What are grammatical "moods"? Many definitions of grammatical moods in linguistics explain them as features of verbs that describe "modality." But, what is "modality"?
In a nutshell, "modality" refers to a speaker's attitude toward what he or she is saying, which might entail such concepts as possibility, probability, certainty or doubt. "Moods" are not the same as tenses, which convey when things happen, and each of the sixteen Spanish tenses fall into one of the three mood categories. That said, let's delve deeper into the three grammatical moods in Spanish: the indicative, the subjunctive, and the imperative.
Most simply put, the indicative mood describes facts, things about which the speaker is certain, or "the objective truth." Let's take a look at some examples of sentences with verbs in the indicative mood.
Estoy seguro que voy a poder ayudarla en algo.
I'm sure that I am going to be able to help you with something.
Caption 7, Yago 9 Recuperación - Part 7Play Caption
This speaker says in the Spanish present indicative tense that he's seguro (sure) that he will be able to help the person to whom he's speaking. Such phrases referring to certainty like Estoy seguro que (I'm sure that) or even Yo creo que (I believe that) are tip-offs that the verb(s) that follow(s) will be in the indicative because they indicate conviction. However, many examples of verbs in the indicative mood in Spanish won't be quite so straightforward.
Hablaremos sobre el candombe.
We'll talk about candombe.
Caption 11, Sonido Babel El candombe de UruguayPlay Caption
In this example of the future indicative tense in Spanish, the speaker states (with certainty) what it is he will talk about. Let's take a look at an additional example.
¡Sí! Fuimos a buscar conchas pero no fue fácil encontrarlas.
Yes! We went to look for shells but it wasn't easy to find them.
Caption 13, Guillermina y Candelario El ManglarPlay Caption
In this final example in the Spanish preterite tense, the speaker clearly states the objective truth about what happened in the past: Fuimos a buscar (We went to look for) seashells, and no fue (it wasn't) easy. Although whether or not something is easy is a subjective concept, it is important to remember that it is the speaker's attitude or belief about what he or she is stating that determines the mood.
There are ten verb tenses in the Spanish indicative mood: the present, the imperfect, the preterite, the future, the simple conditional, the present perfect, the pluperfect, the past anterior, the conditional perfect, and the future perfect. For a closer look at each of these tenses with examples, we recommend this lesson on the Spanish indicative tenses.
While the indicative conveys certainty and objectivity, the subjunctive conveys such opposing concepts as subjectivity, doubt, wishful thinking, hypothetical situations, and more. Let's take a look at some examples:
No, no, no. No creo que sea muy peligroso
No, no, no. I don't think he's very dangerous,Play Caption
Just like the expression Creo que (I believe that) lets you know that the following verb will be conjugated in the indicative, the phrase No creo que (I don't believe that) is an indicator for the subjunctive. Although we won't enter into verb conjugation in this lesson, we will say that verbs in the subjunctive mood are conjugated differently than in the indicative: for example, sea is the subjunctive conjugation of ser (to be) in third person singular and is thus used in place of the indicative form es. Let's take a look at another example:
de verdad, esperamos que te hayamos podido devolver la alegría.
we really hope that we've been able to give you back your joy.
Caption 58, Tu Voz Estéreo Laura - Part 17Play Caption
Here, the indicative present perfect form hemos podido (we've been able) has been replaced with the subjunctive present perfect, hayamos podido, because the speaker is expressing a hope that something has happened rather than stating that it actually has. Let's look at another example of the subjunctive mood in Spanish:
Si yo fuera un hombre, yo pensaría que las mujeres son complicadas.
If I were a man, I would think that women are complicated.
Caption 28, Conjugación El verbo 'pensar'Play Caption
This sentence employs a common construction that combines the imperfect subjunctive with the Spanish conditional tense to talk about what "would" happen "were" a hypothetical situation in place.
Learning all of the situations and/or constructions that require the subjunctive mood in Spanish can be quite challenging for native English speakers since verbs in the subjunctive mood in English rarely change. As a guideline, statements in which the second verb in a construction changes to the subjunctive include wishes like deseo que (I wish that...), emotions like me alegro de que (I'm happy that...), impersonal expressions like es importante que (it's important that...), recommendations like sugiero que (I suggest that...), and doubts like dudo que (I doubt that...), just to name a few.
The Spanish subjunctive mood encompasses six tenses: the present subjunctive, the imperfect subjunctive, the future subjunctive, the present perfect subjunctive, the pluperfect subjunctive, and the future perfect subjunctive, which are explained in greater detail in this lesson on the subjunctive tenses in Spanish that also touches on our third and final Spanish mood.
Understanding the speaker's "attitude" in the imperative mood is less nuanced: one is "ordering" or "commanding" someone else to do something:
¡Hazlo todo de nuevo!
Do it all over again!
Caption 32, Los Años Maravillosos Capítulo 3 - Part 7Play Caption
This is an example of a positive, informal command (with tú, or the singular, informal "you") in Spanish. Let's see another example:
Chicos, no me hagan esta broma tan pesada.
Guys, don't play this very annoying joke on me.
Caption 49, Club 10 Capítulo 1 - Part 1Play Caption
Here, we see the negative command that corresponds to the pronoun ustedes (plural "you"). Let's check out one more:
Empecemos por la forma, luego iremos al contenido.
Let's start with the form, then we'll go on to the content.
Caption 6, Ana Carolina CondicionalesPlay Caption
This "less commanding" sentence reflects the imperative form that goes with nosotros/as, or "we," which you can learn more about in the lesson Let's Learn Spanish Commands with Nosotros/as.
We can group Spanish commands into eight categories: positive commands with tú, negative commands with tú, (positive or negative) commands with usted (formal "you"), (positive or negative) commands with ustedes (plural "you"), positive commands with vos (informal "you" in certain regions), positive commands with vosotros/as (informal plural "you" in Spain), negative commands with vosotros/as, and (positive or negative) commands with nosotros/as (we). For a more in-depth look at the various types of commands in Spanish, we recommend the following four-part series on El modo imperativo.
We hope that this lesson has shed some light on the concept of the three grammatical "moods" in Spanish and would like to conclude it with an imperative sentence: No te olvides de dejarnos tus sugerencias y comentarios (Don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments).