The subjunctive is a mysterious thing. It’s not a tense but a mood. What does that even mean? Well, the easiest way to see it is to think of it as an alternate present or past tense that we have to use in certain structures. In English: I live here. Juan doesn’t believe that I live here. We’re using present tense in both cases, of course. In Spanish, however, since “Juan doesn’t believe that…” is a subjunctive trigger, we’ll need to substitute “live” for its alternate reality subjunctive present: Yo vivo aquí. Juan no cree que yo viva aquí.
We believe that the easiest way to use the subjunctive properly when Spanish is not your first language is, instead of thinking about the meaning of it (its ethereal, hypothetical, irreal quality), memorizing the “triggers,” and thinking constantly about them until they sound as a “subjunctive red flag” in your head as you are saying them making you immediately think about actively using the subjunctive right after. Eventually this will happen naturally!
Here’s a cheatsheet, feel free to print it and put it on your fridge :)
Six uses of the subjunctive mood
|1. After verbs that “trigger” the subjunctive||
Dudo que Juan esté en el restaurante.
Le pedí que me explicara lo que pasaba.
María no cree que esto esté bien.
|2. After “it’s [adjective] that” impersonal expressions||
Es imposible que tú lo puedas hacer.
Es probable que Javier esté cerca.
|3. After “ojalá”||
Ojalá que nos visiten.
Ojalá que Sara apruebe el examen.
|4. “Que tengas un buen día” and expressions alike (where we are omitting the first part: “I hope that you”)||
¡Que tengas suerte!
¡Que tengas buen viaje!
|5. With “cuando,” when talking about the future (as in “when this happens, in the future…”)||
Cuando sea mayor quiero ser piloto.
Cuando Juan llegue mañana te llamará.
|6. With “aunque” (it’s optional, in this case)||
Aunque no sea de aquí hablo inglés
Aunque estés cansado debes estudiar para el examen.
At Berges Institute, we study the subjunctive in depth in Level 5, along with the conditional and the imperative (it’s an intense course!) Feel free to visit our Class Levels and Schedule page for dates, times and locations if you are considering joining a class!