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A.

Saalfeld University of Nebraska-Omaha


Spanish 1120
El uso del subjuntivo

The subjunctive is used to express actions that are hypothetical or not real, which can include a
number of different categories, including future actions, wishes and desires, and many other
categories.

It is important to note that the subjunctive is almost NEVER used when its the only verb in the
sentence (the only exceptions are after ojal and quizs). In all other cases, the subjunctive
is part of a dependent clause. A dependent clause is a sentence fragment that depends on
something in the main sentence to exist.

For example, in the following sentences, the main sentence (or clause) is in italics and the
dependent sentence (or clause) is underlined.

Creo [que mis amigos vienen maana.]
S [que hay un examen en la clase de espaol el viernes.]
Tengo algunos amigos [que me llaman casi todos los das.]
La clase [que me gusta ms] es la clase de espaol.
Aunque llueve, vamos a hacer un picnic.
No quiero ir al picnic porque llueve.

Whether or not the subjunctive is used depends on what type of dependent sentence (clause) is
used. There are three types of dependent sentences:

(a) Nominal. These sentences are called nominal because they take the place of a
noun in the main sentence. What does this mean? A noun can be the subject or direct
object of a sentence. Therefore, a nominal sentence can also be the subject or direct
object. For example:

Es cierto [que hay una fiesta hoy por la noche.]
Creo [que mis amigos vienen maana].

In the first sentence, the dependent sentence acts as the subject (remember that in
Spanish, the subject can occur at the end of the sentence). It would make sense if we
replaced this sentence fragment with a noun, such as the rumor.

Es cierto el rumor.

In the second sentence, the dependent sentence acts as the direct object. Remember that
the direct object answers the question who or what. So if we ask the question
Who/What do I believe?, the answer is that my friends are coming tomorrow. As in
the previous example, it would make sense if we replaced this sentence fragment with a
noun, such as the news.

Creo las noticias.

A. Saalfeld University of Nebraska-Omaha
Spanish 1120
With this kind of sentence, the use of the subjunctive depends on the meaning of the main
verb. If the main verb expresses the following, the subjunctive is used (italics used for
main verb, bold used for dependent verb):

Wishes (querer, preferir, desear, etc.)

Quiero que me visiten mis amigos.

Emotions (estar alegre/triste/enojado que, etc.)

Estoy feliz que me visiten mis amigos.

Influence (preferir, sugerir, mandar, demandar, etc.)

Los padres sugieren que sus hijos limpien sus cuartos regularmente.

Requests (sugerir, pedir, etc.)

El profesor pide que los estudiantes no hablen en clase.

Doubt (dudar, no creer, etc.)

Dudo que mis amigos me visiten.

Note that in all cases, people will understand you whether or not you use the subjunctive,
because the hypothetical meaning thats expressed in the subjunctive is also expressed in
the main verb. In other words, the subjunctive in this case always conveys redundant
information (information that has already been communicated somewhere else in the
sentence). This is not the case with the other uses of the subjunctive.

(b) Adjectival. These are a little easier to identify, because the sentence fragment always
works like an adjective (it describes a noun), as in the following examples.

Tengo algunos amigos [que me llaman casi todos los das.]
La clase [que me gusta ms] es la clase de espaol.

Note that in both of these examples, the sentence fragment describes the noun: amigos or
clase. We could replace either of these sentence fragments with an adjective and the
sentence would still make sense:

Tengo algunos amigos excelentes.
La clase ms interesante es la clase de espaol.

In these sentences, the use of the subjunctive depends on whether the noun being
described is real or hypothetical, or if we dont know whether or not it exists. For
example:
A. Saalfeld University of Nebraska-Omaha
Spanish 1120

No tengo amigos [que me llamen casi todos los das.]
Necesito un coche [que no use mucha gasolina.]

In many cases with this kind of sentence, the use of the subjunctive is also redundant, as
in the case of nominal sentences, but not in all cases. For example:

Voy a comprar el coche [que ms me gusta].
Voy a comprar el coche [que ms me guste].

In the first example, we can tell by the use of the indicative (the regular present tense)
that the person talking has a specific car in mind, whereas in the second, we know that
the speaker does not have a specific car in mind.

(c) Adverbials. These sentence fragments always describe the verb (we could replace
them with an adverb). There are quite a few different types, and with two exceptions,
either the indicative or subjunctive can be used in adverbial sentences.

(i) Manner/mode. Describes the way that the action is done. This can be either
indicative or subjunctive, depending on whether the manner is hypothetical or
real. For example:

Voy a hacer la tarea [como me dice el profesor.]
Voy a hacer la tarea [como me diga el profesor.]

In this first example, we know from the use of the indicative that the professor has
given specific instructions that the speaker is going to follow. In the second
example, we know from use of the subjunctive that the speaker has not received
specific instructions yet. Note that this could be replaced with an adverb
describing the way that the speaker will do the homework:

Voy a hacer la tarea rpidamente.

(ii) Place. Describes the place where the action is done. This can also be either
indicative or subjunctive, depending on whether the place is hypothetical or real.

Voy a esperarte [donde me dices.]
Voy a esperarte [donde me digas.]

Again, the difference in meaning is only communicated through the use of the
subjunctive or indicative: in the first example, the place is known to the speaker,
and in the second, the place is not known to the speaker. Again, we could replace
the sentence fragment with an adverb:

Voy a esperarte afuera.

A. Saalfeld University of Nebraska-Omaha
Spanish 1120
(iii) Time. Describes when the action takes place. This can take either the
indicative or the subjunctive, depending on whether the action is in the past or is a
habitual action (indicative), or is in the future (subjunctive).

Sal con mis amigos [cuando me llamaron.] (past)
Salgo con mis amigos [cuando me llaman.] (habitual)
Salgo con mis amigos [cuando me llamen.] (future)

Note that since the present can be used to express either present or near-future
actions, in some cases, such as in the above examples, the only way to determine
whether an action is habitual or future is by noticing whether the verb is indicative
or subjunctive.

(iv) Final. Describes the desired outcome of the action. This always takes the
subjunctive, because it always expresses a hypothetical or unknown outcome.

Los padres trabajan [para que sus hijos puedan estudiar en la universidad.]
Voy a hacer trabajo extra [para que el jefe me pague ms.]

(v) Causal. Describes the cause of the action. This always takes the indicative,
because for one action to cause another, it must be real.

Estudio [porque quiero recibir buenas notas.]
Mis amigos no pueden visitarme [porque tienen que trabajar.]

(vi) Conditional. Describes a condition that has to occur in order for the main
verb to occur. This one is a little different, because most conditions are expressed
with si (if), and si has its own set of rules (in the present tense, its always
used with the indicative). But for other types of conditional sentences, the
subjunctive is used because the conditional is hypothetical (not real).

[Si ellos llegan a tiempo], vamos al cine.
[Con tal de que ellos lleguen a tiempo], vamos al cine.
[En caso de que no vengan nuestros amigos], tenemos otros planes.

(vii) Concessive. Describes a concession or difficulty that may hinder the
activity of main verb. This can be either indicative or subjunctive, depending on
whether the difficulty is real or hypothetical.

[Aunque llueve], vamos a hacer un picnic.
[Aunque llueva], vamos a hacer un picnic.

In the first example, the use of the indicative denotes that the difficulty is real; in
other words, its raining (the best translation is Even though its raining). In the
second, the use of the subjunctive indicates that the difficulty is hypothetical (the
best translation is Even if it rains).