The keys to picking up a language quickly are constant exposure and practice. But practice is not always easy to obtain, either because you lack the opportunity or, more often, because you lack the confidence to engage in a conversation. So you lack learning because you lack practice, and you lack practice because you lack learning. How frustrating!
But there are always ways around this problem. One of them involves memorizing common phrases to be prepared for the next time you get the chance to engage in a conversation. For example, you can memorize entire phrases by topic; phrases to introduce yourself, to ask for directions, to order food, etc. Or you could memorize smaller, more specialized chunks of speech and use them as building blocks to create more complex ideas. For example, phrases like quiero que... (I want that), or no sé si (I don't know if). On this lesson we will focus on exploring one of these phrases: si fuera.
The phrase si fuera actually involves mastering an advanced skill in Spanish: the use of the verb ser (to be) in the subjunctive mood. But instead of learning rules and conjugation tables, you can memorize it as it is, and learn how speakers use it in everyday speech to build your own sentences.
Si fuera is usually combined with the preposition como (as) and followed by a noun phrase:
Así como si fuera una pinza.
Like this as if it were a clamp.
Caption 22, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 17Play Caption
Since fuera is used for both the first and third person singular, you can use the same expression to talk about yourself. You can add the pronoun yo (I) between si and fuera, or not:
¡Si fuera tu jefe te despediría!
If I were your boss, I'd have you fired!
Here's an example from our catalog:
Yo quiero amarte como si fuera tu único dueño.
I want to love you as if I were your only master.
Caption 63, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 3Play Caption
Look at this useful example that combines si fuera with a basic simple sentence like esto es(this is):
Esto es como si fuera el rastro de los móviles o el rastro de tu vida.
This is as if it were a cell phone trail or your life's trail.
Caption 31, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 4Play Caption
Si fuera can also be followed by a pronoun, it's used a lot in conditional sentences:
Bueno, si yo fuera tú, hablaría con él.
Well, if I were you, I would speak with him.Play Caption
And si fuera can also be followed by an adjective instead of a noun:
Si [yo] fuera rico me respetarías un poco - If I were rich you would respect me a little.
Si mi jefa fuera injusta conmigo yo renunciaría a mi trabajo - If my boss were unfair to me I would quit my job.
At this point you could also learn the expression como si fuera poco:
Y como si fuera poco, todo lo que hacen...
And, as if that weren't enough, everything that they do...
Caption 30, Salvando el planeta Palabra Llegada - Part 8Play Caption
Let's continue our series on the use of the verbs ser and estar, now focusing on some examples using the subjunctive to express wishes, or to refer to hypothetical situations. The present subjunctive for the first person singular yo (I) is esté for the verb estar and sea for the verb ser. Here're some examples of first person singular sea and esté:
Mamá quiere que [yo] sea doctor / Mom wants me to be a doctor.
Mi hermana piensa que es mejor que [yo] sea dentista / My sister thinks it's best for me to be a dentist.
Lola me pide que [yo] esté tranquilo / Lola asks me to be calm.
Imagino que es mejor que no [yo] esté preocupado / I imagine it's better for me not to beworried.
Note that it's very common to use the pronoun que (that) before the subjunctive. In fact, some Spanish speakers learn to conjugate the subjunctive altogether with this pronoun, like: que yo sea, que tú seas, etc. or que yo esté, que tú estés, etc. to differentiate it from the indicative.
The forms sea and esté are also used for the third person singular, which is very convenient since you can use it to talk about wishes or hypothetical situations pertaining to other people, things, and ideas. For example:
Entonces, para que sea una sorpresa también.
So, for it to be a surprise also.
Caption 12, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 10Play Caption
Quiero comprar un barco que sea capaz de... de hacer travesías largas.
I want to buy a boat that is capable of... of making long voyages.
Captions 72-73, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 20Play Caption
Y que ya no sea Belanova el grupo de bajo, computadora y voz.
So that Belanova won't be the group of the bass, computer and voice any longer.
Caption 13, Belanova - Entrevista - Part 4Play Caption
And with esté:
Ya la llamaremos cuando la doctora esté disponible.
We'll call you when the doctor is available.
