The Subjunctive The “subjunctive” is NOT a new Spanish tense, but it does involve new sets of forms (conjugations). The subjunctive is not a tense, but a mood. A „tense“ imparts to a verb indications of time. A mood indicates other kinds of information.
The Indicative Before we understand the subjunctive, let’s understand its opposite, the indicative. Except for commands, all uses of verbs since Spanish 101 are in the indicative mood. An indicative mood “indicates” that an action happens.
The Indicative When we learned the “present tense”, we were actually learning the “present indicative”. The verb was in the “present tense” and in the “indicative mood”. “Yo bailo los viernes” indicates that the dancing actually happens.
The Indicative The same goes for the preterit and imperfect tenses. “Bailé la semana pasada” means that I actually did dance last week, assuming I am not lying. (Ethics and grammar are separate subjects.)
The Indicative To be sure, an indicative can also indicate, using negative words, that something definitely does not happen, again assuming the veracity of the sentence. “Yo no bailaba el semestre pasado” indicates that I was not dancing last semester.
The Subjunctive In theory, the subjunctive basically deals with actions that are “hypothetical”. The subjunctive is not saying that an action did not happen, but it does not say that it did or did not happen.
The Subjunctive Consider the following English sentence: “I want you to leave.” To express this in Spanish, we need to use the word for “that”, that cannot be left out in Spanish. “I want that you leave.”
The Subjunctive “Quiero que salgas.” Here we have two very short sentences connected by the connector “que”. “Quiero” is in the indicative. The “wanting” is indicated as a fact. “Salgas” is in the subjunctive. The “leaving” is hypothetical and may or may not happen, but no indication is given that anyone is leaving.
The Subjunctive “Quiero que salgas” is an example of an “exertion of will”. Why else would one say this, if not to make someone leave? The use of the subjunctive after “que” is a very typical example of the use of the subjunctive.
The Subjunctive Another use of the subjunctive is to show doubt: “Dudo que hables el español.” This sentence does not say you speak Spanish or don’t. The action is talked about, but we are not saying the action happens or does not happen!
The Subjunctive Another typical use of the subjunctive is to show emotion: “Me gusta que bailes.” But professor, how could someone like the fact that someone else dances, without that dancing actually happening?
The Subjunctive Well, look at it this way: To use the subjunctive correctly, we need to break it all down on a case-by-case basis. Be patient and wait for SPN 201! (2) The emphasis is not on the dancing actually happening (even though it had to happen). The emphasis is on the reaction to the dancing. The liking is “indicated” by gustar.
The Subjunctive Grammar is not like mathematics. If you wish, you may think of the use of the subjunctive for “emotions” as not a very pure application of the idea that the subjunctive is in general used for something “hypothetical” or “indefinite”.
The Subjunctive You would also think in an ideal language that each tense would have an indicative and a subjunctive.
The Subjunctive This is not actually the case, though the present tense has both an indicative and a subjunctive form. Next semester you will learn a past subjunctive.
The Subjunctive Notice that the subjunctive would only be needed in the situations listed if there is a change of subject. Otherwise, we know very well that we can, for example, put an infinitive after querer if there is no change of subject: “Quiero salir.”
The Subjunctive The present subjunctive is a BIG part of next semester. The more familiar we can become with it now, the easier it will be. Be sure to know what is on page 424 (the irregular subjunctive forms and general uses of the subjunctive) for the final.
The Subjunctive The only situation you need to know in detail, including expressions used before the “que” is that of “exertion of will”, but I expect you to know about emotions and doubt as well and expect you to recognize obvious uses of these in the final as well.
The Subjunctive A cardinal rule for recognizing the need for the subjunctive: If que is used to connect two short sentences into a compound sentence, you must think to yourself: “Do I have a situation here that requires the subjunctive?” After a while you will realize some examples that do not need the que. The subjunctive is certainly not needed after every que. (We’ve used the que enough without using the subjunctive.)