Present Subjunctive — Intro

So, we know that the subjunctive is a tense not of time but of a mood of some doubt. What exactly does this mean? Take a look at the following sentences:

I am cooking.
I’m visiting Chile this year.
They were reading.

These are all things that are certain. They are in the indicative tense. Now take a look at this sentence:

She hopes I will visit Chile this year.

It’s not certain that you will visit Chile. So in this situation, you would use the subjunctive tense. A subjunctive verb refers to a present or future of uncertainty. It’s used with a ‘maybe,’ a hope, an ‘even if,’ or an opinion.

Generally, sentences that use the subjunctive have two clauses: the main clause, which uses the indicative and contains the phrase showing uncertainty, and the secondary clause, which uses the subjunctive and indicates what the uncertainty concerns. So in the example above, our main clause would be, “She hopes,” and the verb ‘hope’ would be in the indicative. Our secondary clause would be, “I will visit Chile this year,” and the verb ‘visit’ would be in the subjunctive.

We use the subjunctive occasionally in English: for example, when you say, “If I were to…” the verb “were” is in the subjunctive, because the word “if” means the rest of the sentence isn’t a certain truth. The same thing happens in Spanish: there is some word or phrase in the sentence that indicates uncertainty, and means the verb has to be in the subjunctive.

That is subjunctive in a nutshell. Does it all still feel a bit abstract and confusing? That’s okay—the best way to understand subjunctive is to see it in action, so let’s take another look:

She knows that I work at Google.  (indicative)
She hopes that I work at Google.  (subjunctive)

In the first sentence, there is certainty: it is a fact that I work at Google. In the second sentence, it’s not certain: I don’t necessarily work at Google. “Hope,” like “if,” is a word that indicates uncertainty, and means the verb that it refers to has to be in the subjunctive. There are many such words or phrases like “hope” or “if” that signify uncertainty and mean that the verb is going to be in subjunctive. But before we get into those, let’s first learn how to form the subjunctive.


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