el subjuntivo

Among the most important knowledge I have built during my studies in Chile is that of Spanish grammar. As a native English speaker hoping to teach Spanish, my understanding of grammar is of utmost importance. That’s where the real work of teaching or learning a second language is—vocabulary can be memorized, but grammar has to be understood.

One aspect of Spanish grammar that has challenged me as long as I’ve studied the language is the subjunctive mood. It’s not something often discussed outside of language classrooms, because it’s difficult to express exactly what it is or why it’s a necessary part of some sentences. Even Spanish speakers who use it regularly are often at a loss if asked to explain it; they rely on their implicit (unconscious) knowledge of their native language.

English also has a subjunctive mood, but it’s not common. We see it in this sentence: “The company requires that you be first-aid certified.” Notice how the second verb (the one in the subordinate clause) has changed its form. It would be ungrammatical in many other contexts to say “you be first-aid certified,” at least in most English dialects.

So in certain sentences with subordinate clauses, the verb in the subordinate clause takes a different form. This is the subjunctive. Contrary to what some students and teachers of Spanish may tell you, the subjunctive is not a verbal tense, but a verbal mood. It’s a different property independent of tense. The mood used in the majority of Spanish sentences, and virtually all those in English, is the indicative mood. In English the subjunctive form is just the verb’s infinitive. Spanish, in contrast, has a whole different set of subjunctive conjugations to be learned.

For my fellow students/potential teachers of Spanish, I assure you there is hope. My understanding of this challenging aspect of Spanish grammar really clicked after we discussed it in my grammar class. I began to notice it more in spoken Spanish, and now I actually feel fairly confident using it (and much more aware of which sentences require it). In addition to this encouragement, I offer these resources, which I have helped me in my study of the subjunctive and Spanish in general:

  • WordReference is my favorite online Spanish-English dictionary. Among its many useful features is a verb conjugator that gives all the forms of a verb, including the subjunctive of every tense. It’s available on the website, as a free app (for iOS or Android), and as a browser extension (for Chrome or Firefox).
  • Verbix is another useful conjugation tool. It can conjugate English verbs, one of the few things WordReference won’t do.
  • Linguee is a different dictionary website. It doesn’t conjugate verbs, but it lets you see words in context, giving examples in official documents that have been translated into both languages.
  • This song, which my professor played for our class, has many examples of the subjunctive in Spanish being used with the expression “Ojalá.” (Listen in better quality on Spotify.)

¡Espero que puedas entender el subjuntivo!

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