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Using Subjunctive After Conjunctions of Time

The Spanish subjunctive is used in adverb clauses when the action described in the clause is anticipated or hypothetical (a reservation, a condition not yet met, a mere intention). Adverb clauses are sentences that function as adverbs in compound sentences: 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Organizaremos una fiesta / cuando mi esposo regrese de su viaje
We will organize a party / when my husband comes back from his trip

 

In the previous example, the main clause is organizaremos una fiesta and its verb (organizaremos) is in the indicative mood, future tense. However, the adverb clause that modifies that verb (in this case, establishing a condition of time for the action to happen) must use regrese, the subjunctive form of the verb regresar (to come back). Adverb clauses like this one are usually introduced by conjunctions, which you can use to identify the type of clause that it's being used. The previous sentence, for example, uses the conjunction cuando (when) to introduce the adverb clause. The word cuando is a conjunction of time, just like después (after). These conjunctions are used with the subjunctive to express anticipated circumstances, that is, a future occurrence not yet met. Let's study some examples from our catalog of authentic videos.

 

An example with the conjunction cuando (when):

 

pues no quiere deberle nada a nadie cuando llegue a la presidencia.

because he doesn't want to owe anything to anyone when he reaches the presidency.

Caption 23, Andrés Manuel López Obrador - En campaña

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An example with the conjunction hasta (until), which must be combined with the pronoun que (that):

 

Yo mantendré esa tradición hasta que me muera.

I will keep this tradition until the day I die.

Caption 66, Estado Falcón - Locos de la Vela - Part 4

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Here's an example with the conjunction siempre (always), which combined with the pronoun que (that) means "whenever" or "as long as." Pay attention, the word order has been changed, so the main clause appears at the end.

 

Pero siempre que sea posible, recurriremos a un fotógrafo profesional.

But whenever it is possible, we'll turn to a professional photographer.

Caption 27, Raquel y Marisa - Español Para Negocios - Introducción

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Now, that doesn't mean that you should always use subjunctive after conjunctions of time. You must use it only when you are talking about actions anticipated to occur in the future. If, for example, the conjunction is used to introduce an adverb clause that refers to actions in the past or in progress, known facts or habits, you must use the indicative. Let's see examples:

 

An example where you don't use subjunctive after the conjunction cuando (when):

 

Lo primero que hago cuando voy de compras es mirar los escaparates.*

The first thing that I do when I go shopping is to look at the display windows.

Captions 3-4, Raquel - Haciendo compras

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*Another common word order could be: Lo primero que hago es mirar los escaparates cuando voy de compras.

 

Now, an example where you don't use subjunctive after hasta que (until):

 

Hay policías desde que salgo de mi casa hasta que entro al Tec.

There are police from when I leave my house until I enter the Tech.

Caption 67, Alumnos extranjeros del - Tec de Monterrey

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And here's and example with the conjunction siempre (always) combined with the pronoun que (that) that doesn't use subjunctive either.

 

Entonces, yo siempre que estaba en Lima no los encontraba.*

So, every time I was in Lima, I didn't meet up with them.

Caption 9, Gonzalo el Pintor - Vida - Part 2

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 *Again, the main clause appears at the end of the sentence here, but you can easily change the word order: Entonces, yo no los encontraba siempre que estaba en Lima.

 

Summarizing: the subjunctive is used after conjunctions of time (such as cuandohasta quesiempre que, etc.) only when you want to express anticipated circumstances, that is, a future occurrence not yet met (anyway, strictly speaking future is always hypothetical, right?). For your reference, other conjunctions of time that use subjunctive are después de que (after), mientras que (while, as long as), tan pronto que (as soon as), antes de que (before), and en cuanto (as soon as). So remember to always use subjunctive after them if you want to talk about anticipated circumstances. There is only one exception that applies to después de que (after), antes de que (before), and hasta que (until): you can get away with using a verb in infinitive (ending in -ar, -er, -ir) instead of subjunctive if you get rid of the pronoun que (that). Check the following examples:

 

Voy a bañarme después de hacer ejercicio.
I'm going to shower after I exercise.

