The Spanish subjunctive - a nightmare for students and a thing of dread for some teachers. Why is there a whole new tense for things that _could_ be? Find out how and when to use the _subjuntivo_ in this post.

Woman with sun hat lying on the beach, reading a book.
Once you have the subjunctive memorized, it'll be as easy as laying on the beach

One of the hardest things for students learning Spanish to overcome is the sheer amount of verb tenses. Once they have all the past irregular verbs for all the pronouns memorized, there’s now the subjunctive to learn! In some languages, the subjunctive is an everyday thing but for others, it’s not something we have to think about.

When to use the Spanish subjunctive?

The Spanish subjunctive – or subjuntivo – can be used to refer to both the present and the future. It can be used in a variety of ways to express:

  • Possibilities, uncertainties and doubts

  • Desires

  • Feelings

  • Advice

Whether or not the subjunctive is used for present or future instances depends on time words. Here are two examples:

Puede que Cristina esté en clase ahora. (present – ahora)
It’s possible that Cristina is in class now.

Mi hermano quiere que mañana le ayude con los deberes. (future – tomorrow)
My brother wants me to help him with his homework tomorrow.

Let’s have a look at each of the ways we can use the Spanish subjuntivo.

Spanish subjunctive to express possibility, uncertainty and doubt

Think of not knowing something or being unsure of the possibility of something as a trigger for the Spanish subjunctive.

When you start a sentence with, or use an expressions like:

  • Quizás / tal vez…

  • Es probable que…

  • Puede que…

The subjunctive will follow.

Quizás no vaya a venir hoy.
Maybe she won’t come today.

Es probable que mañana llueva.
It’s possible that it will rain tomorrow.

weather forecast with different types of weather.
Es probable que mañana llueva - using the Spanish subjunctive for possibilities

Expressing desires or wishes with el subjuntivo

Have you got a burning desire? Chances are, you’ll need subjuntivo for that. There are expressions like ojalá that always trigger the Spanish subjunctive (remember and memorize this!). When you want something or wish something on someone else, you’re thinking about something in the future, something intangible. Therefore, you must use the subjunctive in Spanish.

Some of the ones that express desire are:

  • Ojalá que…

  • Espero que…

  • Quiero que…

Ojalá mañana sea soleado.
I hope tomorrow is sunny.

Quiero que Juan me invite a cenar.
I want Juan to invite me to dinner.

In Spanish, it’s common to use que + to wish someone something. In English, you would say “have a good day”. In Spanish:

Que tengas buen día.

When a friend isn’t feeling well, naturally, you’ll say “feel better”. In Spanish:

Que te mejores.

Advice, recommendation or opinion

Giving advice on something? When you’re using more expressions and verbs with “que”, it’s common to use the Spanish subjunctive.

  • Es mejor que…

  • Es peor que…

  • Es bueno que…

  • Es malo que…

  • Te aconsejo que…

Es mejor que estudies todos los diás.

Es bueno que la llames.

Es malo que toméis mucha sal.

Te aconsejo que vengas de inmediato.

Father giving advice to son on bench in park.
Spanish subjunctive can be used to give advice - Te aconsejo que llames a tu hermana

Feelings of surprise, fear, happiness and more

The Spanish subjunctive can also express feelings. Expressions like the following often trigger the use of it:

  • Me gusta que

  • Tengo miedo de que

  • Me sorprende que

Me alegro que hayas venido
I’m happy that you came.

Tengo miedo de que el techo se caiga.
I’m afraid that the roof will fall in.

As you can see there is a pattern with feelings followed by que that will push the subjunctive to be used.

Opinions in the negative

This one might be hard to wrap your head around. When expressing an opinion, we’ll use the subjunctive when it is negative – only when it’s a negation. Verbs like these often express opinions:

  • Creer

  • Opinar

  • Pensar

Regular opinion

For opinions using these verbs in the positive form, we use the regular present indicative tense:

Pienso que eres linda.
I think that you are cute.

Creo que cantas muy bien.
I think that you sing well.

Negative opinion:

Now let’s look at a negative opinion. This is when the Spanish subjunctive kicks in.

No pienso que debas ir.
I don’t think you should go.

No creo que quepa la cama en este lugar.
I don’t think the bed will fit in this place.

For future ideas after these expressions

There are certain expressions that will trigger the subjunctive in Spanish only if they are talking about a future action. These are:

  • Aunque

  • Hasta que

  • Cuando

  • Después de que

  • Tan pronto como

What do we mean by in the future? Here’s an example:

Después de que me paguen, te presto el dinero.
After they pay me, I’ll lend you the money.

In this example, they haven’t paid me yet. So using después de que me paguen triggers the subjuntivo.

The next example also uses Spanish subjunctive to talk about the future:

Cuando vaya a España, hablaré español.

The idea here is that the next time I go, I will speak Spanish.

Not subjunctive:

Cuando voy a España, hablo español.

Because in this example we are talking about every time we go and speaking Spanish is something that normally happens, we’ll use the regular old present tense.

Woman with sun hat lying on the beach, reading a book.
Cuando vaya a México, voy a leer y broncearme todo el verano - using subjunctive with cuando talk about the future

How to conjugate Spanish subjunctive in present

Conjugating verbs in the subjunctive is much easier than actually using them. And one of the great things is that even some of the verbs that are normally irregular in the present follow an easy format in the subjunctive. Let’s take a look.

For regular verbs, take the present first-person (yo) form and remove the ending °. We keep the conjugated root form of the verb and remove the o ending.

Poner = pong o
Salir = salg o

If the verb ends in AR like caminar, hablar, desear, we change the endings to E.

Yo habl e
Tu habl es
Él/ella/usted habl e
Nosotros habl emos
Vosotros hab léis
Ellos/ellas/ustedes habl en

If the verb ends in ER or IR like poner, recoger, salir or traducir, we change endings to A.

Yo traduzc a
Tu traduzc as
Él/ella/usted traduzc a
Nosotros traduzc amos
Vosotros traduzc áis
Ellos/ellas/ustedes traduzc an

There are, of course, irregular verbs too. Luckily there aren’t many – just 7. You can remember these by spelling out V-D-I-S-H-E-S for ver, dar, ir, saber, haber, estar and ser. Not too bad!

Irregular verbs:

Ver – vea, veas, vea, veamos, veáis, vean
Dar – dé, des, dé, demos, deis, den
Ir – vaya, vayas, vaya, vayamos, vayáis, vayan
Saber – sepa, sepas, sepa, sepamos, sepáis, sepan
Haber – haya, hayas, haya, hayamos, hayáis, hayan
Estar – esté, estés, esté, estemos, estéis, estén
Ser – sea, seas, sea, seamos, seáis, sean

Key Takeaways

If your head is spinning after all of these ideas about desires, possibilities and doubts – don’t worry. All you have to do is study and remember which words and expressions always go with the subjunctive in Spanish. Expressions like:

  • Espero que

  • Ojalá

  • Te aconsejo que

  • No creo que

The best way to learn is to practice. How can you do that? Try to listen – when you’re on the street, watching a series or a movie in Spanish – and you might notice “hey, that was subjuntivo”.

Try to focus on one expression at a time and get to know it really well. Once you’ve mastered that, move onto the next one. Of course if you’re able to, sign up for a class in the heart of Barcelona.

And remember, poco a poco!

January 17th, 2021

Posted in Learn Spanish

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