subjunctive mood in noun clauses
Up until now you have been using primarily the indicative mood (modo indicativo). The indicative in both English and Spanish is used to indicate facts or states of being in the “real world”, and to ask questions:
Jorge dice la verdad.
Jorge is telling the truth.
Elena no canta hoy.
Elena is not singing today.
Are you tired?
In contrast to the indicative, the subjunctive mood (modo subjuntivo) is rarely used as the main verb of a sentence; it is used primarily in dependent (“subjoined”) clauses and to express a subjective view or the negation or the anticipation of an action or state. In the case of a subjective view, the action or state may in fact exist in reality; the emphasis, however, is on the reaction of the speaker. We can find some examples of situations where we use the subjunctive both in Spanish and in English; in the English translations note that the third person singular form does not end in the usual -s:
Recomendamos que ella venga.
We recommend that she *come.
Insisto en que esté aquí.
I insist that he *be here.
*Note that the normal forms are “she comes”and “he is”.
Unfortunately —at least for purposes of transferring our knowledge of English grammar to Spanish— modern English uses the subjunctive very little. In Spanish it is used constantly, both in conversational and literary form, and you must be able to use it where appropriate.
A clause is a group of words that expresses an idea and contains a subject and a conjugated or “finite” verb (in contrast to an “infinite” or non-conjugated form such as the infinitive). A sentence will have one or more main clauses, and may have one or more dependent clauses or none at all.
Espero que vengas a la fiesta.
I hope (that) you'll come to the party.
For purposes of this section on the subjunctive, noun clauses are dependent clauses which serve as the direct object or predicate complement of another verb (or as the subject of a verb), just as a noun can do. Please note that English frequently employs an infinitive in these cases, whereas Spanish frequently requires a conjugated verb.
Quiero el libro.
I want the book.
El libro/the book is the direct object.
Quiero que compres el libro.
I want you to buy the book.
In English the direct object is the phrase "you to buy the book". The literal equivalent of the Spanish sentence is: "I want that you buy the book", and the clause "que compres el libro" is the direct object of the verb Quiero.
In the above example involving a dependent clause —“I want that you buy the book”— please note that:
- The governing verb (the verb which governs the dependent clause) is “want / querer” and that it expresses influence.
- The subject of the governing verb is “I / yo”.
- The subject of the dependent clause is “you / tú”, different from the subject of the main verb (“I / yo”).
- The verb in the dependent noun clause is “buy / compres”; however, the clause does not express a fact such as “you are buying the book” but rather that it is my desire “that you might buy the book”.
The rule: In Spanish, the subjunctive mood is used for the verb in a dependent noun clause when:
1. The subject of the governing verb is different from the subject of the dependent clause [e.g., “you / tú” vs. “I / yo” in the above example],
2. The governing verb is one of:
- Influence or willing [want, prefer, desire, insist, request, etc.], or
- Emotion [fear, be angry, be sad, be happy, be surprised, etc.], or
- Doubt or negation [be uncertain, be unsure, doubt, deny, etc.], or is an
- Impersonal expression of influence, emotion, doubt, probability, possibility, necessity, or a subjective reaction on the part of the speaker [e.g.,: It's urgent / bad, wonderful / uncertain / possible / probable / unlikely, etc.]
In contrast: The infinitive is normally used when there is no change in subject (I want to leave = Quiero salir), and the indicative mood is used when the governing verb expresses knowledge (to know) certainty (to be certain / sure), truth (to be true / the truth), affirmation (to believe, think, affirm, assert, declare), or reporting (to say, indicate [when not used as a verb of influence], report).
Verbs such as
querer (to want) preferir (to prefer) desear (to desire) insistir en (to insist) mandar (to command) prohibir (to prohibit) requerir (to require) exigir (to demand, require) recomendar (to recommend) pedir (to request/ask for) decir (to tell, say [when not used as a verb of reporting]) alentar (to encourage)
require that the subjunctive be used in any subordinate clauses they govern.
Queremos que lo cantes.
We want you to sing it.
¿Insistes en que lo hagamos?
Do you insist that we do it? (Or: Do you insist on our doing it?)
Deseo que te quedes.
I want you to stay.
Ella prefiere que lleguemos a las seis.
She prefers us to arrive at 6:00.
Recomiendo que salgas.
I recommend that you leave.
¿Manda él que yo lo escriba?
Is he ordering me to write it?
Se prohíbe que entremos.
It is forbidden for us to enter.
Piden que cenemos allí.
They're asking us to dine there.
No permitimos que lo compres.
We don't permit you to buy it.
La ley exige que paguemos impuestos.
The law requires us to pay taxes.
NOTE: Some verbs can either indicate influence (and thus take the subjunctive) or reporting (and thus take the indicative):
Ella dice que nos vamos.
She says we're leaving. [Reporting a fact: indicative]
Ella dice que nos vayamos.
She's telling us to leave. [Giving us a command: subjunctive]
Yo insisto en que él viene.
I insist that he is coming. [Know it for a fact: indicative]
Yo insisto en que él venga.
I insist that he come. [Giving an order: subjunctive]
NOTE: If the same person is the subject for both the verb of influence and the dependent verb, the infinitive is normally used instead of the subjunctive:
Nadie quiere trabajar.
No one wants to work.
Yo prefiero manejar.
I prefer to drive.
NOTE: Certain verbs of influence may be used either with the subjunctive or an infinitive, even when there's a change of subject. The infinitive is more frequent when the subject of the dependent verb is a pronoun (rather than a noun or noun phrase). Such verbs include hacer (to make [someone do something]), permitir (to permit), and dejar (to let, allow):
Nadie me hace pensar.
Nobody makes me think.
Déjame trabajar en paz.
Let me work in peace.
Ellas no nos permiten bailar.
They don't permit us to dance.
Nadie hace que los trabajadores piensen en el porvenir.
No one makes the workers think about the future.
Deja que las secretarias trabajen en paz.
Let the secretaries work in peace.
Ellas no permiten que los otros estudiantes bailen.
They don't permit the other students to dance.
estar alegre, alegrarse de - to be happy estar triste - to be sad temer, tener miedo de - to fear, be afraid esperar - to hope sentir, dar lástima - to feel sorry, regret gustar, agradar, encantar - to like, be pleased, be delighted disgustar, desagradar - to dislike, be displeased sorprender, estar sorprendido - to be surprised
likewise require the use of the subjunctive in clauses they govern.
Espero que vengan.
I hope they come.
Siento que ella no esté aquí.
I'm sorry she's not here.
Me alegro de que vaya a Madrid.
I'm glad he's going to Madrid.
Temo que haya muchos problemas.
I fear there are many problems.
Tengo miedo de que no llegue.
I'm afraid she won't arrive.
¿Te gusta que sea tan fácil?
Are you pleased it's so easy?
Le sorprende que vivamos así.
He's surprised we live like that.
Ojalá (que), while not a verb in Spanish, is used like a verb of emotion or influence (I hope) with the present subjunctive [or can be used as I wish when followed by a past subjunctive, as we will see later on]:
Ojalá que la comida sepa bien.
I hope the food tastes good.
Ojalá nuestro equipo gane mañana.
I hope our team wins tomorrow.
Verbs of doubt and negation require the subjunctive in subordinate clauses; examples include
negar - to deny
dudar - to doubt
no ser verdad - to not be true/the truth
no estar cierto/seguro - to be unsure, uncertain
no creer - to not believe
Remember that expressions of certainty or belief take the indicative:
no negar - to not deny no dudar - to not doubt afirmar - to affirm creer - to believe estar cierto/seguro - to be sure, certain
Dudamos que salgan bien.
We doubt they'll do well.
No creo que asistan a la clase.
I don't think they attend class.
¿Niegas que yo pueda hacerlo?
Do you deny that I can do it?
No estoy segura de que venga.
I'm not sure she's coming.
NOTE: Normally the reverse (positive/negative) of each of the above sentences does not indicate doubt or negation and thus takes the indicative.
No dudamos que salen bien.
We don't doubt they'll do well.
Creo que asisten a la clase.
I think they attend class.
No niegan que yo puedo hacerlo.
They don't deny that I can do it.
Estoy segura de que viene.
I'm sure she's coming.
Impersonal expressions do not have a specific person or thing as the subject. In English we use the non-specific “it”, but in Spanish the pronoun is omitted. Impersonal expressions such as those given below require the subjunctive in a subordinate clause because they indicate doubt, negation, emotion, influence, or a subjective reaction on the part of the speaker.
Es malo - It's bad Es mejor - It's better Es peor - It's worse Es horrible - It's horrible Es horrendo - It's horrendous Es urgente - It's urgent Es estupendo - It's stupendous Es posible - It's possible Es maravilloso - It's marvelous Es probable - It's probable Es imposible - It's impossible Es preciso - It's necessary Es improbable - It's improbable Es notable - It's notable Es increíble - It's incredible Es extraño - It's strange Es necesario - It's necessary Es estúpido - It's stupid Es importante - It's important Es curioso - It's curious Es interesante - It's interesting Es dudoso - It's doubtful Es raro - It's unusual/strange Es fácil - It's likely Es ridículo - It's ridiculous No es verdad - It's untrue No es seguro - It's uncertain Es difícil - It's unlikely No es cierto - It's uncertain
NOTE: An infinitive may be used after these expressions if no change of subject is involved:
Es bueno estudiar mucho. It's good to study a lot.
In contrast to:
Es bueno que estudies mucho. It's good that you study a lot.
However, impersonal expressions indicating certainty, affirmation, and truth would take the indicative:
Es evidente que sabes esto.
It's evident that you know this.
Some other verbs and expressions that normally take the indicative in subordinate clauses include those which express:
- saber (to know)
- estar seguro
- estar cierto (to be certain / sure)
- ser verdad (to be the truth)
- creer (to believe, think)
- pensar (to think)
- declarar (to declare)
Verbs of reporting also take the indicative, although many of them can also be used as verbs of influence:
decir (to say) replicar (to reply) indicar (to indicate) responder (to respond) insistir en (to insist) contestar (to answer) reportar (to report)
Sé que Elena habla español.
I know that Elena speaks Spanish. Knowlege: Indicative
Es verdad que yo lo hice.
It's true that I did it. Truth: Indicative
Creo que están en casa.
I think they're at home. Affirmation or belief: Indicative
Te digo que vienen.
I'm telling you that they are coming. Reporting: Indicative
Te digo que vengas.
I 'm telling you to come. [= I 'm telling that you should come.] Influence or willing: Subjunctive
Insistimos en que aprenden esto.
We insist that they are learning this. Reporting: Indicative
Insistimos en que aprendan esto.
We insist that they learn this. Influence or willing: Subjunctive
Popular Phrase: cuadro siguiente | Ser vs Estar | Conjugated Verb: entretejer - interweave [ click for full conjugation ]