Subjunctive Tenses in Spanish Grammar

What is the subjunctive mood?

The subjunctive (el subjuntivo) is a mood in Spanish grammar. It is a special verb from that indicates subjectivity or unreality.

Example

El subjuntivo en español… ¿lograré dominarlo?

Creo que tengo que practicarlo más. ¡Dudo que pueda aprenderlo todo en una sola sesión!

Es posible que haya un par de cosas que aún no tengo del todo claras.

Si hubiera prestado más atención en clase, habría entendido mejor la explicación.

Al final, el profesor nos pidió que resolviéramos unos ejercicios dificilísimos.

Espero que la próxima semana sea más fácil.

Subjunctive vs. Indicative

The difference between the subjunctive and the indicative lies in the speaker’s intention:

  • The indicative is the default mood; the speaker is making a standard statement or question.
    Example:
    ¿Lograré dominar el subjuntivo?Will I ever master the subjunctive?
    the speaker offers no indication of their own feelings or interpretation; they are simply posing a question
  • The subjunctive mood indicates subjectivity; the speaker is expressing their own perception of something. Subjunctive clauses almost always follow an expression or main clause that signals subjectivity.
    Example:
    Dudo que pueda aprenderlo todo en una sesión.I doubt that I can learn everything in one session.
    dudo que indicates the speaker’s feelings

A sentence in the subjunctive does not comment on or question whether a piece of information is true or false; instead, it expresses the speaker’s attitude towards it.

When to use the Spanish subjunctive

The Spanish subjunctive is used in simple sentences as well as in subordinate clauses after specific expressions.

The Spanish subjunctive in simple sentences

We use the Spanish subjunctive in simple sentences after specific words like ojalá, quizá (or quizás) and ni que.

Examples:
Ojalá la próxima clase sea más fácil.Hopefully the next class is easier.
Quizá tenga que practicar en casa.Maybe I have to practise at home.
¡Ni que sea imposible!It’s not like it’s impossible!

The Spanish subjunctive in subordinate clauses

In subordinate clauses, the Spanish subjunctive usually follows que, although there are several other conjunctions and expressions that take the subjunctive.

The main clause expresses the speaker’s attitude towards the information in the subordinate clause, which contains the subjunctive. The subjunctive can signal uncertainty, doubt, possibility, desire, obligation or emotion.

Examples:
Dudo que pueda aprenderlo todo en una sesión.I doubt that I can learn everything in one session.doubt
Puede que necesite practicar en casa.You may need to practise at home.possibility
Me encantaría que todo el mundo hablara varios idiomas.I would love it if everyone spoke several languages.desire
Es necesario que repase la lección en casa.You have to review the lesson at home.obligation
Me alegra que aprendamos curiosidades culturales en la clase de español.I’m happy that we learn cultural facts in Spanish class.emotion

We also use the subjunctive after verbs of influence (verbos de influencia) like aconsejar, desear, mandar, necesitar, obligar, ordenar, suplicar, recomendar, querer, prohibir, etc.

Example:
El profesor nos ha recomendado que veamos películas en español.The teacher advised us to watch Spanish films.advice
main clause with verb of influence (recomendar) + que + subordinate clause in the subjunctive (veamos)

Spanish subjunctive with two subjects

Another feature of subjunctive sentences is that there is usually a change of subject (el cambio de sujeto) between the main clause and the subordinate clause.

Subjunctive or infinitive?

In compound sentences with two different subjects, the verb in the main clause is in the indicative while the verb in the subordinate clause is in the subjunctive. They are connected by a conjunction (often que).

Example:
Quiero que vengas al cine conmigo.I want you to come to the cinema with me.
subject 1 (yo) + que + subject 2 (tú)subjunctive

If both verbs in the sentence share the same subject, the verb in the subordinate clause is expressed in the infinitive, not the subjunctive.

Example:
Quiero ir al cine contigo.I want to go to the cinema with you.
subject 1 (yo) = subject 2 (yo)infinitive

If the verb in the main clause takes a preposition, this comes before the conjunction or before the infinitive.

Examples:
Me alegro muchísimo de que vengas al cine conmigo.I’m really glad that you’re coming to the cinema with me.
Me alegro muchísimo de ir al cine contigo.I’m really glad I’m going to the cinema with you.

