).
If a reaction or opinion is expressed in main clause, the subjunctive is used in the dependent clause. Often, impersonal expressions prompt the use of the subjunctive.
- --Es bueno ...
- It’s good ...
- --Es malo ...
- It’s bad ...
- --Es triste ...
- It’s sad ...
- --Es horrible ...
- It’s horrible ...
- --Es fantástico ...
- It’s fantastic ...
- --Es bueno que los estudiantes hagan la tarea antes de cada clase. [hacer]
- It’s good that the students do/are doing their homework before each class.
- --Es triste que haya tanto paro en estos momentos. [haber]
- It’s sad that there is so much unemployment right now.
While using the subjunctive to signal doubt or uncertainty is universal in all regions of the Spanish-speaking world, its use with reactions and/or comments seems to be dissipating in some regions. For our purposes, we will use the subjunctive in these contexts (as demonstrated above), but don’t be surprised if you hear native speakers use the indicative in these same contexts.
To express preferences, desires, hopes, requests, recommendations (in noun clauses):
In Spanish when a speaker expresses desires, hopes, requests, suggestions (anything that he or she doesn’t really have control over) in the main clause, the subjunctive is used in the dependent clause to signal that the outcome is not clear.
- --Espero que los estudiantes comprendan estas explicaciones. [comprender]
- I hope that the students understand these explanations.
I may hope that they understand the explanations, but I really can’t control the outcome. The same basic concept applies to requests, suggestions, preferences and desires.
- --La instructora pide que los estudiantes hagan la tarea antes de venir a clase. [hacer]
- The instructor asks that the students do their homework before coming to class.
- --Mi médico recomienda que yo coma menos grasa. [comer]
- My doctor recommends that I eat less fat.
- --Prefiero que haya menos de 18 estudiantes en la clase. [haber]
- I prefer that there are fewer than 18 students in the class.
- --Mi mamá insiste en que mi hermano menor no hable por teléfono móvil en los restaurantes. [hablar]
- My mother insists that my little brother not talk on the cell phone in restaurants.
All of this wanting, wishing, insisting, asking, recommending, prohibiting is sometimes referred to as the volition of the speaker, or their will. Spanish still codifies this grammatically, but this use has almost disappeared from English. Sometimes you will still hear the English present subjunctive in these circumstances:
The doctor recommends that she go to the hospital immediately.
The use of “go” instead of “goes” in the subordinate clause is actually a subjunctive form in English. However, more often than not, a person will say, “The doctor recommends that she goes to the hospital immediately.” Both sound fine to most American English speakers.
To indicate that something doesn’t exist or that one is not if it exists (in adjective clauses):
This use of the subjunctive is often referred to as “indefinite or negative antecendents.” All that really means is that the speaker is signaling that the phrase in the dependent clause is describing something that either does not exist or may not exist (within the given context).
Imagine that during class the teacher needs to make an urgent phone call in German but does not speak German. She says:
- --Busco a un estudiante en la clase que hable alemán.
- I am looking for a student in the class that speaks German.
... or ...
- --¿Hay alguien en esta clase que hable alemán?
- Is there anyone in this class that speaks German?
A student answers:
- --No, no hay nadie que hable alemán.
- No, there is nobody that speaks German.
... or ...
- --¡Sí, hay una persona que habla alemán!
- Yes, there’s someone who speaks German!
Notice that in all of the indefinite descriptions (when the speaker is not sure if what is being described actually exists), the subjunctive is used in the dependent clause. However, in the last example, the indicative is used. Can you explain why?
It is also important to clarify that the context is the key to establishing and restricting what may or does not exist. Obviously, there are lots of people who speak German in existence! The teacher was looking for a student in the room that spoke German and wasn´t sure if someone did. When the student answered that no one spoke German, the statement was obviously restricted to no one in the class.
To express interdependence (in adverb clauses):
Up to this point, we have only used “que” to connect the main clause and the dependent clause. It is also possible to use adverbs as conjunctions that unite both clauses. In this situation, the adverb is used to express the relationship between the main clause and the dependent clause.
One of the primary functions of these types of conjunctions is to indicate the conditions under which something will happen. This gets a little tricky, though, because not all of these conjunctions require the subjunctive in every situation. It depends….
- --¡El uso del subjuntivo depende de la relación que exista entre los elementos de la oración! [existir]
- The use of the subjunctive depends on the relationship that exists between the elements of the sentence!
Conjunctions that consistently motivate the subjunctive in the dependent clause:
- --para que
- in order that
- --a fin de que
- so that
- --a condición de que
- provided that
- --con tal (de) que
- provided that
- --siempre que
- provided that
- --a menos que
- --antes (de) que
- --sin que
All of these adverbial conjunctions express the purpose of something or the conditions under which something will happen:
- --Estoy trabajando mucho ahora para que pueda relajarme durante las vacaciones. [poder]
- I am working a lot now so that I can relax on vacation.
- --Los estudiantes van a sacar buenas notas en la clase a condición de que estudien mucho. [estudiar]
- Students will get good grades in the class provided that they study a lot.
Conjunctions sometimes motivate the subjunctive and sometimes allow the indicative. They all refer to time, place, or manner.
- --hasta que
- --tan pronto como
- as soon as
- --en cuanto
- as soon as
- --después (de) que
- --de modo que
- in such a way that
- even if; even though; although
When the speaker is expressing that a situation has not yet occurred or that they are not sure how, where or when it will occur the subjunctive is used.
- --Esperamos aquí hasta que nuestros amigos lleguen. [llegar]
- We’re waiting here until our friends arrive. [We don’t know exactly when our friends are arriving, but we are waiting here until they do.]
- --Van a la playa en cuanto deje de llover. [dejar]
- They are going to the beach as soon as it stops raining. [They don’t know if or when it will stop waiting, but as soon as it does they are going to the beach.]
- --Podemos almorzar cuando quieras tú. [querer]
- We can eat lunch when(ever) you want. [The speaker is not sure when the listener wants to eat.]
- --Podemos almorzar donde quieras tú. [querer]
- We can eat lunch where(ever) you want. [The speaker is not sure where the listener wants to eat.]
Notice that none of the events/actions/states in the main or the dependent clause have taken place yet. It is the future (and therefore uncertain) nature of the events that motivates the use of the subjunctive. The actions/events in the main clause depend on the actions/events/states in the dependent clause.
These conjunctions can be used in habitual situations or to describe events in the past without motivating the subjunctive because nothing is signaled as uncertain.
- --Siempre esperamos aquí hasta que nuestros amigos llegan. [llegar]
- We always wait here until our friends arrive.
- --Esperamos aquí hasta que llegaron nuestros amigos. [llegar]
- We waited here until our friends arrived.