Using the subjunctive tense in Spanish can be very difficult for students. As in the case of the imperfect/preterit tenses, the subjunctive does not have an exact translation in English. In this lesson I will list the situations that call for the subjunctive tense, but basically it is a tense that is used when there is uncertainty, want or emotion.
In English you could say, “I want you to listen to the music.” A student who has not yet learned the subjunctive tense may think that this would be translated as, “Quiero que escuchas la música.” As we will see, this is a case where the second verb in the sentence needs to be conjugated into the subjunctive form. Like I did in previous lessons, I will present the rules on how to conjugate “AR” and “ER/IR” verbs into the subjunctive, then I will explain when to use it.
This lesson will stick to the present tense so we can concentrate on just the subjunctive and not worry if we are talking in the past, present or future. Try the exercises below after reading the lesson.
Subjunctive Endings for AR Verbs
(yo) hable (tú) hables (él) hable (ella) hable (usted) hable (nosotros) hablemos (ellos/ellas) hablen (ustedes) hablen
(yo) escuche (tú) escuches (él) escuche (ella) escuche (usted) escuche (nosotros) escuchemos (ellos/ellas) escuchen (ustedes) escuchen
Subjunctive Endings for ER and IR Verbs
(yo) coma (tú) comas (él) coma (ella) coma (usted) coma (nosotros) comamos (ellos/ellas) coman (ustedes) coman (yo) escriba (tú) escribas (él) escriba (ella) escriba (usted) escriba (nosotros) escribamos (ellos/ellas) escriban (ustedes) escriban
Conjugating Irregular Verbs to the Subjunctive
As a general rule to conjugate into the subjunctive you conjugate the verb into the first person present tense (yo) and stick on the subjunctive ending. This is easy enough when you are talking about non irregular verbs like the ones conjugated above. But in Spanish there are verbs that are irregular in the first person present tense. This just means that for these verbs when conjugating them into the subjunctive they will keep the irregular first person form and the endings will change accordingly. Look at the verb “pensar”
Pensar in the “yo” form is “pienso. So the subjunctive conjugations for “pensar” are:
(yo) piense (tú) pienses (él) piense (ella) piense (usted) piense (nosotros) pensemos (ellos/ellas) piensen (ustedes) piensen
Let’s take the verb “decir”. This is how it is conjugated in the present tense:
(yo) digo (tú) dices (él) dice (ella) dice (usted) dice (nosotros) decimos (ellos/ellas) dicen (ustedes) dicen
Notice that the first person is conjugated as “digo”. This tells us that to conjugate “decir” into the present subjunctive we would use the irregular first person (yo) conjugation and add on the subjunctive ending. These are the conjugations for “decir” in the present subjunctive:
(yo) diga (tú) digas (él) diga (ella) diga (usted) diga (nosotros) digamos (ellos/ellas) digan (ustedes) digan
“Traer” is another verb in Spanish that has an irregular first person present conjugation. Look at the conjugations for “Traer” below:
(yo) traigo (tú) traes (él) trae (ella) trae (usted) trae (nosotros) traemos (ellos/ellas) traen (ustedes) traen
To put the verb “Traer” into the present subjunctive we use the irregular first person conjugation of the verb and add the appropriate endings. These are the conjugations for the present subjunctive of this verb:
(yo) traiga (tú) traigas (él) traiga (ella) traiga (usted) traiga (nosotros) traigamos (ellos/ellas) traigan (ustedes) traiganother verbs with irregular first person present tense conjugations are:
(yo form) oigo
(subjunctive conjugations) oiga, oigas, oiga…
(yo form) pongo
(subjunctive conjugations) ponga, pongas, ponga…
(yo form) venga
(subjunctive conjugations) venga, vengas, venga…
(yo form) salgo
(subjunctive conjugations) salga, salgas, salga…
(yo form) tengo
(subjunctive conjugations) tenga, tengas, tenga…
(yo form) conozco
(subjunctive conjugations) conozca, conozcas, conozca…
* These verbs just have irregular present tense subjunctive conjugations that don’t follow the first person present tense conjugation. They are:
saber: sepa, sepas, sepa, sepamos, sepan
ir: vaya, vayas, vaya, vayamos, vayan
ser: sea, seas, sea, seamos, sean
dar: dé, des, dé, demos, den
estar: esté, estés, esté, estemos, estén
haber: haya, hayas, haya, hayamos, hayan
Now that we know how to form the subjunctive tense in the present we must now think about when it is appropriate to use it. The subjunctive is often used in sentences where there are two verbs and there is a change of subject within the sentence. For example the sentence, “I want you to eat the food.” has two subjects. It starts with “I” and it ends talking about “you”. This is a case where you would need the subjunctive. The following section will explain the various circumstances that would merit the use of the subjunctive tense. Keep in mind that the subjunctive is generally used in cases of uncertainty, want and emotion. Each verb conjugated into the present subjunctive is underlined with the infinitive next to it.
