The use of the Spanish subjunctive can be a source of confusion for native English speakers. However, the easy-to-recall acronym W.E.I.R.D.O. can help you to understand when to use subjunctive in Spanish.
The subjunctive is one of the three "moods" in Spanish: the indicative, the subjunctive, and the imperative. Most simply put, the imperative encompasses commands, the indicative describes objective or certain actions, and verbs in the subjunctive reflect subjectivity, a lack of certainty, or emotion.
You can tell a Spanish verb is subjunctive because it is conjugated differently than "normal." For example, while Tú hablas means "You speak" in the indicative, if you wish to say, "I hope you speak," the verb changes to hables in the translation Espero que tú hables because the concept of "hoping" something happens is subjunctive. In contrast, while the English language is perfectly capable of expressing these same ideas, there is no difference in the form of the verbs in the equivalent sentences "You speak" and "I hope you speak."
Because the subjunctive is a mood rather than a tense, it might depict actions in the past, present, or future. For this reason, just like in the indicative mood, there are many subjunctive tenses in Spanish. That said, the examples in today's lesson will be in the present subjunctive, which you can learn how to formulate in this lesson on conjugating the present subjunctive in Spanish.
The Spanish subjunctive is used in dependent clauses that are often introduced by que or another conjunction. Subjunctive sentences typically involve more than one subject and more than one verb. For example, in our aforementioned sentence: Yo espero que tú hables, there are two subjects, Yo (I) and tú (you), and two verbs, espero (I hope) and hables (you speak), with the subjunctive verb hables appearing in the dependent clause that follows the word que.
The amusing acronym W.E.I.R.D.O., which stands for Wishes, Emotions, Impersonal Expressions, Recommendations, Doubt/Denial, and Ojalá, can help you to remember several contexts that require the subjunctive. In each subcategory, we will introduce you to several verbs that "trigger" the use of the subjunctive.
Just because one wishes or hopes things will happen doesn't mean they will, not to mention those actions we ask (or even order!) others to perform. Spanish employs the subjunctive mood to talk about such situations, often using the common formula of a "wishing" verb plus que plus a verb in the present subjunctive. Let's take a look at some examples:
Si queremos que nuestro café sea más dulce podemos añadir azúcar, nata, leche condensada, miel.
If we want for our coffee to be sweeter we can add sugar, cream, condensed milk, honey.
Captions 25-26, Karla e Isabel Como pedir un caféPlay Caption
Así que, esperamos que lo disfruten, que lo sepan gozar, pero eso sí de una manera muy sana.
So, we hope you enjoy it, that you know how to enjoy it, but mind you in a very healthy way.
Captions 25-26, Los Años Maravillosos Capítulo 6 - Part 1Play Caption
Solo te pido que me digas cuál de ellos es Triskas:
I'll just ask for you to tell me which of them is Triskas:
Captions 11-12, Extr@: Extra en español Ep. 5: Ha nacido una estrella - Part 4Play Caption
Verbs that fall into this category of describing wishes or desires include desear (to want/wish/desire), esperar (to hope), exigir (to demand/require), insistir (to insist), mandar (to order), necesitar (to need), ordenar (to order), pedir (to ask), preferir (to prefer), and querer (to want).
Spanish also utilizes the subjunctive mood to talk about one's feeling regarding some action or state, even if it's objectively true. As an example, if you wanted to say "I'm very happy you have a new job," you might use the formula emotion verb plus a conjunction (e.g. que or de que) plus a subjunctive verb to get: Me alegro mucho de que tengas un trabajo nuevo. Let's see some more examples:
Me alegro de que le guste.
I'm glad you like it.Play Caption
A mí lo que me molesta es que tú tengas la verdad de todo. -Loca...
What bothers me is that you have the truth about everything. -Girl...
Caption 54, Yago 9 Recuperación - Part 4Play Caption
Encantada [de] que estés aquí, Carolina, bienvenida. -Muchas gracias.
[I'm] delighted you're here, Carolina, welcome. -Thank you very much.Play Caption
Note that in this last example, the speaker omits the implied verb estar (to be), using only the adjective encantada to convey her delight as is often done in spoken Spanish.
Some common emotion verbs that invoke the subjunctive include alegrarse (to be happy/glad), enojarse (to be/get angry), encantar (to delight), lamentar (to regret), molestar (to bother), sentir (to be sorry), and sorpender (to surprise), among others. For more ways to talk about feelings in Spanish, we recommend this lesson on expressing emotions in Spanish.
Impersonal expressions in both Spanish and English are constructions that do not involve a particular person, for example, Hace viento (It's windy). Impersonal expressions in Spanish that involve the word Es (It's) plus almost any adjective plus the word que are indicators that the verb that follows should be conjugated in the Spanish subjunctive.