Caption 42, Cita médica - La cita médica de Cleer - Part 1Play Caption
Son tres modos que se usan para pedirle a alguien que esté alerta.
There are three ways that are used to ask someone to be alert.Play Caption
Para que la aceituna esté en condiciones para envasar el lunes.
So that the olives are in condition for packing on Monday.
Caption 35, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 19Play Caption
Finally, there's a very common and useful expression that uses sea: o sea, which is used to clarify or explain something. This expression translates as "in other words," "meaning," and other similar phrases.
O sea, que te vas a quedar sin marido durante tres meses.
In other words, you are going to be without a husband for three months.
Caption 27, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 3Play Caption
The present subjunctive of the verb ser is the same in the first- and third-person singular: sea. This little word is used profusely in Spanish for the most varied purposes. Let's explore and learn a few.
The first person yo (I) uses sea. You can use it to express other people's wishes or expectations placed on you:
Quieres que [yo] sea cuidadosa
You want me to be cautious
or to deny hypothetic situations or conditions:
No es que yo sea mala...
It's not that I'm bad...
The third person (he, she, it) also uses sea. Here are examples using sea to talk about people (he, she). The tricky part is that Spanish usually gets rid of the pronouns él or ella, so you will only hear or see the verb sea.
No importa que sea morena, blanca, rubia o canela
It doesn't matter if she is dark-skinned, white, blonde or brown
Caption 52, Alberto Barros - Mano a mano - Part 1
¿Cómo me voy a andar fijando en él por más simpático, alto, caballero y bello que sea?
How am I going to go around thinking about him no matter how nice, tall, gentlemanly and handsome he might be?
Caption 75, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 11
It's the same when you use sea to, for example, talk about a poisonous mushroom:
Por tocarlo no pasa nada. Aunque sea mortal.
Nothing happens by touching it. Even though it's lethal.
Caption 115, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 11
However, the use of sea extends far beyond that in Spanish. Many idiomatic expressions use it. For example, the expression sea lo que is used to express fatalistic sentiments. Use this model phrase to learn it: sea + lo que dios mande (literally, let it be what God commands). Note that it uses subjunctive plus subjunctive:
Que sea lo que dios mande
Let it be God's will.
Of course, it's possible to get rid of the pronoun que (that) and combine the phrase with a different verb, like querer (to want):
Sea lo que Dios quiera.
Let it be God's will.
Caption 8, Baile Folklórico de Puerto Rico - Los Bailarines
But there's also the expression sea lo que sea, literally meaning "let it be whatever it might be," or more simply put: "whatever it may be."
Sea lo que sea, quiero saber la verdad.
I want to know the truth, whatever that may be.
The shorter expression lo que sea (whatever) is even more common:
No es solamente utilizar una moneda local o lo que sea
It's not just to use a local coin or whatever
Caption 67, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 4
...sea hombre, mujer, o lo que sea.
...whether it's a man, a woman or whatever.
Caption 60, Arume - Barcelona - Part 1
The clause para que sea (for it to be, so that it is) is also a great addition to your Spanish vocabulary:
Entonces, para que sea una sorpresa también.
So, for it to be a surprise also.
Caption 12, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 10
Para que sea más fácil, le cortáis por la mitad.
So that it is easier, you cut it in half.
Caption 49, Cómetelo - Crema de brócoli - Part 3
Finally, don't forget the expression o sea (I mean, meaning):
¡O sea, esto es más de lo que cualquier chica popular puede soportar!
I mean, this is more than any popular girl could bear!
Caption 1, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 4
Let's continue practicing the use of the subjunctive in adverb clauses that are part of compound sentences (99% of the time subjunctive is used in compound sentences) by identifying the conjunctions typically used to introduce it. In our previous lesson we focused on conjunctions of time, this time let's revise the use of the subjunctive combined with conjunctions of provision, a classic match!
The conjunctions that are used to express provision in Spanish are antes (de) que, con tal (de) que, en caso (de) que, para que, sin que. You will love these conjunctions, which, by the way, are more properly called locuciones conjuntivas (conjunctive phrases). Why? Well, because they will always use subjunctive, always. There's no room for mistakes. They are, therefore, a great addition to your vocabulary, one that will automatically improve your proficiency in the use of the subjunctive. Of course, you also must learn the proper way to conjugate the subjunctive; if you are not there yet, we recommend you to first focus on the present subjunctive.
