Chapter four

Spanish Subjunctive uses 1: Noun clauses

Before we get started, let’s take a look at the conjugations you’ll need to use the Spanish subjunctive. Flashcards at the ready!
Rob Ashby
The Spanish Obsessive

In this section, we meet one of the most common uses of the subjunctive: Subordinated noun phrases.

We know, that sounds scary. Don’t worry, we’ll go slowly and you’ll be able to check your comprehension at each step.

We’ll start this chapter with some fundamental grammar points: if you are already comfortable with clausesubject, and object, then continue on. Otherwise, check out these explanations:

What is the subject?

In a sentence (or clause), the subject is the thing that is doing the action. This typically goes before the verb:

  • Rob is eating pasta
  • You are learning Spanish
  • The Spanish subjunctive is very easy

 

What is the object?

The object is the thing in a sentence that is being affected by the verb – it’s on the receiving end of the verb:

  • Rob is eating pasta
  • You are learning Spanish

Not every clause has an object, however:

  • The Spanish subjunctive is very easy

 

What is a clause?

A clause is the smallest phrase which can convey meaning on its own. It always has a subject, and will often have an object, as well as lots of other things. However, for our purposes, we only need to think about a clause like this:

SUBJECT + VERB + OBJECT

  • Rob is eating pasta
  • You are learning Spanish

 

Different types of object

Let’s take the following sentence:

  • Rob wants to eat pasta

Let’s find the subject, verb, and object:

The subject usually answers the question “who?”:

  • Who wants to eat pasta? –> Rob wants to eat pasta

The verb is the “action”, or “doing” word:

  • Rob wants to eat pasta

The object usually answers the question “what?”:

  • Rob wants what? –> Rob wants to eat pasta

As we can see above, the object is actually another clause: “to eat pasta”.

Let’s do one more:

  • Lis wants Rob to eat less pasta

Subject: Lis

Verb: Wants

Object: Rob to eat less pasta

Let’s take that last example again:

  • Lis wants Rob to eat less pasta

In Spanish, the structure to express this is quite different:

  • Lis quiere que Rob coma menos pasta

In this structure, there are two clauses, each with their own subject and verb:

  • Lis quiere que…
  • Rob coma menos pasta

This is the first guideline for when to use the subjunctive:

Subject 1 cannot be the same as Subject 2

In this case, we use the subjunctive because the two subjects, Rob and Lis, are not the same.

A similar phrase using the same subject wouldn’t make sense (the asterisk indicates that it is grammatically incorrect):

  • *Rob wants Rob to eat less pasta
  • *Rob quiere que Rob coma menos pasta

This sentence would be expressed using the infinitive: Rob quiere comer menos pasta

So, rule 1 is that S1 cannot be the same as S2. Rule 2 concerns the type of verb.

As we saw in the previous chapter, there are various types of verb which lean towards “unreality”, or “non-real” situations. When you wish something were so, when you want someone to do something, when you need someone to go somewhere; all of these imply non-real situations:

  • I wish you were here (reality: you are not here)
  • I need you to go over there (reality: you are not over there now)
  • I want you to do something (reality: it’s not done at the moment)

You may find it easier to use an acronym for these verbs: WEIRDO

Wishing

Emotion

Impersonal expression

Requesting

Doubt

Ojalá

Wishing verbs includes those that express willing, wanting, etc:

  • Desear
  • Necesitar
  • Quiero
  • etc

Verbs of emotion include:

  • Lastimar que… To be sorry that…
  • Alegrarse que… To be happy that…
  • Molestarse que… To be annoyed that…
  • etc

Impersonal expressions involve the structure es + adjective + que…

  • Es increíble que…
  • Es muy bueno que…
  • Es lamentable que…
  • etc

Verbs of requesting are similar to willing, but tend to involve other people too. These involve demanding, asking for, etc:

  • Pedir que… To ask that…
  • Querer que… To want that…
  • etc

Verbs of doubt include:

  • Dudar que… To doubt that…
  • No creer que… Not to believe that…
  • Negar que… To deny that…
  • etc

Ojalá is a set expression in Spanish, which actually comes from Arabic, meaning “God willing”. It is invariably followed by the subjunctive (you can also include que).

Let’s put it all together. We use the subjunctive when:

Subject 1 is not the same as subject 2

AND

the verb is WEIRDO

Let’s look at a few examples:

Example 1

Esperamos que puedas venir: We hope that you can come

Subject 1 (S1): Nosotros (implied with esperamos)

Subject 2 (S2): (implied with puedas)

Verb: Esperar, this is a verb of “willing”.

This phrase passes both tests. S1 ≠ S2, and the verb is WEIRDO: We use the subjunctive pueda

Example 2

Creo que ella viene mañana

S1: Yo

S2: Ella

Verb: Creer. This is not a WEIRDO verb, as it does not express doubt. This expresses belief or certainty. Therefore, we don’t use the subjunctive.

Example 3:

Es muy bueno que estemos todos juntos

This is an impersonal expressiones + adjective + que…

Verb: Estar

Therefore, we use the subjunctive estemos

Example 4:

Me alegro que se hayan ido

S1: Yo

S2: Ellos

Verb: Alegrarse

Let’s check our guidelines. S1≠S2, and alegrarse is a verb of emotion. So, we use the subjunctive with the verb irse: se hayan ido

Check your understanding