Uses for the Subjunctive

Now let’s return back to when we use the subjunctive. It might seem like there are a lot of different kinds of situations where it’s proper to use the subjunctive—and that’s because there are. Subjunctive is a very common tense in Spanish. Basically all you need to remember is that unless there is definite certainty expressed in the sentence (either by quite simply stating something that is true, like “I am drinking coffee,” or by using a phrase that indicates certainty, like “I know I am going on vacation next week”), you use the subjunctive. That encompasses a lot, but there are a few main categories that some of these signifying phrases can fall into. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Expressions of Desire:

to hope that esperar que
to strongly hope that ojalar que
to insist that insistir que
to demand that exigir que
to request that pedir que
to suggest that sugerir que
to prefer that preferir que
to want that querer que

Exijo que ustedes terminen el informe para el lunes.
I demand that you finish the report by Monday.

Ojalá que mi amiga pueda visitarme el próximo mes.
I really hope that my friend can visit me next month.

Expressions of Doubt: 

to doubt that dudar que
to not believe that no creer que
to not think that no pensar que
to not be sure that no estar seguro que
to fear that temer que
it’s unlikely that no es probable que
it’s not certain that no es cierto que
it’s not true that no es verdad que

Dudo que ella quiera ver una película esta noche.
I doubt she wants to see a movie tonight.

No es probable que el concierto sea gratis.
It’s unlikely that the concert is free.

Impersonal Opinion:

it is advisable that conviene que
it is important that es importante que
it is a shame that es una lastima que
it is better that es mejor que
it is necessary that es necesario que
it is preferable that es preferible que
it is terrible that es terrible que
it is incredible that es increíble que

Conviene que se lave los manos.
It is advisable that one washes their hands.

Es una lastima que no vengas a nuestra fiesta.
It’s a shame that you don’t come to our party.

Uncompleted Action:

unless a menos que
before antes de que
after después de que
provided that con tal de que
in the case that en caso de que
so that para que
until hasta que
without sin que
as soon as tan pronto que

Llámame después de que tú llegues a la casa.
Call me after you get home.

Con tal de que yo salga del trabajo antes de las cinco, iré al restaurante.
Provided that I leave work before 5, I’ll go to the restaurant.

So now you have a long (and not nearly complete!) list of phrases that can tip you off to the fact that you need to use subjunctive. Some of these, especially the uncompleted action phrases, might seem a little confusing. Just remember that the subjunctive only follows words like “after” and “until,” etc, when the action they refer to hasn’t been completed yet. Most of all, remember that any sentence that doesn’t state something that definitely has happened/is happening/will happen or directly express certainty will use the subjunctive. 

**Common mistake: Don’t use subjunctive when you should be using an infinitive. If the subjects in the main clause and the secondary clause are the same, and the verb is in the “to ____” form, then use the subjunctive. Take a look at the difference:

I want to visit Peru.                        Quiero visitar Perú. (infinitive)
She wants me to visit Peru.          Ella quiere que yo visite Perú. (subjunctive)


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