The Present Subjunctive: When? (Part 2)

       

Earlier we started looking at the use of the subjunctive in dependent noun clauses. That was a good starting point but there are many other situations in Spanish in which the subjunctive is required.

The Present Subjunctive in Dependent Clauses

The Present Subjunctive in Noun Clauses

See The Present Subjunctive: When? (Part 1)

The Present Subjunctive in Adjective Clauses

Consider this sentence:

I have a big dog.

Here, "big" is an adjective that modifies "dog." Now consider this sentence:

I have a dog that barks.

For more on antecedents, see: Relative Pronouns.

The clause "that barks" is also functioning like an adjective just as "big" did in the previous sentence. This type of clause is known as an adjective clause. Whether or not we use the subjunctive in an adjective clause depends on the "antecedent."

Antecedents

The noun that is modified by the adjective clause is called the “antecedent.”

I have an uncle who sells cars.
We want a government that represents us.

In the first sentence the antecedent is “uncle.” It is modified by the adjective clause, "who sells cars." The antecedent in the second sentence is “government.” It is modified by the adjective clause "that represents us."

Subjunctive vs. Indicative

If the antecedent is definite or concrete, we use the indicative in the adjective clause:

Tengo un amigo que juega tenis.
I have a friend who plays tennis.

In this case the antecedent, "friend," is a definite person (someone we could meet), so we use an indicative verb, juega.

If the antecedent is indefinite, vague, or hypothetical, we use a subjunctive verb in the adjective clause:

Necesito un amigo que juegue fútbol.
I need a friend who plays soccer.

When we switch from "having" to "needing," our antecedent friend switches from being definite to being hypothetical. We may never find a soccer-playing friend. Because of that we use the subjunctive verb, juegue.

Things to Watch Out For

The probability or likelihood of the antecedent is irrelevant. What matters is whether or not the antecedent is definite or specific right now. Compare the following sentences:

Quiero un coche que sea de vidrio.
I want a car that is made of glass.

Quiero una mesa que sea de madera.
I want a table that’s made of wood.

The Present Subjunctive in Adverbial (Adverb) Clauses

Consider this sentence:

She works quickly.

Here, "quickly" is an adverb that modifies "works." Now consider this sentence:

She works so that she earns money.

The clause "so that she earns money" functions like an adverb just as "quickly" did in the previous sentence. This type of clause is called an adverbial (or adverb) clause. Adverbial clauses are introduced by conjunctions.

Conjunctions

A conjunction is a word or phrase used to connects a dependent clause to an independent clause. For example:

He eats before he practices.
You can put it wherever you want.
I'm still not leaving in spite of the fact that I'm late.
She's not going to try since she's failing.

The conjunctions in these examples are "before," "wherever," "in spite of the fact that," and "since." Conjunctions are important because whether or not we use the subjunctive in an adverbial clause often depends on the conjunction used.

Indicative Conjunctions

The following conjunctions always introduce indicative clauses because they introduce facts:

Spanish:

English:

como / puesto que / ya que
dado que / en vista que
a pesar de que
por eso
porque

since
given that
in spite of the fact that
because of that / that's why
because

For example: (notice that all verbs are conjugated in the indicative)

Como no puedo pagar, no puedo ir.
Since I can't pay, I can't go.

Dado que ya hay mucha comida, no voy a pedir más.
Given that there's already a lot of food, I'm not going to order more.

Practicamos a pesar de que hace mucho frío.
We practice in spite of the fact that it's very cold.

Esta fiesta es aburrida y por eso nos vamos.
The party is boring and that's why we're leaving.

Me voy porque estoy enfermo.
I'm leaving because I'm sick.

Subjunctive Conjunctions

The following conjunctions always introduce subjunctive clauses because the actions are uncertain or otherwise dependent on something else:

Spanish:

English:

antes de que
con tal que / siempre que
en caso que
a menos que
para que / a fin de que
sin que

before
provided that
in case
unless
so that
without

For example: (notice that the dependent clauses are all conjugated in the subjunctive)

Él siempre mira antes de que salga su casa.
He always looks before he leaves his house.

Trabajo con tal que me paguen.
I work provided that they pay me.

