Your Best Guide To The Spanish Subjunctive (With Examples)
- Written byJada Lòpez
- Read time14 mins
If you saw the word “subjunctive” in the title and felt a challenge coming on, you’re right - the Spanish subjunctive can be a bit difficult.
But don’t panic.
In this Spanish subjunctive guide, I’ll explain for you what subjunctive verbs are and provide lots of examples.
You’ll find that it’s quite straightforward. Let’s begin.
What is the Spanish subjunctive and when is it used?
You should use the Spanish subjunctive mood when mentioning a hypothetical situation or discussing something you hope will occur.
You should also use the subjunctive mood to talk about something you doubt will happen and when using a negated command.
Here are examples to show how to use the Spanish subjunctive for the situations mentioned above:
Ojalá pudiera hacer más ejercicio.
Quiero que vengas a la fiesta hoy.
No creo que estés muy contento.
¡No cantes tan alto! Estamos en la biblioteca.
Present and past Spanish subjunctive mood examples
Depending on the sentence you’re writing or saying, the Spanish subjunctive mood can take the present or past tense.
Here are two examples of the present subjunctive mood, one example of the imperfect past subjunctive mood, and one example of the pluscuamperfecto (compound) past subjunctive mood:
Espero que no tengas un catarro.
Daremos un premio al panadero que haga el mejor pastel.
Si tuviera más confianza en mí misma, no tendría tanta ansiedad.
Desearía que nunca hubieras dicho eso.
Continue reading for more information on these verb types for the subjunctive mood.
What is the present Spanish subjunctive mood?
The present Spanish subjunctive mood is just that - a mood demonstrated by certain verbs that your speech or writing reflects when you are doubtful or hopeful.
In other words, when you are doubtful or hopeful, you should use a new set of Spanish verbs to show this.
How do you conjugate the present subjunctive Spanish mood?
The table below shows how to conjugate the present subjunctive Spanish verbs.
It helps to understand how to conjugate the indicative present tense verbs first.
If you haven’t studied the Spanish subjunctive in a Spanish course, check the linked article to understand Spanish verb conjugation.
If you have already reached the B1 level and want to revise the present subjunctive conjugations, go straight to the following table:
If you cast your mind back to the conjugations of these three verbs in the indicative tense, you will remember that the suffixes are different.
That’s because, for the conjugations of the subjunctive verbs, the verbs with an IR or ER suffix must contain an -a in their suffixes, and the verbs with an AR suffix must now contain an -e in the suffix.
The verbs are “inverted” in terms of their suffixes! And this rule applies to every regular, present Spanish subjunctive verb.
What are some common irregular present subjunctive verbs in Spanish?
You will have to remember a few irregular present subjunctive verbs in Spanish.
It can be tricky to keep them in mind because you must conjugate the stem and the suffix.
Let’s look at the verb saber to see an example:
As you can see, even though the root or stem of the infinitive verb saber contains the letter -b, the conjugated present subjunctive verbs contain an -ep.
The root is different, and so is the suffix (which contains an -a).
Examples of the present subjunctive in Spanish and how to use it
You should use the present tense subjunctive mood if a sentence has two parts and each part contains a different subject.
Use the present tense subjunctive if the first part of your sentence contains a present, imperative or future tense verb.
Let’s now look at a few examples of the present subjunctive in Spanish.
Quiero que comas algo sano.
Dudo que me puedas ayudar.
No creo que sea posible que vengas al evento.
Each first of these sentences uses the present tense because they:
- Contain a present tense indicative verb in the first part
- Use a doubtful or hopeful mood
- Feature two parts with two subjects
- Have the relative pronoun “que”
But what if a sentence does not contain the relative pronoun “que”? and what if the sentence doesn’t contain two subjects? In these situations, you should use the indicative present tense, like this:
Quiero comer algo sano.
No puedo ayudar.
No voy al evento.
What is the imperfect Spanish subjunctive mood?
The imperfect Spanish subjunctive mood is also a mood that your speech or writing reflects when you express a point of view using the past tense.
When doubtful or hopeful, you must use a different set of Spanish verbs to reflect this in speech or writing.
In which situation should you use the imperfect Spanish subjunctive?
We use the imperfect Spanish subjunctive in the same situations as the present Spanish subjunctive, but the action in the sentence has happened in the past.
We can compare the present Spanish subjunctive with the imperfect Spanish subjunctive to see how the sentence differs.
Consider the examples below:
A mí me gusta que tengas suerte y salud.
A mí me gustaba que tuvieras suerte y salud.
The main difference between these examples is the tense.
The first verbs in the first and second halves of these sentences are different.
In the first example, the verb gustar is in the present tense, which requires us to use the present subjunctive verb tengas in the second half of the sentence.
In the second example, the verb gustar is in the imperfect past tense, which requires us to use the imperfect Spanish subjunctive verb tuvieras.
How do you conjugate imperfect Spanish subjunctive verbs?
There’s an easy way to remember how to conjugate the imperfect Spanish subjunctive verbs (regular ones).
Start by calling to mind the third-person preterite version of the regular verb you need to conjugate and then replace the -on with an -a.
The easiest way to understand this is with an example, so empecemos! (Let’s make a start!)
To create the imperfect subjunctive form of the verb hablar begin by thinking back to its preterite (simple past tense) conjunctions and call to mind the third-person conjugation of this verb.
The verb you should have in your mind is hablaron.
Next, take the verb hablaron, remove the -on from the suffix, and replace it with the letter -a.
What you should end up with is the verb hablara.
NOTE - hablara, as the imperfect subjunctive verb, does not feature an accent mark over the final -a.
