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The Subjunctive Mood in Noun Clauses
Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns
Introduction: the subjunctive mood.
Presumably, up until now you
have been using primarily the indicative mood. The indicative (modo indicativo) in
both English and Spanish is used to indicate facts or states of being in the “real
world”, and to ask questions:
Jorge dice la verdad. Jorge is telling the truth.
Elena no canta hoy. Elena is not singing today.
Are you tired?
¿Estás cansado?
In contrast to the indicative, the subjunctive mood (modo subjuntivo) is very
rarely used as the main verb of a sentence; it is used primarily in dependent
(“subjoined”) clauses and to express a subjective view or the negation or the
anticipation of an action or state. In the case of a subjective view, the action or state
may in fact exist in reality; the emphasis, however, is on the reaction of the speaker.
We can find some examples of situations where we use the subjunctive both in
Spanish and in English; in the English translations note that the third person singular
form does not end in the usual -s:
We recommend that she *come. Recomendamos que ella venga.
I insist that he *be here.
Insisto en que esté aquí.
*Note that the normal forms are “she comes”and “he is”.
Unfortunately —at least for purposes of transferring our knowledge of English
grammar to Spanish— modern English uses the subjunctive very little. In Spanish it is
used constantly, both in conversational and literary form, and you must be able to use
it where appropriate.
Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns
Introduction: noun clauses. A clause is a group of words that expresses
an idea and contains a subject and a conjugated or “finite” verb (in contrast to an
“infinite” or non-conjugated form such as the infinitive). A sentence will have one or
more main clauses, and may have one or more dependent clauses or none at all.
main clause dependent clause
Espero que vengas a la fiesta.
I hope (that) you'll come to the party.
For purposes of this section on the subjunctive, noun clauses are dependent
clauses which serve as the direct object or predicate complement of another verb (or
as the subject of a verb), just as a noun can do. Please note that English frequently
employs an infinitive in these cases, whereas Spanish frequently requires a conjugated
Quiero el libro. I want the
I want you to
Quiero que
buy the book.
compres el
El libro/the book is the direct object.
In English the direct object is the phrase you to buy the book.
The literal equivalent of the Spanish sentence is: I want that you
buy the book, and the clause que compres el libro is the direct
object of the verb Quiero.
In the above example involving a dependent clause —“I want that you buy the
book”— please note that:
The governing verb (the verb which governs the dependent clause) is
“want / querer” and that it expresses influence.
The subject of the governing verb is “I / yo”.
The subject of the dependent clause is “you / tú”, different from the subject of
the main verb (“I / yo”).
The verb in the dependent noun clause is “buy / compres”; however, the clause
does not express a fact such as “you are buying the book” but rather that it is
my desire “that you might buy the book”.
Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns
The rule: In Spanish, the subjunctive mood is used for the verb in a dependent noun clause
1. The subject of the governing verb is different from the subject of the dependent clause
[e.g., “you / tú” vs. “I / yo” in the above example], and
2. The governing verb is one of:
o Influence or willing [want, prefer, desire, insist, request, etc.], or
o Emotion [fear, be angry, be sad, be happy, be surprised, etc.], or
o Doubt or negation [be uncertain, be unsure, doubt, deny, etc.], or is an
o Impersonal expression of influence, emotion, doubt, probability, possibility,
necessity, or a subjective reaction on the part of the speaker [e.g.,: It's urgent /
bad, wonderful / uncertain / possible / probable / unlikely, etc.]
In contrast: The infinitive is normally used when there is no change in subject (I
want to leave = Quiero salir), and the indicative mood is used when the governing
verb expresses knowledge (to know) certainty (to be certain / sure), truth (to be true /
the truth), affirmation (to believe, think, affirm, assert, declare), or reporting (to say,
indicate [when not used as a verb of influence], report).
See also WIDEN vs. CART or WEIRDO for a short form of the rules.
Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns
Verbs of influence or willing. Verbs such as querer (to want), preferir (to
prefer), desear (to desire), insistir en (to insist), mandar (to
command), prohibir (to prohibit), requerir (to require), exigir (to demand,
require), recomendar (to recommend), pedir (to request/ask for), decir (to
tell, say [when not used as a verb of reporting]), alentar (to encourage), etc.
require that the subjunctive be used in any subordinate clauses they govern.
Queremos que lo cantes.
Insistes en que lo hagamos?
Deseo que te quedes.
Ella prefiere que lleguemos a las
Recomiendo que salgas.
Manda él que yo lo escriba?
Se prohíbe que entremos.
Piden que cenemos allí.
No permitimos que lo compres.
ley exige que paguemos impuestos.
I recommend that you leave.
Is he ordering me to write it?
It is forbidden for us to enter.
They're asking us to dine there.
We don't permit you to buy it.
The law requires us to pay taxes.
NOTE: Some verbs can either indicate influence (and thus take the subjunctive)
or reporting (and thus take the indicative):
Ella dice que nos vamos.
Ella dice que nos vayamos.
Yo insisto en que él viene.
Yo insisto en que él venga.
We want you to sing it.
Do you insist that we do it? (Or: Do you insist
on our doing it?)
I want you to stay.
She prefers us to arrive at 6:00.
She says we're leaving.
She's telling us to leave.
I insist that he is coming.
I insist that he come.
[Reporting a fact: indicative]
[Giving us a command: subjunctive]
[Know it for a fact: indicative]
[Giving an order: subjunctive]
NOTE: If the same person is the subject for both the verb of influence and the
dependent verb, the infinitive is normally used instead of the subjunctive:
Nadie quiere trabajar. No one wants to work.
Yo prefiero manejar. I prefer to drive.
NOTE: Certain verbs of influence may be used either with the subjunctive or an
infinitive, even when there's a change of subject. The infinitive is more
frequent when the subject of the dependent verb is a pronoun (rather than a
noun or noun phrase). Such verbs include hacer (to make [someone do
something]), permitir (to permit), and dejar (to let, allow):
Nobody makes me think.
Nadie me hace pensar.
Let me work in peace.
Déjame trabajar en paz.
They don't permit us to dance.
Ellas no nos permiten bailar.
Nadie hace que los trabajadores piensen en el No one makes the workers think about
the future.
Deja que las secretarias trabajen en paz.
Let the secretaries work in peace.
They don't permit the other students to
Ellas no permiten que los
otros estudiantes bailen.
V. Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns
Verbs of emotion. Expressions such as to be happy (estar
alegre, alegrarse de), to be sad (estar triste), to fear, be afraid (temer, tener
miedo de) to hope (esperar), to feel sorry, regret(sentir, dar lástima), to like,
be pleased, be delighted (gustar, agradar, encantar), to dislike, be
displeased (disgustar, desagradar), to be surprised (sorprender, estar
sorprendido), etc., likewise require the use of the subjunctive in clauses they
Espero que vengan.
Siento que ella no esté aquí.
Me alegro de que vaya a Madrid.
Temo que haya muchos problemas.
Tengo miedo de que no llegue.
Te gusta que sea tan fácil?
Le sorprende que vivamos así.
I hope they come.
I'm sorry she's not here.
I'm glad he's going to Madrid.
I fear there are many problems.
I'm afraid she won't arrive.
Are you pleased it's so easy?
He's surprised we live like that.
Ojalá (que), while not a verb in Spanish, is used like a verb of emotion or
influence with the present subjunctive:
I hope the food tastes good.
Ojalá que la comida sepa bien.
Ojalá nuestro equipo gane mañana. I hope our team wins tomorrow.
