Subjunctive Tense

Written by tutor Michael U.

The subjunctive mood is used in Spanish to express situations contrary to fact or cases of unreality. It is present in the dependent
clause when the independent clause expresses emotion (estoy contento de que… I am happy that…), volition (quiero que… I want
[that]…), likes or preference (prefiero que… I prefer…), possibility (es posible que… it is possible that…), influence
(Le mando que… I command him to…), doubt (yo dudo que… I doubt that…) or judgment (es bueno que… It is good that…).

When the subjunctive is used, the verb changes its form, either its stem and/or its endings. For example verbs that end in –ar, such
as hablar have an –e ending in the present subjunctive. Verbs ending in -er or –ir in the subjunctive like vender or vivir, change their endings to -a.

Here are three useful tables to quickly reference the common verb endings used in the present subjuctive mood.

Present Subjunctive Verb Endings

AR verb endings

yo hable nosotros/as hablemos
hables vosotros habléis
él/ella/Ud. hable ellos/ellas/Uds. hablen

ER verb endings

yo venda nosotros/as vendamos
vendas vosotros vendáis
él/ella/Ud. venda ellos/ellas/Uds. vendan

IR verb endings

yo viva nosotros/as vivamos
vivas vosotros viváis
él/ella/Ud. viva ellos/ellas/Uds. vivan

When using the subjunctive, agreement of tenses is necessary, that is, the tenses in the independent clause must be in
agreement to that of the dependent clause. For example, if one starts a sentences in the present (yo quiero que), the
second part of the sentence must end in the present subjunctive. However, if the action takes place in the past (yo quería
que), the second part of the sentence must also be in the past (imperfect) subjunctive. The exception to that rule is if the
verb in the independent clause is taking place in the present and the dependent clause is looking back on the past, then one
can mix the two sentences. Ex: Dudo que fueras feo cuando eras niño. (I doubt you were ugly when you were a child.)

Verbs or expressions of certainty do not require the subjunctive. For example creer, pensar, ser cierto in the affirmative
use the indicative form. Example: Creo que Dios existe. I believe that God exists. However, the aforementioned expressions
in the negative form do require the subjunctive. No cree que Dios exista. (He does not believe that God exists.)

The following are the endings for –ar –er and –ir verbs in the past subjunctive:

Past Subjunctive Verb Endings

AR verb endings

yo hablara nosotros/as habláramos
hablaras vosotros hablarais
él/ella/Ud. hablara ellos/ellas/Uds. hablaran

ER verb endings

yo vendiera nosotros/as vendiéramos
vendieras vosotros vendierais
él/ella/Ud. vendiera ellos/ellas/Uds. vendieran

IR verb endings

yo viviera nosotros/as viviéramos
hables vosotros vivierais
él/ella/Ud. viviera ellos/ellas/Uds. vivieran

When forming verbs with irregular stems, all one has to do in the present tense is the following: take the “yo” form of the verb in the present
and add the appropriate subjunctive ending. Tener, because of tengo, becomes tenga and dormir, because of duermo, becomes duerma.
As for the imperfect subjunctive, one just takes the stem of the irregular preterite verb in the “ellos” conjugation and one can easily form it:
tener because of tuvieron, becomes tuviera and venir, because of vinieron, become viniera.

Irregular verbs in the subjunctive

Tener in the present subjunctive (using teng- root)

yo tenga nosotros/as tengamos
tengas vosotros tengáis
él/ella/Ud. tenga ellos/ellas/Uds. tengan

Dormir in the present subjunctive (using duerm- root)

yo duerma nosotros/as durmamos
duermas vosotros durmáis
él/ella/Ud. duerma ellos/ellas/Uds. duerman

Venir in the imperfect subjunctive (using vinier- root)

yo viniera nosotros/as viniéramos
vinieras vosotros vinierais
él/ella/Ud. viniera ellos/ellas/Uds. vinieran

Finally, the subjunctive is not always foreseen by the use of a verb. At times relative pronouns or certain conjunctions
require its use. A relative pronoun will be followed by the subjunctive if the desired action has not occurred yet. For example:
Cuando llegues, prepararé la cena. (When you arrive, I will prepare dinner.) Or “Aunque no me gustara el regalo,
no se lo diría.” (Even if I did not like the gift, I would not tell him so.) Another indicator of the subjunctive is in
certain si (if) clauses, when they express situation contrary to fact. For example, si tuviera un millón de dólares, compraría
un mansion. (If I had a million dollars, I would buy a mansion.) However, if si expresses generality, the subjunctive is not used.
Si llego tarde, me regañan. (If I arrive late, they scold me.)

Subjunctive Quiz

In which of the following situations would one NOT use the subjunctive?

The correct answer here would be A.

Which of the following verbs does NOT take subjunctive in the affirmative form?

Impedir (to prevent)
The correct answer here would be A.

Fill in the appropriate subjunctive form:
Deseo que tú me ________ la verdad.

The correct answer here would be B.
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