The lack of the accent mark distinguishes it from the third-person future tense verb hablará (meaning he, she, or it will speak).
Let’s now look at a verb table to see how to conjugate imperfect Spanish subjunctive verbs in more detail.
You may have noticed that the verbs ending in an IR and ER (existir and correr) have different stems than the AR verb (hablar).
This difference is because the third-person preterite verb forms of the IR and ER verbs are different from the AR verbs.
Instead of the suffix -aron, in the third-person preterite form the verbs that end in IR and ER have the suffix -ieron.
How to use the imperfect Spanish subjunctive
There are a few rules that can guide you when you use the imperfect Spanish subjunctive.
Here are three rules to consider.
Use the imperfect subjunctive if a sentence contains the word si, has two parts and describes an unlikely situation; use the imperfect subjunctive after the word si.
Si tuviera tiempo suficiente, estudiaría más idiomas.
Si hubiera feliz, yo estaría más feliz.
Use the imperfect subjunctive if a sentence contains the word como si, has two parts and describes a hypothetical situation.
Cantas como si fueras un cantante profesional.
Hablamos como si estuviéramos discutiendo.
2 types of compound Spanish subjunctive verbs
Now comes the more challenging part - there are two types of compound Spanish subjunctive verbs you will also study in an upper intermediate Spanish course.
These verbs include the preterito perfecto de subjuntivo and the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo.
When should you use the preterito perfecto de subjuntivo?
We use the preterito perfecto de subjuntivo when the subordinate clause’s action has finished and happened before the action in the main clause (and the mood of the sentence or statement is hopeful, hypothetical or doubtful).
In this case, the sentence should have two clauses and two actions; the verb in the main clause can describe a present action, and the preterito perfecto de subjuntivo compound verb should describe a past action that happened near the present moment.
Let’s consider two examples to understand when to use the preterito perfecto de subjuntivo.
Deseamos que la sorpresa haya sido un éxito.
¡Ojalá que el trabajo haya ido bien!
In these examples, the sentences contain two parts.
They also reflect a hopeful mood and contain the relative pronoun que.
The subordinate clause happens before the action in the main clause.
For instance, the “surprise has been a success” takes place before the speakers hope it is successful.
How do you conjugate the preterito perfecto de subjuntivo?
Since the preterito perfecto de subjuntivo is a compound subjunctive that contains the verb haya and a second verb in its participle form, to conjugate it, you first need to know how to conjugate the haber in the present tense subjunctive form.
Let’s look at how to do this.
|Subject pronoun||Haber (in present subjunctive)|
You should use the correctly conjugated form of the verb haber before the second verb in the compound subjunctive.
For instance, if “he” or “she” is the subject of the subordinate clause, use haya.
If “we” is the subject of the subordinate clause, use hayamos.
As you must use these verbs before a participle verb to form the preterito perfecto de subjuntivo, look at the section below to learn how to form participle verbs.
Forming participle verbs for the preterito perfecto de subjuntivo
Remembering the required suffixes to form participle verbs for the preterito perfecto de subjuntivo is key.
A participle verb will end in -ado or -ido depending on the ending of the infinitive verb form.
If the infinitive verb you want to use has an -ar suffix, you should replace this with -ado to form the past participle verb.
If the infinitive verb you want to use has an -er or -ir suffix, you should replace this with -ido.
Check the table below to see how this works with some examples.
|AR infinitive verb in past participle form (e.g. bailar)||IR infinitive verb in past participle form (e.g. existir)||ER infinitive verb in past participle form (e.g. beber)|
To form the preterito perfecto de subjuntivo, you must combine the auxiliary verb haya with the participle verb.
Me decepciona que no haya habido el tratamiento hasta ahora.
Me alegro de que no haya ganado el Deportivo.
When should you use the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo?
We use the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo to express an action that precedes another action in the past when the sentence has a doubtful, hypothetical or hopeful mood.
You will notice that the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo features in sentences with two parts, which are separated by the relative pronoun que.
Let’s look at two examples to see how this works.
Me deprimó que me hubieras insultado antes.
Le dio pena que no lo hubieran invitado a la fiesta antes.
Can you spot the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo in these sentences? The main two compound verb examples are hubieras insultado and hubieron invitado.
How do you conjugate the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo?
The pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo is another compound verb that requires two verbs: the auxiliary verb haber in the imperfect subjunctive form and a second verb in the past participle form.
Here’s how to conjugate the verb haber in the imperfect subjunctive form
|Subject pronoun||Haber (in imperfect subjunctive)|
Always use the correctly conjugated form of the verb haber before the second verb in the compound subjunctive.
For instance, if the subject of your sentence is “they” or ellos, use hubieran.
If the subject of your sentence is “all of you” or vosotros, use hubierais.
Since the second part of the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo requires a past participle verb, use the same method described in the preterito perfecto de subjuntivo section for past participles to conjugate it.
Comparing the pluscuamperfecto with the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo
So, what is the difference between the pluscuamperfecto and the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo? Let’s compare two sentences to understand this better.
Pensé que mi familia había llegado a tiempo.
Dudaba mucho que mi amigo hubiera llegado a tiempo.
The main difference is the mood of the sentences.
Even though both sentences contain two clauses and the relative pronoun que, we use the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo for situations where we doubt or hope something has happened (and the thing we hope or doubt has happened before the action of hoping).
Spanish subjunctive: What to remember
The Spanish subjunctive can be difficult to understand but remember:
You should use it when the mood of the sentence is doubtful, hopeful or hypothetical.
With time and practise, you’ll grasp the Spanish subjunctive mood.
Keep at it! 😊
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