Subjunctive is one of the three moods in the Spanish conjugation of verbs, along with Indicative (used for objective facts) and Imperative (this is the one we use for the commands and orders).
The moods in the conjugations refers at how the speaker feels about an action while the tense talks about the time, when the action happen.
Indicative is the mood we use to talk about facts, about things that we consider true and concrete, while Subjunctive is the mood we choose to talk about subjective things, emotions, desires, doubts, abstract.
Having this in mind, the general rule to use Indicative and Subjunctive is as follows:
Indicative: used to talk about actions, events and states believed to be true, to make statements and objective descriptions.
Subjunctive: used to talk about emotions, doubts, wishes and everything that is not considered a fact. So it’s used to express opinion, give recommendations and commands.
Now, let’s see what happens with some verbs:
Verbs of Knowledge and Understanding
- Creer: means ‘to think’ but also ‘to believe’ as ‘to have a faith or a believe’.
– Pedro tiene mala cara, creo que está enfermo.
– Pedro doesn’t look so good, I think he’s ill.
– Yo creo en la bondad de gente, ¿tú?
– I believe in people’s kindness, you?
- Pensar: also has a couple of meanings, the first is ‘to think‘ but it also means ‘to intend‘. Let’s see the differences in the structures:
– Pienso que la película es una bobada.
– I think the movie is silly.
– ¿Qué piensas del matrimonio gay? Pienso que todos deberíamos tener los mismo derechos.
– What do you think about gay marriage? I think that we all should have same rights.
– Pienso ir a Cuba este verano.
– I intend to go to Cuba this summer.
– Patricia no piensa volver a verlo.
– Patricia doesn’t intend to see him again.
Note that “pensar que” means ‘to think’, whereas, “pensar + verb in the infinitive” means ‘to intend‘.
- Opinar: ‘to think‘, ‘ to give one’s opinion‘
– Opinamos que los chicos deberían venir a la fiesta.
– We think the guys should come to the party.
- Considerar: this one appears in more formal contexts and it means ‘to consider’, ‘to think’ but also ‘to be considerate of’.
– Estamos considerando los pros y contras antes de tomar una decisión.
– We are considering the pros and cons before making any decision.
– Glen y Mark son muy considerados con sus fans.
– Glen and Mark are very considerate of their fans.
Verbs of Perception
- Ver: ‘to see‘ as a physical perception, and ‘to see’ in the sense of ‘to understand‘.
– Veo el cartel, pero no puedo ver lo que pone.
– I see the poster, but I can’t see what is written.
– Ya veo que nadie quiere mojarse, así que me voy.
– I see that nobody wants to stick their necks out, so I split.
- Sentir: we can use it with the meaning of ‘to feel sorry about’ but also with the meaning of ‘to feel’ as in a mental perception.
– Siento que todo haya salido mal.
– I am sorry everything went wrong.
– Siento que todos estáis contra mí por alguna razón que desconozco.
– I feel that you are all against me for a reason I ignore.
- Notar: ‘to feel‘ as a physical sensation, but also ‘to notice‘, ‘to perceive‘ as a mental perception.
– He perdido la sensibilidad en los brazos, me has tocado y no he notado nada.
– I have lost sensibility in my arms, you touched me and I haven’t feel anything.
– He notado que no os lleváis bien, ¿ha pasado algo?
– I’ve noticed that you are not getting along, something happened?
Mood selection: Indicative or Subjunctive?
As you might have noticed in the examples, we use indicative and subjunctive with these verbs. Now the question is, when to use one or the other?
The answer is easy. We you negate the main verb (one of the verbs in this list) you will use the subjunctive, and when you use it in affirmative sentences, you use the indicative.
So, the structure you need to remember is:
Negation + verb of knowledge and understanding + que + subjunctive
– No creo que Pedro tenga esos libros.
– I don’t think Pedro has got those books.
– Creo que Pedro no tiene esos libros.
– I think that Pedro hasn’t got those books.
As you see, the negation here goes in the subordinate verb, the verb after “que”. In those cases, we use the Indicative. We only use the subjunctive when the negation goes at the beginning.
Remember that the negation is not only the word “no”, we can also express a negative idea with words as “nunca”or “nadie” for example. With these words we use the subjunctive as well.
– Nunca piensas que puedas ganar la lotería.
– You never think that you can win the lottery.