So let's start with the examples. Always use the subjunctive after the conjunction antes (de) que (before):
Aléjate de mí y hazlo pronto antes de que te mienta
Get away from me and do it soon before I lie to you
Caption 1, Camila - Aléjate de mí
The same happens with con tal (de) que (provided that):
Soy capaz de todo con tal de que te quedes a mi lado.
I'm capable of everything, provided that you stay beside me.
You probably noticed that we put the preposition de (of) between parentheses. This is just so you know that many Spanish speakers don't use it and instead just say antes que (before), con tal que (provided that), sometimes even en caso que (in case that). We recommend you to always use it. Read about dequeísmo and queísmo here.
The conjunctive phrase en caso de que (in case that) will also always be followed by subjunctive:
Porque en caso de que esté muy aguado, hecho el resto.
Because, in the case that it is very watery, I put in the rest.
Caption 46, Recetas de cocina - Papa a la Huancaína - Part 1
The same happens with para que (so that, in order that) and sin que (without):
Si quieres puedes voltear acá para que veas en el espejo el reflejo
If you want you can look here so that you see the reflection in the mirror
Caption 27, Instinto de conservación - Gorgona - Part 4
Yo soy el que hago que coman sin que tengan hambre
I am the one who makes them eat without being hungry
Caption 10, Calle 13 - Calma Pueblo
Let's go back to the subjunctive just a little. Did you know that one characteristic that sets apart the subjunctive mood from the indicative, conditional, and the imperative is the fact that the subjunctive is found primarily in dependent clauses? (Of course, the other moods can occur there as well.) Let's illustrate this with an example from one of our new videos:
¿Que estás queriendo que se muera más rápido?
What do you want, for him to die faster?
Caption 12, Yago - 9 Recuperación - Part 9
This is a classic example of subjunctive, right? It's being used to talk about a wish, a hypothetical situation. We have highlighted the subjunctive muera in bold and underlined the indicative queriendo to clearly show you the way the subjunctive is used as part of compound sentences: the indicative queriendo plays the main role as the independent clause (the action of wanting), while the subjunctive muera refers to the action that depends on it (the action of dying). This is the way the subjunctive is used most of the time.
But the subjunctive is sometimes used in independent clauses. One of the most interesting cases is when the imperfect subjunctive is used to replace the conditional forms of the verbspoder (to be able), querer (to want), and deber (must) as part of what in Spanish is called elsubjuntivo de cortesía (the courtesy subjunctive). As its name indicates, this constructions is used to make a request or a suggestion in a more gentle, polite, or deferential way. This type of subjunctive is very, very common, so it's a good idea to memorize the corresponding conjugation for each verb. you can find full conjugations of these verbs on this page.
You might also want to explore the following examples. Note that the use of this subjunctive is usually combined with another verb in infinitive:
Quisiera saber si los perros tienen cosquillas.
I would like to know if dogs are ticklish.
Caption 102, Animales en familia - Señales de calma y cosquillas en los perros
¿Pudieras pasarme la leche?
Could you pass me the milk?
Angélica debiera bajar a comer.
Angelica should come down to eat.
Caption 11, Muñeca Brava - 36 La pesquisa
All these expressions would still be correct if you used the conditional forms (querría instead of quisiera, podrías instead of pudieras, debería instead of debiera); the use of subjunctive just makes them more polite, refined. It's a subtle difference, really. Think of it this way: using the conditional podrías pasarme la leche could mean, in theory, that the speaker is actually doubting weather the other person is able to pass the milk or not, instead of just asking for a favor. The use of the subjunctive leaves no room for doubts that you are making a polite request.
We can't stress enough how common this substitution of conditional with subjunctive is. But make no mistake, this is no conditional, and it only uses these three verbs. You may bump into similar constructions that are just incomplete compound sentences, for example incomplete si (if) clauses:
Si yo supiera ...
If I only knew...
