An introduction to the subjunctive mood


At this stage of your learning you are probably very familiar with the word ‘tense’ when it comes to a language.  This is a grammatical term that locates a situation in time, it indicates when the situation takes place.

You have many tenses in Spanish including the following:

The present tense:   I am eating.

The future tense:   I will eat.

The preterite (simple past):  I ate.

The imperfect past:   I was eating.  /   I used to eat.

The conditional tense:   I would eat.

All of the above tenses are shown in what is known as the ‘indicative’ mood.

Spanish has three moods.  These moods are indicated by how the verb is conjugated.

The mood of a verb can indicate the speaker’s attitude toward the situation or what role the situation plays in the sentence.

1)   The indicative mood (the most common, ‘normal’ verb form)

eg:  Lo hago.   I do it.   I am doing it.

2)   The imperative mood (used to give commands, not to indicate what ‘is happening’ but rather what you are ‘commanding to happen’.)

eg:  Hazlo.    Do it.

NB:  Notice that the Spanish imperative mood is indicated by special verb conjugation,  ¡Hazlo! but in English it is indicated just by omitting the subject of the verb.  Do it!)

3)   The subjunctive mood (often expresses the speaker’s reaction to an action or a state, a subjective opinion rather than an objective one)

When to expect the subjunctive:

More often than not the Spanish subjunctive verb is used in a clause that starts with the relative pronoun que (which/that/who).

Quiero que él vaya.     I want him to go.

NB:  ‘vaya’ is the present subjunctive, third person singular form, of the verb ‘ir’.

There are many situations where the subjunctive mood is used but often you’ll find it is used when the action that is referred to is less important than the speaker’s reaction to it.

  • Indicative: María viene. (María is coming.)
  • Subjunctive: Me alegro de que María venga. (I’m happy that María is coming.)
The indicative is used in the first sentence to express a fact but in the second sentence the subjunctive is used and whether María comes or not is not as important as how the speaker feels about it.

The subjunctive is common in  sentences that express desire, doubtuncertaintydenialcommands or reactions to the clause containing the subjunctive verb. Whereas the indicative will be used to state facts etc.  Compare the following two sentences:

  • Indicative: María lee. (María is reading.)
  • Subjunctive: Espero que María lea. (I hope that María is reading.)