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Salem State University | Department of Foreign Languages | Language Resource Center

The Subjunctive Verb Forms

By Dr. Jon Aske

  • The subjunctive is a set of conjugated verb forms which parallels the regular, or ‘indicative’ verb forms (present, preterit, imperfect, future). The subjunctive has two main tenses: present and past (no future; the present is used to indicate future time).
  • The indicative is used primarily to make statements about the real world. The subjunctive, on the other hand, is used primarily to talk about things that don’t exist in the real world, things that you wish, desire, recommend, fear, etc.. This general explanation, however, won’t necessarily help you figure out when you should use the subjunctive. So …
  • Remember that the subjunctive is not used in main clauses, but rather in dependent clauses, clauses which are part of other clauses:

Main clause: Los estudiantes vienen/vendrán mañana

Dependent clauses:
¾ Complement/Noun clause: the clause acts as a complement (subject, object) of a verb

e.g. El profesor quiere que [los estudiantes vengan mañana].

Me alegra que [los estudiantes vengan mañana]

¾ Adjective clause: the clause modifies (says something about) a noun:

e.g el día en que [los estudiantes vengan]

los estudiantes que [vengan mañana]

¾ Adverbial clause: these clauses modify other clauses.

e.g. cuando [los estudiantes vengan] va a haber un examen.

El profesor hace tests para que [los estudiantes vengan]

  • Subjunctive verb forms are found in clauses that are subordinated to other verbs and are introduced by conjunctions such as que.
  • Remember, however, that

A) Sometimes the subjunctive in what seem to be non-dependent (main) clauses:

    1. In clauses introduced by quizá, tal vez, ojalá:
      quiza vengan los estudiantes mañana
    2. In commands with usted(es):
      (no) venga usted aquí;
      or negative commands with :
      no vengas tú aquí

B) Not all subordinated verbs are in the subjunctive:

(mi padre sabe que) mi madre viene hoy.

  • So, when do you use the subjunctive??

Adjective clauses

  • In adjective clauses which modify a non-existent or indefinite (unknown) referent. One which doesn’t refer to any specific entity:
    a) No conozco a ningún estudiante [que estudie mucho]
    b) Busco a un estudiante [que estudie mucho]
    c) No hay ningún estudiante [que estudie mucho]
  • Compare this with a situation in which the expression refers to a specific entity (the student):
    a) Conozco a un estudiante [que estudia mucho]
    b) Busco a un estudiante [que estudia mucho] (I have a particular one in mind)
    c) Hay varios estudiantes [que estudian mucho]

Uncertainty, doubt, disbelief

  • When the main verb expresses uncertainty, doubt or disbelief (as opposed to certainty) about the event, action or state in the dependent clause, the subjunctive is used in the dependent clause:

Es imposible

Es dudoso

(No) dudo que [… subjuntivo …]

No creo

Es probable


es cierto/obvio/seguro/evidente

está claro

no hay duda de que […indicative…];

estoy seguro de

Desires, wishes, needs, commands, recommendations, influencing

When the main verb expresses a desire, wish, recommendation, command, request, etc. about the dependent clause, the dependent verb is in the subjunctive:

Mi padre quiere

Mi padre me dice (My father tells me to …)

Mi padre recomienda

Mi padre me aconseja que [… subjuntivo …]

Mi padre me pide

Mi padre espera (expects)

Mi padre necesita

Es necesario

Es importante (it is desirable)


Mi padre me dice que (My father tells me that…) […indicative…]

Emotions: Fears, likes, dislikes, surprises, etc. that don’t necessarily exist

When the main verb refers to an emotion or feeling elicited by the action, event, or state indicated by the dependent clause.

Me gusta

Me impresiona

Me alegra

Es una pena/lástima

Me alegro de que […subjunctive…]

Es fantástico

Me sorprende

Espero (I hope)

Tengo miedo de

Adverbial clauses

  • The verb inside an adverbial clause may be either in the indicative (past, present,future) or the subjunctive (past, present) depending on the type of subordinating/adverbial conjunction which precedes the adverbial clause.
  • Temporal conjunctions (cuando, desde que, después (de) ue, en cuanto, hasta que, mientras (que), tan pronto como) require the subjunctive when the action/event/state in question has not yet taken place (the time in question is in the future and thus not real), but the indicative when the time is present (habitual) or past.

Cuando [mi madre vino/venga]

Desde que [mi madre vino]

Hasta que [mi madre venga]

  • Similarly, with other conjunctions if the action in the dependent clause has already taken place, the indicative is used; otherwise the subjuntive is used, e.g.

Aunque mi madre viene Even though (= although) my mother is coming/comes

Aunque mi madre venga Even if my mother comes

  • Some conjunctions are always followed by the subjunctive:

a no ser que "unless" a fin de que "so that"

a menos que "unless" para que "so that; in order that"

con tal que "as long as" sin que "without"

en caso de que "in case" como si "as if"

antes de que "before"

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Salem State University - Department of Foreign Languages - Language Resource Center
Last updated: July 11, 1999