1. Doubt: When there is doubt expressed in a sentence the subjunctive will be used. Common verbs that will tip you off that it is a situation expressing doubt and that the subjunctive is needed are: dudar (to doubt), no creer (not believe) and negar (to deny).
a) Yo dudo que llueva (llover) esta noche. = I doubt that it rains tonight.
b) Mi hermano no cree que tú sepas (saber) francés. = My brother doesn’t believe that you know French.
c) Mi prima niega que haga (hacer) ejercicios. = My cousin denies that she exercises.
2. Recommendations/Requests: When a person makes a request or a recommendation there is uncertainty that this will be carried out. The following verbs are verbs that are commonly used in this situation: recomender (to recommend), pedir (to ask for), permitir (to permit) and decir (to tell). Notice that the subject changes in each sentence.
a) Te recomiendo que comas (comer) toda la comida. = I recommend that you eat all the food.
b) Mi madre me pide que yo limpie (limpiar) mi cuarto. = My mom asks me to clean my room.
c) La policía no permite que la gente pelee (pelear) en la calle. = The police do not allow the people to fight on the street.
d) Ella te dice que hables (hablar) con su hermana. = She tells you to talk with her sister.
3. Will / Wish: If a person is expressing that they need something or they want something than there is uncertainty because you don’t know if that wish or need will be completed. Therefore the subjunctive is needed. Common verbs used in this situation are: necesitar (to need), querer (to want) and preferir (to prefer).
a) Necesito que no llegues (llegar) tarde a su trabajo. = I need you to not arrive late to your job.
b) Quieren que el profesor dé (dar) el examen más tarde. = They want the professor to give the exam later.
c) Ella prefiere que ustedes oigan (oír) la verdad. = She prefers that you hear the truth.
4. Emotion: In cases of emotion the subjunctive is used for the second verb of the sentence. Common emotional verbs are: alegrarse de (to be happy that), sentirse (to be sorry that), and esperar (to hope).
a) Espero que venga (venir) mi amigo. = I hope that my friend comes.
b) Se alegra que ganes (ganar) tanto. = He is happy that you win so much.
c) Siento que te enfermes (enfermarse) cada invierno. = I’m sorry that you get sick every winter.
5. Impersonal Expressions: Following an impersonal expression the subjunctive is used. Some common examples of impersonal expressions are: “Es bueno que.” (It’s good that.), “Es necesario que.” (it’s necessary that.) and “Es incremble que. (It’s incredible that.).
a) Es bueno que no fumes (fumar). = It’s good that you don’t smoke.
b) Es necesario que traigas (traer) ropa limpia. = It’s necessary that you bring clean clothes.
c) Es increíble que tengan (tener) tiempo para estudiar. = It is incredible that they have time to study.
6. With the expressions “Ojalá”:
Ojalá que no llueva. = I hope it doesn’t rain.