Caption 61, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido - Part 4
The subjunctive is not used as an independent clause here. Grammatically speaking, this expression is just missing its main clause, in this case a conditional. If we add it, for example: si yo supiera te lo diría (if I only knew I would tell you), we have a classic case of conditional plus subjunctive, as seen in one of our previous lessons on the subject.
The same happens with the following example. It's a tricky one, because even though it uses the verb poder (to be able), this is not a case of courtesy subjunctive. To prove it, we have completed the sentence with a conditional in brackets:
Si pudiera bajarte una estrella del cielo [me amarías]
If I could lower down to you a star from the sky [you would love me]
Caption 5, Enrique Iglesias - Cuando me enamoro
Another interesting use of the subjunctive used as an independent sentence happens when it's used with words that mean “perhaps,” like tal vez and quizá.
Tal vez cure el tiempo las heridas.
Perhaps time may heal the wounds.
Caption 20, Reik - No desaparecerá
Of course, it's also possible to simply use the indicative here and say: tal vez cura el tiempo las heridas (perhaps time heals the wounds). The use of subjunctive just stresses the idea that the action is improbable or doubtful, it's also more poetic. However—and this is just an exercise of the mind—another way of understanding these type of expressions is to recall that the words tal vez and quizá mean es posible (it's possible) and thus play the role of the main clause in a classic example of indicative plus subjunctive, where the subjunctive que cure... is the subordinate clause. Just saying.
Es posible que cure el tiempo las heridas.
It's possible that time will heal the wounds.
This is our third lesson in the series on the Spanish subjunctive. We invite you to read our lessons on Subjunctive and Indicative and Subjunctive and Imperative. Our site is featuring new social media widgets, so feel free to share the lessons with all your friends!
Let's now study how to combine subjunctive with conditional. Don't forget all our examples use bold to highlight the subjunctive and underlining for the other moods.
The Spanish subjunctive can be used with both forms of the conditional. The most common one is the simple conditional. Remember that to conjugate regular -ar, -er and -ir verbs in the conditional, you add the endings -ía, -ías, -ía, -íamos, -íais, -ían to the infinitive form of the verb. You may want to refresh your knowledge of the Spanish conditional and keep your conjugation charts handy for this lesson.
The simple conditional is usually combined with the pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo (imperfect subjunctive). It is one of the most common ways to express wishes in Spanish. Incidentally, this is one of the few cases in which you can use subjunctive as the main or indepented clause of a compound sentence in Spanish:
Quisiera que el coche tuviera GPS.
I would want [I wish] the car had GPS.
Compare this to the use of simple present indicative with present subjunctive, which we learned in our first lesson:
Quiero que el coche tenga GPS.
I want the car to have GPS.
Which is very different from not using subjunctive at all:
Quiero que el coche tiene GPS.
I want the car has GPS.
ERROR! You can't say this in Spanish. You must use subjunctive as in the first two examples. English can't get away with it either, at least not using present indicative, as shown in the equally wrong translation. The infinitive is acceptable in English ("yes, I want the car to have GPS"), but not Spanish: saying sí, quiero que el coche tener GPS is even worse! Don't do it.
Let's go back to simple conditional and subjunctive. You can also use the simple conditional with the pretérito pluscuamperfecto del subjuntivo (pluperfect subjunctive). Since this is a compound tense that's kind of fancy, is not very common to combine it with simple conditional. But it happens. Let's use the same example with the verb querer (to want):
Querría que el coche hubiera tenido GPS.
I would want [I wish] the car had had GPS.
And it gets fancier than that. Spanish has two forms of conditional, a simple one and a compound form that uses the verb haber (to have) plus participio (-ado, -ido, -to, -so, -cho endings): the conditional perfect. You can use it with pluperfect subjunctive. These expressions are not common since you can always use a more simple construction. But here are two examples:
With the imperfect subjunctive (seen above):
Habría querido que el coche tuviera GPS.
I would have wanted the car had GPS.
With the pluperfect subjunctive is even less common:
Habría querido que el coche hubiera tenido GPS.
I would have wanted the car had had GPS.
