Spanish grammar: Subjunctive vs Indicative

One thing that annoys us all about the Spanish language is that it wants to ruin our dreams. I am kidding, of course. However, if there is one thing thing that is certain is that Spaniards are really specific about what is real and what is not. This is kind of annoying for us dreamers, because we have to think twice. They are so specific that they even created a new mood, the subjunctive in order to tell hypothesis apart from reality. Arm yourself with a pen, a piece of paper, and some patience and let’s start.

The indicative mood is usually applied when talking about things that are certain, such as facts, events, object descriptions, and locations. Easy? What if I tell you that this certain things should be certain from the speaker point o view? Yeah, that is the key. Indicative is for assertions and assumption.

On the other hand, we have the subjunctive mood, which is used when talking about subjective things, possibilities, things that are not certain. We use the subjunctive when we talk about doubts, wishes, probabilities, and recommendations. In other words, anything different to assertions and assumptions.

When you say I like you singing, you are not saying that the other person is singing, you are just saying you like it. So in Spanish like goes in indicative and singing in subjunctive:

Me gusta que cantes

Fortunately, most sentences that use the subjunctive mood have three common features:

  1. Two subjects

The first clue that you are dealing with the subjunctive mood is the fact that there are two subjects. Like two people? Well, to be more specific, you have a subject in the main clause, and another in the subordinate clause. Usually, the person in the main clause wants the person from the subordinate clause to do something. If it is not as clear, maybe some examples will help.

Ana quiere que su madre le deje ir a la fiesta de su amiga. (Ana wants her mother to let her go to her friend’s party)

Pablo le pide a Juan que le escriba un mensaje. ( Pablo asks Juan to write him a message)

  1. Two verbs

As you can see, these sentences have two verbs, one in the main clause and one in the subordinate clause. The verb in the main clause is usually something that triggers the verb in the subordinate cause. In the two examples above, you can see that the second verb is related to the first one, or the first verb depends on the second one. I mean, for Ana to go to the party, her mother has to allow her to do so. Also, for Pablo to have the message, he needs Juan to write it.

  1. A relative pronoun

The majority of subjunctive sentences include a relative pronoun, such as “que” or “quien”, which usually links the main clause (indicative mood) with the secondary clause (subjunctive mood). If you look at the two examples that I presented you with, after the main clause: Ana quiere, we have the relative pronoun “que” which tells us that we need to use the subjunctive mood. The same happens in the second sentence, where we have the main clause Pablo le pide a Juan. The relative pronoun “que” is a sign that we must use the subjunctive mood.

Now that you know what the main characteristics of a sentence that needs the subjunctive mood are, you are one step closer to not mixing them up. Stay tuned, because there might be another post about the subjunctive mood soon.


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