Grammar Guide – Subjunctive

NotesPresentImperfectPresent PerfectPluperfectOtherImperativeSummaryCases
Some textbooks have incredibly long lists of when subjunctive should be used. Such a list is attached here as well, however to summarize it, subjunctive is used to express emotions and feelings as opposed to indicative which refers to actual (or likely) events. Here are the 4 main cases:

Present SubjunctivehableEmotions today and tomorrow about something being done today or tomorrow.
Imperfect Subjunctivehablara/hablaseEmotions yesterday about something done before yesterday;
Conditional sentences referring to something unreal today or tomorrow.
Present Perfect Subjunctivehaya habladoEmotions today and tomorrow about something done yesterday.
Pluperfect Subjunctivehubiera/hubiese habladoConditional sentences referring to something unreal yesterday.

Note that emotion is expressed by one person, while action is being done by another:

Ella teme que el gobierno no haga nada. – two subjects, thus subjunctive
Ella teme no hacer nada. – one subject: no subjunctive.

Use the present subjunctive to express influence over actions that subject would or would not like somebody else to do, but cannot directly control. The following construction is often used:

Subject 1 + verb of influence (ind) + que + Subject 2 + action to be done (subj)
(Yo) quiero que (Uds) vengan mañana.
As opposed to: (Yo) quiero venir mañana.

See conjugation of regular, irregular and stem-changing verbs.

Use imperfect subjunctive (past subjunctive) in the same situations as present subjunctive, but when referring to past events:

Quiero que juegen esta tarde. – I want now, thus present subjunctive.
Quería que jugaran por la tarde. – I wanted, thus past subjunctive.

This is like correspondence of tenses in English – after a past tense (either Preterit or Imperfect) in an independent clause, one should use a imperfect (past) subjunctive.

Also when discussing situations in the present or future that are contrary to the fact or very unlikely (2nd type of conditional sentences).

Si lloviera, no saldría.

See conjugation of regular, irregular and stem-changing verbs.

Use the present perfect subjunctive when expressing present feelings or emotions about something that has already occured:

Le sorprendo que ella me haya mandado las tarjetas postales.

To form the present perfect subjunctive, use:

haya
hayas
haya
hayamos
hayáis
hayan
+ past participle

For formation of past participle see conjugation of regular, irregular and stem-changing verbs.

Use pluperfect subjunctive when discussing situations in the past that are contrary to the fact (3rd type of conditional sentences).

Si hubiera ido a la fiesta, habría visto a Isabel.

To form the pluperfect subjunctive, use:

hubiera
hubieras
hubiera
hubiéramos
hubierais
hubieran
+ past participle

For formation of past participle see conjugation of regular, irregular and stem-changing verbs.

Some textbooks mention two other subjunctives – Future and Future Perfect, although I do not think they are used at all. Just for the sake of it, here is conjugation of hablar in those two:

Future SubjunctiveFuture Perfect Subjunctive
hablare
hablares
hablare
habláremos
hablareis
hablaren
hubiere hablado
hubieres hablado
hubiere hablado
hubiéremos hablado
hubiereis hablado
hubieren hablado
Use imperative to give commands – positive or negative ones. All negative command are formed by using the corresponding present subjunctive form:


¡No comas eso!
¡No coma Ud. eso!
¡No comamos eso!
¡No comáis eso!
¡No coman Uds. eso!

Positive commands are formed as follows:


3rd person singular of present indicative
3rd person singular of present subjunctive
1st person plural of present subjunctive
Infinitive with -r replaced by -d*
3rd person plural of present subjunctive

* – Vosotros/as forms are used only in Spain. If a reflexive pronouns is added -d is dropped (¡Levantaos!). It is common to use infinitive itself as a command in colloquial speech.


¡Come!
¡Coma!
¡Comamos!
¡Comed!
¡Coman!

Irregular commands:

decir
hacer
ir(se)
poner
salir
ser
tener
venir
¡Di la verdad!
¡Hazlo!
¡Vete de aquí!
¡Pon tu chaqueta en al armario!
¡Sal inmediamente!
¡ bueno!
¡Ten cuidado!
¡Ven aquí!
¡No digas nada!
¡No hagas eso!
¡No te vayas!
¡No pongas el vaso allí!
¡No salgas!
¡No seas malo!
¡No tengas miedo!
¡No vengas todavía!

Check placement of pronouns with commands.

A Summary of Uses of Subjunctive

WWishesQuerían que los mirara (two subjects: ellos querían, él mirar).
EEmotionsTemen que les digas (two subjects: ellos temen, tú decir).
IImpersonal ExpressionsEs importante que recordemos.
RRequest
Requirement
Pidieron que les trajera (two subjects: ellos pidieron, yo traer).
No permitían que se escribiera en español.
DDoubtNo creo que llueva mañana.
OOjaláOjalá que les interese el tema.

