Indicative & Subjunctive
Can someone please tell me abetter way to remember when and how to use the indicative and subjunctive tenses please? I'm still not understanding it in class.
Indicative and subjunctive are moods not tenses. You should look at the subjunctive sticky in the popular tab.
although its a little bit more complicated I use the following rules:
- Set expressions: things like "no creo que" usually trigger the subjunctive
- When a dependent clause has a different subject (this is a little oversimplified)
- Polite commands
Use the indiciative as the base and swop in the subjunctive when needed, also it may be better to think of these as moods not tenses.
Which one you use depends on the information included in the sentence, I think the best way to know when to use which is to know the difference between the two, and from there you just have to practice often to master it.
Let me start by telling you that indicative and subjunctive are moods not tenses, a mood shows, amongst other things, the attitude of the speaker towards the information included in the sentence, and you express that mood by inflecting the verb, for example:
Ser (To be).
- First person present tense: Yo soy (indicative) | Yo sea (subjunctive). I am
- First person past tense: Yo fui/era (indicative) | Yo fuera/fuese (subjunctive). I was
- First person future tense: Yo seré (indicative) | Yo fuere (subjunctive). I will be
Indicative mood is used when the information included in the sentence is thought of as real, for example:
- Dios es real (God is real). Some people might disagree with this, nonetheless the information is real from the perspective of the speaker, so indicative mood is used.
Subjunctive mood is used when the information is considered to be unspecific, unverified, not undergone, or when the sentence contains something we call "información virtual". I'll explain them one by one.
I'm guessing that at this point you know what the "personal a" is, you basically use it when the direct object is a person, when this person is accompanied by an undetermined article (un, una), the "personal a" shows how specific or unspecific the person is, for example:
- Buscamos un profesor que sepa hablar inglés (We are looking for a teacher who can speak English).
The first verb (buscamos) is in indicative mood, because the fact that we are looking for a teacher is real, but the second verb (sepa) is in subjunctive mood, because we are not looking for a teacher we know, we are looking for a unspecific teacher who can speak English and we don't know who that might be. So what if we were looking for a teacher that we know and we know for a fact that he can speak English, in that case we would add the "personal a" because it is a specific teacher and all the verbs would be in indicative mood.
- Buscamos a un profesor que sabe hablar inglés (We are looking for a teacher who can speak English).
As you can see, the change of mood is easy to notice in the Spanish sentence, but not in the English one.
This is the type of information that you don't know if it's true or not, basically information that you have not checked, for example:
- Lo importante es que mi hija tenga una buena familia (What's important is that my daughter has a good family).
Here you have two verbs, the first one (es) is in indicative mood because what's is important to you is real, the second verb (tenga) is in subjunctive mood, the reason depends on context, you can interpret it in two different ways, you can think of it as unverified, meaning, you know she has a family, but you don't know if it is a good one, or you can think of it as not undergone, meaning, she doesn't have a family of her own yet and what's important is that she has a good family in the future. So if you know for a fact that she has a good family, all the verbs will be in indicative mood.
- Lo importante es que mi hija tiene una buena familia (What's important is that my daughter has a good family).
Again, the mood change is evident in Spanish, but not in English.
This refers to experiences, if the action has not been experienced, it uses the subjunctive mood, for example:
- Dejé que entrasen (I let them come in).
The first verb (dejé) is in indicative mood for the same usual reason, the second verb (entrasen) is in subjunctive mood, because the action of the verb, whether it happened or not, had not been experienced at the moment the first action happened, this type of construction never uses indicative, so if I were to use indicative in both verbs, it would look like this:
- Dejé que entraban / dejé que estraron.
Both look very bad, this first example makes it sound like both actions happened at the same time (which is impossible), the second example doesn't make any sense.
This is information that has the capacity of producing an effect, for example:
- Me alegra que vinieras (I am glad you came).
Me alegra is in indicative mood, it means "it makes me happy", and the second verb (vinieras) is in subjunctive mood, because it produced the effect, the effect is making me happy.
There are instances in which both moods are interchangeable, like when you use adverbs such as tal vez, quizás or probablemente.
This is the shortest explanation I can come up with, by the way, subjunctive mood is also used for negative commands, and you should research how conditional sentences work as well, because you're going to find some subjunctive forms that work differently from the ones I explained here.