Infinitive and subjunctive

The verbs dejar, permitir and prohibir can be followed by the infinitive or the subjunctive, even when the sentence contains two different subjects.

Examples:
Los dueños del cine no dejan comer palomitas en la sala.The cinema owners don’t let you eat popcorn in the hall.
Los dueños del cine no dejan que comamos palomitas en la sala.The cinema owners don’t let us eat popcorn in the hall.

Indicative or infinitive

The verbs acordarse de, recordar, olvidarse de and olvidar are followed by the indicative even when the sentence contains two different subjects. If the subjects are the same, we use the infinitive.

Examples:
Acuérdate de que la cita es a las 8.Remember that the appointment is at eight o’clock.indicative
Acuérdate de llegar a las 8.Remember to get there at eight o’clock.infinitive

Conjunctions that take the subjunctive in Spanish

The conjunction that most commonly introduces the subjunctive is que, although there are many others. Some conjunctions always require the subjunctive, while others can be followed by the indicative or the subjunctive depending on the context.

Conjunctions that take the subjunctive

Conjunctions Examples

a condición de que
con tal de que
siempre y cuando

Te presto mi bici a condición de que la cuides.I’ll lend you my bike on condition that you take care of it.
Te presté mi bici con tal de que la cuidaras.I lent you my bike provided that you would take care of it.
Te prestaré mi bici siempre y cuando la cuides.I’ll lend you my bike as long as you take care of it.
a menos que
a no ser que
salvo que
El viernes iremos al cine a menos que tengas una idea mejor.We’ll go to the cinema on Friday unless you have a better idea.
El viernes iremos al cine a no ser que prefieras ir al teatro.We’ll go to the cinema on Friday unless you would rather to go to the theatre.
El viernes iremos al cine salvo que quieras quedarte en casa.We’ll go to the cinema on Friday unless you want to stay in.
antes de que Llámame antes de que te den el resultado del examen.Call me before they give you the exam results.
después de que Te llamé después de que me dieran el resultado del examen.I called you after they gave me the exam results.
como si No me mires como si estuviera loco.Don’t look at me like I’m crazy.
de ahí que No me sonó el despertador, de ahí que llegara tarde a la entrevista.My alarm didn’t go off, so I was late to the interview.
en caso de que Llámame en caso de que necesites ayuda.Call me in case you need help.
ni que ¡Ni que fuera culpa mía!It’s not like it was my fault!
no sea/fuera que
por miedo a que
Ponte esta bufanda, no sea que te resfríes.Put on this scarf so you don’t freeze.
No te dije nada por miedo a que te enfadaras.I didn’t tell you anything for fear that you would get angry.
para que
a fin de que
Anoche te llamé para que me contaras chismes.I called you last night so that you would tell me the gossip.
Te presto este libro a fin de que tengas algo que leer este verano.I’ll lend you this book so that you have something to read this summer.
sin que Diana me felicitó sin que yo le dijera nada.Diana congratulated me without me saying anything.

Conjunctions that take subjunctive and indicative

Depending on the meaning or the tense of the sentence, some conjunctions can take the indicative or the subjunctive.

According to meaning

When the conjunctions below are followed by the subjunctive, the sentence refers to a hypothetical scenario:

Conjunctions Examples
aunque No te compraré un coche aunque me lo pidas por favor.I won’t buy you a car even if you say please.
como Haremos las cosas como yo diga.We’ll do things as I say.
mientras Mientras tengas trabajo, podrás pagar el alquiler.As long as you have a job, you will be able to pay the rent.
por mucho que
por más que
Por mucho que insistiera, no le perdonaría.No matter how much he insisted, I wouldn’t forgive him.
Por más que
llores, no solucionarás nada.No matter how much you cry, you won’t fix anything.

When the conjunctions below are followed by the indicative, the sentence refers to a real situation:

Conjunctions Examples
aunque Aunque gano mucho dinero, no consigo ahorrar.Although I make a lot of money, I can’t manage to save.
como Como llegué tarde a la entrevista, no conseguí el puesto.Because I was late for the interview, I didn’t get the job.
mientras Mientras trabajo, escucho música.While I work, I listen to music.
por mucho que
por más que
Por mucho que madrugo, no aprovecho la mañana.No matter how early I get up, I don’t make the most of the morning.
Por más que me abrigué, me puse enfermo.No matter how warmly I wrapped up, I got sick.