Escribiré un libro antes de morir.
I will write a book before I die.

No me voy hasta hablar contigo.
I'm not leaving until I speak with you.

 

Of course, you can also use the subjunctive by adding the pronoun que. Here are the equivalent sentences for the examples above:

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Voy a bañarme después de que haga ejercicio.
I'm going to shower after I exercise.

Escribiré un libro antes de que me muera.
I will write a book before I die.

No me voy hasta que hable contigo.
I'm not leaving until I speak with you.

Grammar

Imperative Constructions

The Spanish constructions haber + de, tener + que, hay + que, and deber + infinitive are all used to express that something demands attention or action: an obligation, requirement, or necessity. Let's review some examples to learn the subtle differences between them and how to properly use them.

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

The construction haber + de + infinitive is used to express a mild sense of obligation or necessity (in some contexts it could be just a possibility). Its use is, therefore, preferred when you want to give an instruction in a very polite way, making it sound more like a suggestion than an order. For example, in one of our new videos Raquel uses haber de + infinitive repeatedly to share some entrepreneurial tips:
 

En primer lugar, hemos de definir nuestra estrategia.

In the first place, we have to define our strategy.

Caption 5, Raquel y Marisa - Español Para Negocios - Introducción

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Básicamente, en esta parte, hemos de definir qué vamos a publicar en cada red social.

Basically, in this part, we have to define what we are going to publish on each social network.

Captions 8-9, Raquel y Marisa - Español Para Negocios - Introducción

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Additionally, by using the first person plural, hemos, Raquel gives a subtle aura of consensus to her advice, which stresses the idea that even when she is using an imperative expression, she is not giving an order but rather sharing advice. If she were to use, for example, the second person, the expression would have a bit more pressing or demanding tone:
 

Lo primero que has de hacer al reservar en un restaurante es...

The first thing that you have to do upon reserving at a restaurant is...

Caption 3, Raquel - Reserva de Restaurante

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Here's another example with a twist, using negation:
 

Y no ha de faltarle nunca un sanconcho de ñato pa' rematar.

And you should never lack a snub-nosed fish stew to add the finishing touch.

Caption 14, Mary Grueso Romero - Platonera en la plaza del mercado

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You could also add the word uno (one), to talk impersonally. For example:

Uno ha de hacer aquello que desea.
One must do whatever one wants.

Incidentally, there is one Spanish imperative construction that only uses the impersonal form to express needs, obligations, or requirements in a more generalized way: hay + que infinitive.
 

¡Eres una víbora a la que hay que quitarle la ponzoña!

You're a snake from which it's necessary to remove the venom!

Caption 27, El Ausente - Acto 3 - Part 7

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Or for everyday tasks at hand:
 

Pues hay que diseñar unos 'flyers'.

So, we have to design some flyers.

Caption 58, Arturo Vega - Entrevista - Part 5

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On the other hand, to convey a higher grade or urgency, necessity, or imperativeness, the expressions tener + que + infinitive and deber + infinitive* come in handy. The difference between deber and tener is subtle: the use of deber confers a sense of duty or moral imperativeness to the expression, while tener is better suited to talk about more practical matters.

You can also use these constructions in an impersonal way, adding the word uno (one):
 

Ya, cuando a uno le toca ser papá, pues, uno tiene que reflexionar sobre eso.

Then, when it's time for one to be a dad, well, one has to reflect on that.

Caption 8, La Sub30 - Familias - Part 13

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[If you want to use the verb deber you would say: uno debe reflexionar (one must reflect)]

 

Or you can use the first person for more particular and pressing needs:
 

Ahora tenemos que hablar de precio.

Now we have to talk about price.

Caption 74, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 11

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[If you were to use the verb deberdebemos hablar de precio (we must talk about price)]

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

 

*By the way, the use of deber de + infinitive in imperative statements (such as debes de comer, meaning "you must eat") is common but grammatically incorrect. The use of deber de + infinitive is correct when used to express probability. 

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