Me preparo en caso que haya un desastre.
I prepare myself in case there is a disaster.

No voy a menos que mi amigo vaya también.
I don't go unless my friend goes too.

Estudio para que yo pueda pasar la prueba.
I study so that I can pass the test.

Rosa nunca sale sin que deje un recado.
Rosa never goes out without leaving a message.

Subjunctive or Indicative Conjunctions

The following conjunctions could introduce either indicative or subjunctive clauses depending on the situation:

Spanish:

English:

aunque
cuando
después de que
hasta que
mientras que
tan pronto como / en cuanto

although
when
after
until
while
as soon as

Use the indicative if the conjunction introduces an adverbial clause that refers to a habitual action or states a fact. For example (notice that all verbs are conjugated in the indicative):

Usualmente compra manzanas cuando va al mercado.
He usually buys apples when he goes to the market.

Siempre lloro después de que la película termina.
I always cry after the movie ends.

Generalmente ella practica hasta que se siente mal.
She generally practices until she feels sick.

Usualmente me voy tan pronto como mi madre llega.
I usually leave as soon as my mother arrives.

Use the subjunctive if the conjunction introduces an adverbial clause that is somewhat uncertain or refers to the future. For example (notice that the dependent clauses are all conjugated in the subjunctive):

Él comprará manzanas cuando vaya al mercado.
He will buy apples when he goes to the market.

Voy a llorar después de que la película termine.
I'm going to cry after the movie ends.

Ella va a practicar hasta que se sienta mal.
She is going to practice until she feels sick.

Me iré tan pronto como mi madre llegue.
I will leave as soon as my mother arrives.

In some cases the verb conjugation used can actually change the meaning of the conjunction:

Voy a ir a la fiesta aunque mi bicicleta está rota.
Voy a ir a la fiesta aunque mi bicicleta esté rota.

Necesitas jugar como el entrenador quiere.
No puedes jugar como quieras.

Debes poner la ropa donde te indico.
No debes poner la ropa donde quieras.

Hago mi tarea mientras que ella practica.
Haré mi tarea mientras que ella practique.

aunque = "even though"
aunque = "even if"

como = "how"
como = "however"

donde = "where"
donde = "wherever"

mientras que = "while"
mientras que = "as long as"

Si Clauses

Si is different from other conjunctions. The present indicative is always used regardless of any uncertainty:

Podemos pedir una pizza si todos quieren.
¡Si mi maestro me da más tarea, voy a gritar!
Te doy esta galleta si das tu bebida a Mateo.

The Present Subjunctive in Independent Clauses

The subjunctive is primarily found in dependent clauses, but it occasionally appears in independent clauses as well. There are three situations in which it can be used.

The Present Subjunctive with Ojalá (Que)

Note: Ojalá originates from Arabic where it meant “may God (Allah) will it.”

Ojalá (sometimes written ojalá que) indicates a strong desire. It translates to "hopefully" and is always followed by a subjunctive verb:

¡Ojalá encuentres tu perro!
Hopefully you find your dog! / I hope that you find your dog!

¡Ojalá que tengas suerte!
Hopefully you have good luck! / I hope you're lucky!

The Present Subjunctive in Indirect Commands

You can use que and a subjunctive verb to indirectly command someone (or something) to do something:

Que en paz descanse.
May he rest in peace.

¡Que hagan su tarea!
Do your homework!

¡Que Dios te bendiga!
God bless you.

¡Que viva Nicaragua!
Long live Nicaragua!

Notice that you are essentially removing “Yo quiero…” or something similar from the beginning of the sentence.

The Present Subjunctive and Probability

Note: Probablemente means "probably." Quizás and tal vez both mean "perhaps" or "maybe."

When using probablemente, quizás, or tal vez, you can subtly demonstrate your attitude towards the probability through your verb selection. Use the indicative to express likelihood. Use the subjunctive to express doubt:

Probablemente el maestro está enojado.
Probablemente el maestro esté enojado.

Quizás ellos son de Nevada.
Quizás ellos sean de Nevada.

Tal vez necesitamos practicar más.
Tal vez necesitemos practicar más.

(most likely)
(just guessing)

(probably)
(not sure at all)

(likely)
(maybe, don't know)

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