According to the tense

The conjunctions of time cada vez que, cuando, desde que, en cuanto, hasta que, siempre que and tan pronto como can be followed by the subjunctive or the indicative.

Use the subjunctive:

  • when the sentence presents a future action.
    Examples:
    Te llamo cuando salga de trabajar.I’ll call you when I leave work.
    Te llamaré cuando salga de trabajar.I’m going to call you when I leave work.
    Llámame cuando salga de trabajar.Call me when you leave work.
  • when the sentence presents a hypothetical situation and is introduced by a verb in the conditional.
    Example:
    Me encantaría llamarte cuando tuvieras tiempo.I’d love to call you when you have time.

Use the indicative:

  • when the sentence expresses an action in the present or past or a repeated action.
    Examples:
    Por costumbre, llamo a mi madre cuando salgo de trabajar.I usually call my mum when I leave work.
    Te llamé cuando salí de trabajar.I called you when I left work.

Sequence of tenses with the Spanish subjunctive

The use of different tenses in the subjunctive depends on the sequence of tenses (la secuencia temporal). The tense used in the main clause (in either the indicative or imperative mood) determines which subjunctive tense we use in the subordinate clause.

Simple tenses: present and imperfect subjunctive

Main Clause (in the indicative) Subordinate Clause (in the subjunctive) Examples
Present Present Subjunctive

No creo que seas bilingüe.I don’t believe that you’re bilingual.

Future Te llamaré cuando llegue.I will call you when I arrive.
Imperative Avísame cuando salgas de trabajar.Let me know when you leave work.
Present Perfect Me ha molestado que llegues tarde.I’m annoyed that you’re late.
Present Perfect Imperfect Subjunctive Me ha molestado que llegaras tarde.I was annoyed that you were late.
Present Me alegra mucho que aprobaras el examen.I’m happy that you passed the exam.
Imperfect El profesor no dejaba que los alumnos mirasen el móvil en clase.The teacher didn’t let the students look at their phones in class.
Preterite El profesor avisó cinco minutos antes de que terminara el examen.The teacher warned them five minutes before the exam finished.
Past Perfect El director había pedido que todos los estudiantes salieran al patio.The head teacher had asked all the students to come out to the playground.
Conditional

Algunos alumnos preferirían que los exámenes fueran orales.Some students would rather the exams be oral exams.

Te ayudaría si tuviera más tiempo libre.I would help you if I had more free time.

Compound tenses: present perfect and past perfect subjunctive

Main Clause (in the indicative) Subordinate Clause (in the subjunctive) Examples
Present Present Perfect Subjunctive

No creo que ya hayan llegado.I don’t think they have arrived yet.

Future David me llamará cuando haya aterrizado.David will call me when he has landed.
Imperative Avísame cuando hayas salido de trabajar.Let me know when you have left work.
Present Perfect Me ha molestado que hayas llegado tarde.I was annoyed that you were late.
Present Past Perfect Subjunctive

Es posible que Tania hubiera llegado antes que tú.It’s possible that Tania had arrived before you.
Imperfect El profesor no entendía que algunos alumnos hubieran copiado en el examen.The teacher didn’t realise that some students had cheated in the exam.
Preterite El profesor avisó cinco minutos antes de que hubiera terminado el examen.The teacher informed them five minutes before the exam had finished.
Past Perfect Me había sorprendido que hubieran despedido a Ricardo.It surprised me that Ricardo had been fired.
Conditional

Estaría genial que Linda y Carlos se hubieran acordado de traer las bebidas.It would be great if Linda and Carlos had remembered to bring the drinks.

Conditional Perfect

Habría venido antes si hubiera podido.I would have come sooner if I had been able to.

Set phrases with the Spanish subjunctive

Certain phrases always take the subjunctive. Below are some of the most common:

Structure Meaning Examples
como + subjunctive whatever/whichever you want/prefer/fancy … Podemos pintar la habitación verde o morada; como tú quieras.We can paint the room green or purple, whatever you want.
lo que + subjunctive Podemos pintar la habitación verde o morada; lo que prefieras.We can paint the room green or purple, whichever you prefer.
que + subject + subjunctive softened statement Que yo sepa, Marta y Martina no son hermanas.As far as I know, Marta and Martina aren’t sisters.
subjunctive + lo que + subjunctive whatever Decidas lo que decidas, estará bien.Whatever you decide, it will be ok.