VIII. Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns
IX. Verbs of doubt and negation require the subjunctive in subordinate clauses;
examples include negar (to deny), dudar (to doubt), no ser verdad (to not be
true/the truth), no estar cierto/seguro(to be unsure, uncertain), no creer (to
not believe), etc. Remember that expressions of certainty or belief take the
indicative: no negar (to not deny), no dudar (to not doubt), afirmar (to
affirm),creer (to believe), estar cierto/seguro (to be sure, certain), etc.
Dudamos que salgan bien.
No creo que asistan a la clase.
Niegas que yo pueda hacerlo?
No estoy segura de que venga.
We doubt they'll do well.
I don't think they attend class.
Do you deny that I can do it?
I'm not sure she's coming.
NOTE: Normally the reverse (positive/negative) of each of the above
sentences does not indicate doubt or negation and thus takes the indicative.
No dudamos que salen bien.
Creo que asisten a la clase.
No niegan que yo puedo hacerlo.
Estoy segura de que viene.
We don't doubt they'll do well.
I think they attend class.
They don't deny that I can do it.
I'm sure she's coming.
XI. Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns
Impersonal expressions do not have a specific person or thing as the subject.
In English we use the non-specific “it”, but in Spanish the pronoun is omitted.
Impersonal expressions such as those given below require the subjunctive in a
subordinate clause because they indicate doubt, negation, emotion, influence,
or a subjective reaction on the part of the speaker.
Es bueno
Es malo
Es mejor
Es peor
Es horrible
Es horrendo
Es estupendo
Es maravilloso
Es posible
Es imposible
Es probable
que lo hagan.
Es improbable
Es increíble
Es necesario
Es preciso
Es urgente
Es importante
Es interesante
Es notable
Es raro
Es extraño
Es estúpido
It's good
It's bad
It's better
It's worse
It's horrible
It's horrendous
It's stupendous
It's marvelous
It's possible
It's impossible
It's probable
for them to do it (or: that they do it).
It's improbable
It's incredible
It's necessary
It's necessary
It's urgent
It's important
It's interesting
It's notable
It's unusual/strange
It's strange
It's stupid
Es ridículo
Es curioso
Es dudoso
Es difícil
Es fácil
No es seguro
No es cierto
No es verdad
It's ridiculous
It's curious
It's doubtful
It's unlikely
It's likely
It's uncertain
It's uncertain
It's untrue
NOTE: An infinitive may be used after these expressions if no change of
subject is involved:
It's good to study a lot.
Es bueno estudiar mucho.
In contrast to:
Es bueno que estudies mucho. It's good that you study a lot.
However, impersonal expressions indicating certainty, affirmation, and truth
would take the indicative:
It's certain
Es cierto
Es evidente que sabes esto. It's evident that you know this.
It's true
Es verdad
Some other verbs and expressions that normally take the indicative in
subordinate clauses include those which express: knowledge: saber (to
know); certainty: estar seguro, estar cierto (to be certain / sure); truth: ser
verdad (to be the truth); affirmation: creer (to believe, think), pensar (to
think), declarar (to declare). Verbs of reporting also take the indicative,
although many of them can also be used as verbs of influence: decir (to
say), indicar (to indicate), insistir en (to insist), reportar (to
report), replicar (to reply), responder (to respond), contestar (to answer).
Sé que
Elena habla español.
Es verdad que yo lo hice.
Creo que están en casa.
I know that Elena speaks Spanish.
Knowlege: Indicative
It's true that I did it.
I think they're at home.
Truth: Indicative
Affirmation or belief:
Te digo que vienen.
Te digo que vengas.
I'm telling you that they are coming.
I 'm telling you to come. [= I 'm
telling that you should come.]
Reporting: Indicative
Influence or willing:
Insistimos en
que aprenden esto.
Insistimos en
We insist that they are learning this.
Reporting: Indicative
We insist that they learn this.
Influence or willing:
que aprendan esto.
Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns
[Practice 1] [Practice 2]
[S210 Main Page]
Contact: Fred F. Jehle
Indiana University - Purdue University Ft. Wayne
Fort Wayne, IN 46805-1499 USA