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Spanish Lessons on the Subjunctive--In Plain English (Part I)


Christian Food for Thought:

It was rebellion against God approximately 10,000 years ago that resulted in the destruction of a one-world language--consequences that still endure to this day. "And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language. And this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down and there confound their language that they may not understand one another's speech" (KJV, Gen. 11:5-6). It takes much time and dedication for man to learn just one foreign language; but, his Creator knows them all!

The Spanish Subjunctive Clouded by Rules of Grammar

Having been bilingual since an early age, I've never been a fan of grammar when it comes to language learning because I believe it hinders progress towards real communication, written or verbal. I'll, therefore, try to limit my use of words related to grammar to the "subjunctive" or the "indicative." Also, keep in mind that there's almost always more than one way to say things in a language, especially if it is a language spoken in many nations and/or has many dialects such as Spanish, French, Arabic and English. You should already know how to form the subjunctive because that knowledge is assumed and needed to benefit from these Spanish lessons on the subjunctive.

Exactly When Do You Use the Subjunctive in Spanish?

While there are definite times when you should use the subjunctive in Spanish, attempting to memorize them will not work. Why? Because there are those gray areas in which either the subjunctive or the indicative can be used depending on the specific message you want to convey. The whole purpose of language is to communicate ideas as precisely as possible; this requires sound understanding and real life practice, practice, and more practice if you ever hope to handle Spanish or any foreign language the way you handle English or whatever your mother tongue may be.

Ask Yourself These Questions

The goal of these Spanish lessons on the subjunctive is to lay a foundation on which you can build your new skill for effective and correct communication in this language. So, here we go. You should immediately start thinking of the Spanish subjunctive whenever verbs dealing with any of the following are being used: uncertainty, expectations, doubt, skepticism, desires, demands, advice, suggestions, impositions of will, insistence on something, facts that are negated, and needs. If you study the list below, you'll get a better idea of the thought process you'll need to develop naturally.

Verb - Meaning

Esperar - To expect, to hope, to wait for (expectation and desire)

Aconsejar - To advise (advice and suggestion)

Exigir - To demand (demands)

Querer or Desear - To want, to love, to desire, to wish (wants and desires)

Necesitar - To need (needs)

Dudar - To doubt (uncertainty and skepticism, be careful with this one as it can also mean to hesitate and doesn't "take" the subjunctive when in the negative.)

Insistir en - To insist on (insistence)

Notice how I've translated the following sentences expressing wants, needs, demands, uncertainty, and the giving of advice using the verbs above. This is only a sampling of the verbs that can be involved with these types of expressions.

Sentence: I hope we become friends.
Translation: Espero que nos hagamos amigos/as.

Sentence: He advised his godson to work for himself.
Translation: Aconsejó a su ahijado que trabajara por cuenta propia.

Sentence: The sargent demands that the soldiers march.
Translation: El sargento exige que los soldados marchen.

Sentence: Does she want me to wax the floor?
Translations: Quiere que encere el piso?

Sentence: I need cleaning rags and cleaning products.
Translate: Necesito trapos y productos para la limpieza.

Sentence: I doubt he will sweep the floor.
Translate: Dudo de que barra el piso.

Sentence: They insisted that we help them/They insisted on us helping them.
Translate: Insistieron en que les ayudáramos.

Your Turn to Practice the Subjunctive in Spanish

You should be able to translate the following into Spanish.

1. Do you suggest that I write her a letter?
2. They expected me to call.
3. I doubt you will succeed. (tener éxito - to succeed)
4. He needs you to lift the box.
5. We wanted her to sing.

"Spanish Lessons on the Subjunctive--In Plain English (Part II)" covers the use of this verb tense when dealing with a state of mind, attitude or bias, impersonal expressions, and those gray areas previously mentioned.
Spanish Lessons on the Subjunctive--In Plain English (Part II)
©2011 Ana Kirk

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how can I translate the Spanish future imperfect of subjunctive into English?
Shall I use only nomilizers such as: the one who, the person who, those who, whoever, whatever, whenever, etc.?
by: Eugenia
Posted on 2011-02-23 18:26:44

To Eugenia:

There is no tense called the "future imperfect of the subjunctive," at least not as the language is presented to English speakers learning it. Please share a brief example (the native Spanish) of what you are trying to translate so we may answer your question.
by: Heavenly Manna
Posted on 2011-02-23 22:21:29

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