Influence

With the following verbs to express influence or desire by one person upon another:

aconsejar que
advertir que
anhelar que
desear que
esperar que
insistir en que
permitir que
preferir que
prohibir que
querer que
recomendar que
necesitar que
ojalá que
me/te/… aconsejar que
me/te/… exigir que
me/te/… pedir que
me/te/… proponer que
me/te/… recomendar que
me/te/… rogar que
me/te/… sugerir que
me/te/… suplicar que
to advise
to warn, advise
to desire, long for
to wish
to hope
to insist on
to permit, allow
to prefer
to prohibit
to want
to recommend
to need
if only
to advise
to demand
to ask, request
to propose
to recommend
to beg
to suggest
to implore

Emotion

To express emotion by one person upon another:

me
te
le
nos
les
molesta que
encanta que
gusta que
interesa que
duele que
preocupa que
sorprende que
alegra que
da asco que
da coraje que
da tristeza que
da gusto que
da miedo que
da pena que
da vergu:enza que
to be
to be delighted
to be pleased
to be interested
to be sorry, hurt
to be worried
to be surprised
to be glad
to be sick (it sickens me)
to be angered
to be sad
to be glad
to be afraid
to be sorry, hurt
to be ashamed

With the following phrases with estar and tener:

estar triste de que
estar enojado de que
estar feliz de que
estar contento de que
estar frustrado de que
tener miedo de que
tener la culpa de que
to be sad that
to be angry that
to be happy that
to be content, satisfied that
to be frustrated that
to be afraid that
to be to blame that

Reflexives

With the following reflexive verbs:

Sorprender(se) de que
Preocupar(se) de que
Alegrar(se) de que
Enojar(se) de que
Reír(se) de que
to be surprised
to be worried
to be glad
to be angry
to laugh at

Although these seem to be identical to those in parts A and B, they are almost. Note conjugation and de
Me sorprendo de que no puedan abrir la puerta. – I am surprised that they cannot open the door. BUT!!!
Me sorprenda que no puedan abrir la puerta. – It surprises me that they cannot open the door.

Impersonals

With the following expressions (although impersonal these also express desire, advice, influence):

(no) es aconsejable que
(no) es buena/mala idea que
(no) es bueno/malo que
(no) es importante que
(no) es mejor que
(no) es necesario que
(no) es preciso que
(no) es preferible que
it’s (not) advisable
it’s (not) a good/bad idea
it’s (not) good/bad
it’s (not) important
it’s (not) better
it’s (not) necessary
it’s (not) necessary
it’s (not) preferable

Doubt

To express doubt:

Tal vez
Quizá
Probablemente
Posiblemente
Acaso
No + creer
No + pensar
No + decir
No + opinar
No + suponer
may be
perhaps
probably
possibly
by chance
not believe
not think
not say
not consider, think
not suppose

Also in questions: ¿Crees que llueva?
The first 4 expressions can be used with indicative as well to indicate less doubt.
It is rather confusing to use subjunctive with words like creer, pensar, dudar, estar seguro/a (de), negar. The rule is: when doubt or denial is being expressed then subjunctive is used:

No creo que sean estudiantes. BUT! Creo que son estudiantes.

In the first case, the person is not sure, and thus even if they are really students, subjunctive should be used. In the second case, the person is sure, and thus even if they are not students, indicative should be used.

Unknown

To describe the unknown or non-existent:

Buscamos una persona que nos enseñe a reciclar.We are looking for someone who can teach us recycle. (there may or may not exist such a preson)
Buscamos a la persona que nos enseña a reciclar.We are looking for the person who teaches recycling. (We know this person exists)
No encuentro nada que me guste.I can’t find anything that I like.

Time

With uncertain or future time:

Cuando
Mientras
En cuanto
Antes (de) que
Hasta que
Despues (de) que
when
while
as soon as
before
until
after

Conditions

With conditions:

A menos que
Para que
Sin que
Con tal (de) que
A fin de que
En caso (de) que
unless
in order to (so that)
without
provided that
so that
in case of

..quiera

Expresiones con quiera:

Quienquiera que
Cuandoquiera que
Dondequeira que
Comoquiera que
Cualquiera que
whoever
whenever
wherever
however
whatever

Although

With aunque/although to express possibility of a future event: Aunque tenga dinero, no iré. – Although I have money, I (probably) will not go. BUT!!! In a case of reality, use indicative: Aunque tengo dinero, no voy. – Although I have money, I am not going.

Others

Others:

Por … que?

Por mucho que se alegre, no me importa.
Por mucho que Ud. explique, no le va a hacer caso.
Por atrevidos que sean no van a ganar la batalla.

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