Grammar & Vocabulary

The Subjunctive Mood

Charlie_Parker,_Tommy_Potter,_Miles_Davis,_Duke_Jordan,_Max_Roach_(Gottlieb_06851)
«Charlie quiere que Miles toque la trompeta». / PUBLIC DOMAIN

The subjunctive is a gramatical “mood,” an alternate form of a verb that we need to use in certain situations. There is a subjunctive mood in English, although it is often limited to formal written language. Here are some examples of sentences using the English subjunctive:

The agency asks that he be detained.

Mary demands that John pay his debt.

He requests that she play the piano.

Peter suggests that she go to the doctor.

All these examples have one thing in common: in all of them, there is a “trigger” verb followed by that (asks that, demands that, requests that, suggests that). This “trigger” verb makes the use of the subjunctive mood in the second clause necessary (be, instead of was, pay, instead of pays, play, instead of plays, go, instead of goes). Here are the present indicative and present subjunctive English conjugations for the verbs used in the example above:

To be (indicative) To be (subjunctive) To pay (indicative) To pay (subjunctive)
I am [that] I be I pay [that] I pay
You are [that] you be You pay [that] you pay
He/she/it is [that] he/she/it be He/she/it pays [that] he/she/it pay
We are [that] we be We pay [that] we pay
They are [that] they be They pay [that] they pay
To play (indicative) To play (subjunctive) To go (indicative) To go (subjunctive)
I play [that] I play I go [that] I go
You play [that] you play You go [that] you go
He/she/it plays [that] he/she/it play He/she/it goes [that] he/she/it go
We play [that] we play We go [that] we go
They play [that] they play They go [that] they go

Here are the present indicative and present subjunctive Spanish conjugations for those four verbs:

Ser (indicativo) Ser (subjuntivo) Pagar (indicativo) Pagar (subjuntivo)
Yo soy Yo sea Yo pago Yo pague
Tú eres Tú seas Tú pagas Tú pagues
Él/ella/usted es Él/ella/usted sea Él/ella/usted paga Él/ella/usted pague
Nosotros/as somos Nosotros seamos Nosotros pagamos Nosotros paguemos
Ellos/as/uds. son Ellos/ellas/uds. sean Ellos/ellas/uds. pagan Ellos/ellas/uds. paguen
Tocar (indicativo) Tocar (subjuntivo) Ir (indicativo) Ir (subjuntivo)
Yo toco Yo toque Yo voy Yo vaya
Tú tocas Tú toques Tú vas Tú vayas
Él/ella/usted toca Él/ella/usted toque Él/ella/usted va Él/ella/usted vaya
Nosotros/as tocamos Nosotros toquemos Nosotros vamos Nosotros vayamos
Ellos/as/uds. tocan Ellos/ellas/uds. toquen Ellos/ellas/uds. van Ellos/ellas/uds. vayan

And here are the examples above translated into Spanish:

The agency asks that he be detained.
La agencia pide que él sea detenido.

Mary demands that John pay his debt.
Mary exige que John pague su deuda.

He requests that she play the piano.
Él pide que ella toque el piano.

Peter suggests that she go to the doctor.
Peter sugiere que ella vaya al doctor.

The problem is that, in Spanish, there are many more “trigger” verbs than in English. Here are some common ones:

Juan duda que Mary sea…

Mary pague…

Mary toque…

Mary vaya…

Etc.

no cree que*
no piensa que*
desea que
espera que
prefiere que
quiere que
pide que
prohíbe que
recomienda que
necesita que

*Note: creer and pensar are only subjunctive “triggers” when they are in their negative form.

In addition to this, we use the Spanish subjunctive in some other cases, but we’ll talk about that in future posts!

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