Chapter one

Spanish Subjunctive Conjugations

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 chapter, we’ll be looking at how to conjugate verbs in the subjunctive. Here’s what we’ll be covering:

  • Conjugations for the present simple subjunctive
  • Conjugations for the imperfect subjunctive

We’ll be doing the above for regular and irregular verbs. However, this is not an exhaustive list (this guide is already long enough!).

If you are already comfortable with these conjugations, feel free to skip to the next chapter.

Forming the present subjunctive

The easiest way to remember this is to think about switching the ending, and think of the yo form:

-AR verbs switch their endings to -er verbs

-ER and -ir verbs switch to -ar endings

All the conjugations are based on the yo form of the indicative tense (ie, the normal one that you use!)

For -ar verbs, those endings are: -e, -es, -e, -emos, -éis, -en.

Let’s take trabajar as an example:

yo trabaj(trabaj comes from the yo form: yo trabajo)

tú trabajes

él, ella, usted trabaje

nosotros trabajemos

ustedes, ellos trabajen

For -er verbs, those endings are: -a, -as, -a, -amos, -áis, -an.

Let’s try that with comer:

yo coma (com comes from the yo form of the verb in indicative: yo como )

tú comas

él, ella, usted coma

nosotros comamos

ustedes, ellos coman

The “go” verbs

These guidelines also hold true for those verbs which are very irregular in the yo ordinary tense. Remember the incredibly common -go verbs? Let’s take a look:

  1. We’ll start with tener. The yo, indicative form of tener is tengo:
VerbYo form in normal tense
TenerTengo

 

2. Tener is an -er ending verb. So, we switch the ending to the -ar endings: -a, -as, -a, -amos, -áis, -an

VerbYo form in normal tenseYoÉl, ella, ustedNosotros, nosotrasEllos, ellas, ustedesVosotros, vosotras
TenerTengoTengaTengasTengaTengamosTenganTengáis

 

The same applies for the other “go” ending verbs. These are all either -er or -ir ending, so share the same -ar endings in the subjunctive:

VerbYo form in normal tenseYoÉl, ella, ustedNosotros, nosotrasEllos, ellas, ustedesVosotros, vosotras
TenerTengoTengaTengasTengaTengamosTenganTengáis
SalirSalgoSalgaSalgasSalgaSalgamosSalganSalgáis
PonerPongoPongaPongasPongaPongamosPonganPongáis
HacerHagoHagaHagasHagaHagamosHaganHagáis

Learner’s advice

These might seem overwhelming – I know they did at first for me! My general advice (and this applies to all grammar, really, but in particular verb conjugations) is to aim for familiarity. You just need to be familiar enough with these forms that you will recognise them when you see them again, and none of them (or at least very few) come as a complete surprise to you. 

I honestly don’t remember poring over verb tables for hours. I got familiar by looking at them from time to time, but it’s really once you started hearing and using these forms that you’ll learn them properly, and they’ll become second-nature.

The stem-changing verbs

The same principle is at play with the stem changing verbs (also known as “radical-changing verbs”):

  1. Start with the yo, indicative form. Let’s take pensarYo pienso
VerbYo form in normal tense
PensarPienso

 

2. Pensar is an-ar ending verb. So, we switch to the -er endings:  -e, -es, -e, -emos, -éis, -en

VerbYo form in normal tenseYoÉl, ella, ustedEllos, ellas, ustedes
PensarPiensoPiensePiensesPiensePiensen

 

This works for yo, tú, él, and ellos. However, the nosotros and vosotros forms keep the non-changed stem: pens

VerbNosotros, nosotrasVosotros, vosotras
PensarPensemosPenséis

 

The other stem-changing verbs follow the same pattern:

VerbYo form in normal tenseYoÉl, ella, ustedNosotros, nosotrasEllos, ellas, ustedesVosotros, vosotras
PensarPiensoPiensePiensesPiensePensemosPiensenPenséis
PoderPuedoPuedaPuedasPuedaPodamosPuedanPodáis
VolverVuelvoVuelvaVuelvasVuelvaVolvamosVuelvanVolváis

Test yourself

Forming the imperfect subjunctive

Yes, there is a whole extra set of conjugations…! However, if you know the preterite (sometimes called the past simple), you’ll learn them quickly. Even if you don’t know the preterite, it shouldn’t take you long to pick these up.

The key things to know:

The stem comes from the ellos form of the preterite, minus -aron or -ieron

Can’t remember what that is? Let’s take a couple of examples to jog your memory. We’ve highlighted the stems:

Tener: Tuvieron

Hablar: Hablaron

Decir: Dijeron

There are two possible forms, both with exactly the same meaning

However, the first form is always more common:

  1. Hablara, Hablaras, Hablara, Habláramos, Hablarais, Hablaran, OR
  2. Hablase, Hablases, Hablase, Hablásemos, Hablaseis, Hablasen

Or for an -er or -ir verb:

  1. Comiera, comieras, comiera, comiéramos, comierais, comieran OR
  2. Comiese, comieses, comiese, comiésemos, comieseis, comiesen

The principle works in the same way for the stem changing verbs:

VerbEllos form in preteriteYoÉl, ella, ustedNosotros, nosotrasEllos, ellas, ustedesVosotros, vosotras
DarDieronDieraDierasDieraDiéramosDieranDierais
EstarEstuvieronEstuvieraEstuvierasEstuvieraEstuviéramosEstuvieranEstuvierais
SerFueronFueraFuerasFueraFuéramosFueranFuerais
TenerTuvieronTuvieraTuvierasTuvieraTuviéramosTuvieranTuvierais
HacerHicieronHicieraHicierasHicieraHiciéramosHicieranHicierais
HaberHubieronHubieraHubierasHubieraHubiéramosHubieranHubierais

Test yourself