Spanish/Present Subjunctive

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Verbs | Verb Tenses

Gramatically, the subjunctive is called a "mood". This is differentiated from a "tense" in that it does not express time per se (which is what "tense" really means). Along with the name of the mood also goes a tense. For the subjunctive mood, the tense may be present, imperfect, present perfect, or past perfect (or pluperfect). This article only discusses the present tense.

The present tense of the subjunctive mood, as with the other subjunctive tenses, is used for a variety of situations. This variety can make the subjunctive difficult to understand for English-speakers, and make students of Spanish dread the mood.

One common situation is to indicate actions which the speaker wishes will happen or wants to happen. It follows phrases such as "Espero que" (I hope that) and "Quiero que" (I want), and always "Ojalá que" (God willing/Hopefully). Similarly, another situation is where the speaker fears or doubts the action will happen. Phrases such as "Temo que" (I fear that), "No creo que" (I don't think that), "Dudo que" (I doubt that). Yet another situation is where the speaker is expressing possibilities or expressing beliefs that are impersonal yet still subjective. Examples here are "Es posible que" (It's possible that), "Es mejor que" (It's best that), "Podría ser que" (It could be that).

Note that the common thread in all these cases is that the action in the subordinate clause is not a factual statement, but something only from the realm of possibility. In some cases you are hoping it is true, in others you are doubting, denying, or speculating about its reality; but in all cases, you are essentially mooting the statement, bringing its reality up for discussion. This mooting is the essence of the subjunctive. You put the action that you are mooting in a subordinate clause, almost always joined to the main clause by "que." (In fact, this is where the name "subjunctive" came from: you are joining another idea or clause in a subordinate relationship to the main clause.)

There are some other uses of the subjunctive.

In order for the subjunctive to be used, you must have both:

  • Expression of desire, doubt, hope, fear, or one of the other situations above, and
  • Change of subject between independent clause and dependent clause (Yo quiero que Ud. me ayude-- I want you to help me.)

Conjugations[edit]

Rule: The subjunctive begins with the yo-form of the present indicative. Then remove the -o and append the "opposite" endings.

Hablar hablo -> habl-

Yo hable
hables
Él/Ella/Ud. hable
Nosotros hablemos
Vosotros habléis
Ellos/Uds. hablen

Comer como -> com-

Yo coma
comas
Él/Ella/Ud. coma
Nosotros comamos
Vosotros comáis
Ellos/Uds. coman

Vivir vivo -> viv-

Yo viva
vivas
Él/Ella/Ud. viva
Nosotros vivamos
Vosotros viváis
Ellos/Uds. vivan

It is important to note that the present subjunctive is taken from the first-person singular rather than other stems because of the many verbs that are irregular in the first-person singular.

Yo tengo -> tenga
Yo pongo -> ponga
Yo caigo -> caiga
Yo conozco -> conozca
Yo permanezco -> permanezca

Seeming Exceptions

1. Even though the present subjunctive takes its form from the first-person singular, you still need to watch out for vowel changes due to stress shifting in the stem. Thus,

Yo pueda
puedas
Él/Ella/Ud. pueda
Nosotros podamos (not puedamos)
Vosotros podáis (not puedáis)
Ellos/Uds. puedan

2. Since Spanish always tries to keep the spelling accurate to the pronunciation, in some cases the ending needs to change because the stem ends in a 'c', 'z', 'g', etc. This change normally happens in the first-person singular of -er and -ir verbs also, but it is still something to be aware of because in speaking or writing you're not always explicitly conscious of grammatical forms other than what you're using.

Yo juego -> juegue
Yo toco -> toque
Yo recojo -> recoja