The Spanish Subjunctive. A Lesson for Beginners.
If you are relatively new to Spanish, subjunctive can be confusing and overwhelming. In this post, I want to build the first few baby steps in your understanding, and I want to lay a foundation that you will be able to build on when you are ready to learn more.
To begin your journey into subjunctive, there are only three simple things you need to know.
Subjunctive is used for uncertainty and emotion. Don’t worry about what that means precisely. Not just yet. I simply want you to stick those two words into your brain: uncertainty and emotion. Subjunctive is normally found in a phrase that begins with que. Now you have three words to remember: uncertainty, emotion, and que-phrases.
You can recognize subjunctive because it has what a call a “swapped vowel.” habla becomes hable, comen becomes coman, puedes becomes puedas. Commands (imperative) has the same flipped vowel, and many of the verb forms are identical. How can you tell whether something is a command or subjunctive? The context of the sentence.
These two sentences are good, clear examples of subjunctive. Learn them.
Es bueno que puedas venir. It’s good that you could come.
Que tengas un buen día. (I hope that you) have a good day.
With these three facts, you have the first layer of the foundation of understanding subjunctive. A. You have a vague idea of what it is used for. B. You can recognize it. C. You have two sentences to use as models. Now I want you to step away from the lessons.
Take your new knowledge out for a test drive. Start reading and listening. Every time a verb uses the wrong vowel at the end (swapped vowel), figure out if it is a command or subjunctive. If it is subjunctive, ask yourself why. Does it line up with your criteria and examples? Is there a que phrase? How is it structured? In what way is the phrase related to uncertainty or emotion? Observe and analyze what you see out there. This step will deepen and broaden your comprehension of subjunctive. It will help you begin to get a feel for it. When you can pull together your knowledge and your instinct, you will conquer subjunctive.
After some practice, you will have built the second layer of your foundation. Then, and only then, you will be ready to study a grammar lesson about subjunctive.
Lessons, for when you are ready to take the next step.
SpanishDict.com’s grammar index. Many articles about subjunctive here. http://www.spanishdict.com/grammar
StudySpanish.com’s Intro to Subjunctive page. http://www.studyspanish.com/lessons/subj1.htm
FluenU.com A very good lesson on Subjunctive. http://www.fluentu.com/spanish/blog/spanish-subjunctive/
A word to the Spanish veterans reading this:
+ I know subjunctive is a mood, not a tense.
+ I know it is used in a clause, not a phrase.
+ I know I skipped -ir verbs.
+ I know there are times when there is no “que” trigger.
+ I know I didn’t explain how to conjugate stem-changing or irregular verbs.
+ etc., etc.
I skipped over those points on purpose. This thread is meant for new learners, and at that stage subjunctive can be very overwhelming. Therefore I plead with you, do not add that information to this post. If someone wants to create a post which teaches the next stage of understanding subjunctive, I would be very grateful – that would help a lot of people. Let me know, and I’ll gladly link to it from here. But for the sake of those who are easily overwhelmed, please don’t post the next stage of information here.
De nada. There are some people discussing the W.E.I.R.D.O method on YouTube.
As a relative beginner, the subjunctive intimidates me. Thanks for this post.
If you are looking for a book specifically for subjunctive mood take a look at this one.
I am cutting and pasting your suggestions into my notes and will try this out when I get there. Thank you for the tips and the links!
Haha I've been saying "tienes un buen dia" to lots of people. Now I can say it properly :D Thanks.
Man, having Latin classes at school really pays off... All this hard grammer-stuff with Spanish is pretty much the same as I already learned with Latin!
Thank you for the tips and the links - I have cut and pasted them into my notes and will use this when I get there!
If you have any doubt feel free to ask me :)
I think this is a great way to start learning any new verb form: get a little information on it, observe it in the wild, then start studying it. Excellent advice! Thank you!
Thank you, all. I'm glad to hear that it is helping you. I love teaching - if I give you my strawberries, there are no strawberries left for me. But if I give you my knowledge, you gain, I don't lose, and in fact I learn a little more. I like that kind of economics. And I still have my strawberries!
A very good beginner's lesson for the subjunctive, Paula. You cover the essentials in a clear and easy to understand way. Btw, to me the subjunctive is in many ways what makes Spanish such a beautiful language.
That's a very interesting perspective, Ole. Could you tell me what makes you say that?
Btw, I use one of your examples all the time when I'm in Spain: "Que tenga un buen día", "Que tenga una buena tarde/noche", "Que tenga un buen fin de semana" etc. People at the local restaurants, supermarked, hairdresser, golf course etc. become more friendly when talking to them in their own language. You get a nice smile and "Igualmente".
Funny you should say that. "Igualmente" is my favorite reply to subjunctive because it saves me from language embarrassment.
When well-mannered Mexicans part company, they don’t say goodbye. They make a polite comment like, “I hope you spend a relaxing evening with your family.” The phrase is always something different. It’s an awkward moment for a Spanish learner like me because:
- The phrase is harder to decipher because it’s unrelated to the conversation.
- I can’t think of an equally polite response because it’s not a part of my culture.
- My Spanish is lacking, so it takes me another moment to form a response into Spanish, especially since it’s usually in subjunctive.
So I used to just stand there, unable to say anything. But then I learned a handy trick. If I get stuck I just say, “igualmente.” Not very creative, but at least I don’t sound like a barbarian.
Kind of hard to explain. I guess it is the mood, the sense of emotion and uncertainty, and that many words feel and look prettier, at least to me :) I just love the subjunctive, and luckily enough since most things in this world tend to be uncertain or involve emotions, one hears and reads subjunctive phrases all the time. :)
I will try to listen for it, with that perspective in mind. It will probably help me learn it better because of learning theory. When you learn something, you connect it to other things you already know. The more different things you can connect it to, the better you know it.