Although the adjectives in such impersonal expressions are innumerable, several popular ones include: agradable (nice), bueno (good), dudoso (doubtful), curioso (interesting), estupendo (great), extraño (strange), importante (important), increíble (amazing), necesario (necessary), probable (probable), raro (strange), urgente (urgent), and vergonzoso (embarrassing). Here are a few examples:
y es raro que todavía no haya nadie.
and it's strange that there's nobody [here] still.
Caption 38, Raquel Avisos de MegafoníaPlay Caption
Señor Di Carlo, es importante que hable con usted.
Mister DiCarlo, it's important that I talk to you.
Caption 78, Muñeca Brava 41 La Fiesta - Part 6Play Caption
No es necesario que mientas.
It's not necessary for you to lie.
Caption 17, Muñeca Brava 18 - La Apuesta - Part 12Play Caption
Although impersonal expressions can typically be positive or negative and still require the subjunctive, as in this last example (no es necesario in lieu of es necesario), the exception is when they state facts. Examples include es verdad que (it's true that), es cierto que (it's certain that), es seguro que (it's sure that) and es un hecho que (it's a fact that). However, the negative versions of these phrases do require the Spanish subjunctive, as we see in the following examples in which only the second sentence calls for the subjunctive switch:
Es un hecho que él está enfermo (It's a fact that he's sick) = INDICATIVE.
No es un hecho que él esté enfermo (It's not a fact that he's sick) = SUBJUNCTIVE.
As with wishes, the fact we can't be sure if the actions we suggest or recommend will come to fruition is expressed with the subjunctive in Spanish. Our formula would thus consist of a "recommending verb" plus que plus a verb in subjunctive. Such "recommending" verbs include but aren't limited to aconsejar (to advise), decir (to tell), dejar (to allow), exigir (to demand), hacer (to make/force), insistir (to insist), mandar (to order), ordenar (to order), prohibir (to forbid), proponer (to advise), recomendar (to recommend), rogar (to beg), sugerir (to suggest), and suplicar (to beg), some of which overlap with the "wishes" category. Let's see some examples:
les sugiero que visiten el sugestivo Museo del oro,
I suggest that you visit the intriguing Gold Museum,Play Caption
te recomiendo que muevas algunos muebles del salón a la cocina.
I recommend that you move some pieces of furniture from the living room to the kitchen.
Captions 32-33, Karla e Isabel Preparar una fiestaPlay Caption
les aconsejo que vayan a Zipaquirá,
I advise you to go to Zipaquira,Play Caption
The Yabla video Escuela Don Quijote- En el aula- Part 1 can teach you even more about using the Spanish subjunctive to give advice.
Sentences that express doubt and denial also call for the Spanish subjunctive via a similar formula: a doubt/denial verb plus que plus a verb in the subjunctive. Interestingly, although this includes the verb dudar (to doubt) in sentences like Dudo que venga (I doubt he'll come), most of the other verbs in this category are negative, in other words, consist of a verb with "no" in front of it. Examples include: no creer (to not believe), no estar seguro (to not be sure), no parecer (to not seem), no pensar (to not think), and no suponer (to not suppose). Let's see some of these in action:
No, no. No creo que haga falta; eso ya está aclarado.
No, no. I don't think it's necessary; that's already cleared up.Play Caption
No, no me parece que queden bien.
No, it doesn't seem like you fit together well to me.
Caption 41, Misión Chef 2 - Pruebas - Part 5Play Caption
On the other hand, the positive versions of these very same verbs (without no) trigger the indicative rather than the subjunctive:
Me parece que es la hora de terminar, ¿eh?
I think it's time to finish, huh?Play Caption
Creo que necesito ir al médico.
I think I need to go to the doctor.
Caption 4, Ariana Cita médicaPlay Caption
Another construction that always goes with the subjunctive is ojalá que (or sometimes just ojalá), which can be translated with such expressions as "I hope," "Let's hope," "If only," and even "God willing." This can be seen in the title of the famous (and very catchy!) tune by Juan Luis Guerra, Ojalá que llueva café en el campo (I Hope it Rains Coffee on the Countryside). Let's watch another couple of examples from our Yabla video library:
Pues, ojalá que tengáis siempre abiertas las puertas de vuestras casas y de vuestros corazones
Well, I hope that you always have open the doors to your homes and your hearts
Captions 56-57, Luis Guitarra Llegaste túPlay Caption
Ojalá que todo siga así.
I hope everything keeps going like that.Play Caption
Bueno, muchas gracias y... y ojalá nos veamos pronto.
Well, thank you very much and... and I hope we see each other soon.
Caption 36, Los Juegos Olímpicos Mario MolaPlay Caption
Our sentiments exactly! On that note, we hope you've enjoyed this lesson on when to use the subjunctive in Spanish, and don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments.