Bamboozled by the Subjunctive in Spanish?
Language learners recall moments in their journey. My first encounter with the subjunctive in Spanish was over 20 years ago and it’s still fresh in the memory!
Why so memorable?
Whenever I could relate Spanish to English I felt I could understand it, so meeting the subjunctive for the first time absolutely baffled me because there didn’t appear to be an equivalent in English.
Before that moment I had been learning that adjectives in Spanish were placed after nouns – weird, but I could get to grips with that – nouns had a gender – weird, but I could get to grips with that concept too – and that verbs were conjugated in fairly straightforward terms. They had infinitive ‘moods’, indicative moods, imperative moods; all understandable and all comparable with English verb forms. So there were no great challenges with verbs. Or at least, that’s what I thought.
How odd then to come up against an alien grammatical concept for this native English speaker: the subjunctive mood of a verb. It was a concept that did not fit into my prevailing linguistic scheme, although it is not exactly absent in English. As grammarist.com says, “In English, the subjunctive mood is used to explore conditional or imaginary situations. It can be tricky to use, which partially explains why many speakers and writers forgo it. But it’s quite useful (and aesthetically pleasing, at least to us), and careful users of English should do their part to preserve it.”
When we talk about mood we refer to the form of the verb that shows the mode or manner in which a thought is expressed. Statements in the subjunctive mood exist outside time, which means that they ‘imaginary’ rather than ‘real’. Here are some examples in English, again from grammarist.com:
“I wish I were there to have a drink with you” (expressing a wish/desire)
“She demanded that he leave the hospital premises” (expressing demand)
“It’s essential that they be heard” (expressing necessity)
You’ll recognise and understand these phrases but did you know they are using the subjunctive?!
Once I began to get a flavour of the subjunctive in Spanish (there are present and past subjunctive forms of each verb to learn) I was staggered to realise just how prevalent its use is by the Spanish themselves. It was as if my learning the subjunctive had opened up a portal into a new linguistic dimension.
Spanish learners! We have no chance of speaking Spanish fluently if we cannot correctly employ verbs in their subjunctive forms. They are everywhere!
- Need help?
elearninspanish.com – which describes the subjunctive form as ‘the most difficult Spanish verb form for students’ – has a useful list of regular and irregular Spanish verbs conjugated in the subjunctive.
Meanwhile this infographic put together by About.com’s Spanish expert Gerald Erichsen provides us with a helpful comparison between the indicative and subjunctive:
Mastering the Spanish subjunctive form took me many years, but that’s not to say you won’t master it a whole lot quicker!
See you next time,
Jim Porter is a co-founder of Speekee, home of the most comprehensive Spanish learning program for children ever to appear online
Jim began his Spanish learning journey in 1990. He has been a language teacher since 1994 and he lives in sunny southern Spain with his two bilingual children. Loves it! More…