To end this lesson we want to share with you some cases in which Spanish uses subjunctive in simple sentences, short expressions that are very commonly uses in everyday life. Spanish is not precisely well known for having short expressions, but one of our readers helped us realized how beautiful these are:
¡Que te vaya bien!
¡Que todo se solucione!
¡Que salga el sol!
In fact, if you look closely, these short expressions are just using implicitly the verbdesear ( "to wish" or "to hope"):
¡[Deseo] que descanses! I hope you have some rest.
¡[Deseo] que te vaya bien! I hope you do well.
¡[Deseo] que llueva! I hope it rains.
¡[Deseo] que todo se solucione! I hope everything gets solved.
¡[Deseo] que salga el sol! I hope the sun comes out.
Which makes them a classic case of present indicative combined with present subjunctive.
As promised, let's continue our lesson on the subjunctive by analyzing model sentences to learn how to combine it with other moods. You can read our previous lesson on subjunctive and indicative here.
You can combine the imperative (which is only conjugated in the present tense) with two different tenses of the subjunctive. The easiest and the most common case is when you use the imperative with the present subjunctive. Here are two examples (remember we're using bold for the subjunctive and underline for the other moods):
Tú haz lo que quieras y yo también.
You do whatever you want and so do I.
Caption 51, Jugando a la Brisca - En la calle - Part 1
Y decile a tu amigo que deje de llamarme Vicky.
And tell your friend to quit calling me Vicky.
Caption 19, Muñeca Brava - 1 Piloto - Part 4
Keep in mind that deci (tell) is typically Argentinian. In other countries you would hear di (tell): dile a tu amigo (tell your friend).
But going back to the subjunctive, let's analyze the meaning of the expression in the last example. Spanish uses the subjunctive here because what has been said is in the realm of possibilities (in this case, is the expression of a desire) not in the realm of facts. So you can't say dile que me deja de llamarme Vicky—this is incorrect because the indicative deja (he quits) is reserved to state facts, as in tu amigo deja de llamarme Vicky (your friend quits calling me Vicky). Another way to phrase the same request could be dile a tu amigo que no me llame Vicky (tell your friend not to call me Vicky). Note that instead of using the verb dejar (to quit) we use a negation plus the verbllamar (to call) in present subjunctive (llame). Again, you could not possibly use the indicative mood here and say dile a tu amigo que no me llama Vicky. This is incorrect— well, at least if what you want to express is a desire or a request. We say this because you know how context changes everything. For the pure pleasure of curiosity, consider an expression in which this last construction could happen, for example: dile a tu amigo que no me llama Vicky que venga a mi fiesta (tell your friend who doesn't call me Vicky to come to my party). See? We use the indicative llama (he calls) to express that it's a fact that he doesn't call Victoria "Vicky," and then we use the subjunctive venga (to come) because it states Victoria's desire for him to come to her party.
But let's not torture ourselves with games and let's see the second case of imperative combined with subjunctive, this time the pretérito perfecto (equivalent to present perfect subjunctive) which is a compound tense that uses the auxiliary verb haber (to have):
Haz lo que te hayan dicho los doctores.
Do whatever the doctors have told you.
Dame lo que hayas cocinado.
Give me whatever you have cooked.
Dime lo que María te haya contado.
Tell me whatever Maria has told you.
This is not exactly an easy tense, right? Compare these sentences with the following ones that use the imperative with the present subjunctive (reviewed first in this lesson):
Haz lo que te digan los doctores.
Do whatever the doctors tell you.
Dame algo de lo que cocines mañana.
Give me some of what you cook tomorrow.
Dime lo que María quiera.
Tell me whatever Maria wants.
The good news is that you can find ways to get away without using the pretérito perfecto del subjuntivo. For example, you can just use the simple past indicative. It's much less... let's say sophisticated, because the subtle meaning of indeterminacy that the subjunctive gives to the expression (which in English is expressed using the word "whatever") gets lost. Still, the past indicative gets the job done:
Haz lo que te dijeron los doctores.
Do what the doctors told you.
Dame lo que cocinaste.
Give me what you cooked.
Dime lo que María te contó.
Tell me what Maria told you.
Part 3 of this series will tackle the use of the conditional paired with subjunctive.