The Spanish subjunctive is one of the most challenging concepts for English speakers to master. Even though English does actually have a subjunctive mood (already challenging by itself), its use is more associated with formal and written speech. By contrast, Spanish uses the subjunctive in everyday situations far more often. And it gets even more challenging if you consider the many ways in which the subjunctive can be combined with other moods in Spanish. So let's try to tackle this prickly subject. But instead of talking about rules and grammar, let's try to take a more practical approach by learning and analyzing model sentences.
A brief intro. It's very likely that you have already read a lot about the subjunctive. You know that it is not a tense but a mood. That it doesn't refer to the time when an action takes place (past, present, future, etc.), but rather that it reflects how the speaker feels about it. Therefore, that it's radically different from the most commonly used indicative mood, which expresses factual information, certainty, and objectivity. Very much like an evil twin, the subjunctive is used to express the opposite: things like doubt, uncertainty, subjectivity, etc. We have explored the basic use of the subjunctive before in previous lessons, and you are welcome to explore them again. Some are:
Using Que [That] + Subjunctive to Express Good Wishes
Como Si Fuese: Learning to Use the Subjunctive
Haya: For Possibilities and Doubts
We also have a couple of videos on the subjunctive:
El Aula Azul - La Doctora Consejos - Subjuntivo y condicional
Escuela Don Quijote - En el aula - Part 1
In this lesson we will focus on the use of the subjunctive combined with the indicative mood by studying model sentences. Take note: we will always use bold to highlight the subjunctive and underlining for the indicative. Also, we recommend that you use https://conjuguemos.com if you need to check out the Spanish verb conjugation charts.
The Spanish present subjunctive is notoriously used combined with the indicative present in sentences for which English uses only the indicative. There is a memorable sentence you can use as a model to remember this:
Quiero que me quieras
I want you to want me
Caption 1, Gael García Bernal - Quiero Que Me QuierasPlay Caption
So never say quiero que me quieres, ok? That makes the same sense in Spanish that "I want that you would want me" makes in English. Get it? Another example: don't say no deseo que sufres, instead say no deseo que sufras (I don't want you to suffer).
Present subjunctive can be combined with indicative future:
Desearé que tengas un buen viaje
I'll wish that you have a good journey
Captions 40-41, Kany Garcia - Hoy Ya Me VoyPlay Caption
Now, you can also combine the past indicative with the past subjunctive. The easiest and most common case is when you combine the pretérito del indicativo (simple past indicative) with pretérito imperfecto subjuntivo (past imperfect subjunctive). Call it the Simple Past Mash-up:
Siempre quise que fueras feliz.
I always wanted you to be happy.
Caption 16, Yago - 3 La fotoPlay Caption
Then you can also combine the pretérito imperfecto del indicativo (imperfect past indicative) with the same pretérito imperfecto subjuntivo (past imperfect subjunctive). As you may know, the imperfect is used to refer to past habitual actions or to set the scene in the past. So if this is of any help to you, you could call this the Habitual Past Mash-up. Here's a model sentence using the same verb querer (to want):
Ella quería que yo leyera.
She wanted me to read.
Caption 17, Carli Muñoz - NiñezPlay Caption
So, in Spanish you have these two options that translate the same way in English. Feel comfortable using either of them; the difference is quite subtle:
Ella no quizo que yo leyera / Ella no quería que yo leyera.
She didn't want me to read / She (habitually) didn't want me to read.
Note: there are other options to combine the past indicative with the past subjunctive, but we'll skip them since they use compound forms of the verb and are not used that often in common speech. Instead, let's analyze and learn some interesting combinations of present indicative with past subjunctive next.
Spanish speakers use present indicative with past subjunctive and vice versa. This happens with the past perfect tense (either in the subjunctive or in the indicative moods) because of its proximity to the present tense.
When it's present indicative with past subjunctive, it's with the pretérito perfecto subjuntivo, a compound tense in the subjunctive mood that uses the verb haber (to have) plus a participio (the -ado, -ido, -to, -so, -cho ending):
No creo que hayas venido nada más que para decirme algo que yo ya sé.
I don't think that you've come just to tell me something that I already know.
Caption 12, Muñeca Brava - 3 Nueva CasaPlay Caption
We suggest you to practice this model sentence with other persons and forms of this subjunctive (using different participios as well):
No creo que hayan tomado mucha cerveza / I don't think that they've drunk a lot of beer.
No creo que él haya salido de ahí / I don't think that he has come out of there.
No creo que hayamos impreso eso / I don't think that we've printed that.
No creo que hayas dicho eso / I don't think that you've said that out.
Note also that here no creo (I don't think) is expressing doubt, and that's why the sentence needs the use of subjunctive. If we were to say the opposite, yo creo (I think), we could also combine it with a past tense but in the indicative mood. For the first example: Creo que han tomado mucha cerveza (I think they have drunk a lot of beer).
Finally, the other way around, Spanish speakers can use past indicative with present subjunctive. When this happens it's with the pretérito perfecto indicativo, a compound tense in the indicative mood that uses the verb haber (to have) plus aparticipio (the -ado, -ido, -to, -so, -cho ending):
Él no ha querido que yo diga nada.
He hasn't wanted me to say anything.
And that's it for now. Who said this lesson wouldn't be loaded with grammar? Anyway, we suggest that you learn the model sentences and try to build new ones making substitutions. We will continue next week analyzing sentences that combine subjunctive with other two moods: the conditional and the imperative.