The subjunctive – if you have spent any time learning Spanish, you are bound to have heard this mystical word uttered in your Spanish classes. Just the word itself makes it seem like a far off world full of magic and mystery that only the brave embark on.
In all honesty, learning the subjunctive can feel overwhelming. And rightfully so! With its various rules, uses and conjugations that have no rhyme or reason when translating to English, learning the subjunctive can make any Spanish learner want to give up on the language.
So what really makes the subjunctive so complicated? Here are 6 reasons why mastering this concept continues to frustrate, perplex and confuse Spanish learners across the world.
#1 It’s a mood, not a tense
Yes, that’s right. There are three moods in Spanish, the indicative mood, the subjunctive mood and the imperative mood. Under each mood falls various tenses. For example, under the indicative mood we have tenses like, el presente, el presente perfecto, el pretérito, el imperfecto etc. Equally, under the subjunctive mood, we have el presente del subjuntivo, el imperfecto del subjuntivo, el pluscuamperfecto del subjuntivo. So, when you embark on the “subjunctive” you are not just signing up to learn one tense, but various.
#2 The English subjunctive is rarely used
The English subjunctive is a relatively rare verb form that expresses something desired or imagined (i.e. I insist that he come). Because the subjunctive really doesn’t exist in English as it does in Spanish, it will, unfortunately, never come naturally to us angloparlantes. And, I know it hurts to hear this, but it is just something you, as a native English speaker, have to memorize and practice extensively.
#3 It’s not an obscure grammar topic
Although the subjunctive may seem like an obscure concept for C1 level Spanish students, I’m here to relay the bad news that it’s not. Both the present and imperfect subjunctive tenses are used frequently in everyday spoken Spanish. So, unfortunately, if you are serious about achieving fluency in Spanish (i.e. a B1 or B2 level), it is a bridge that you will have to cross eventually.
#4 It’s triggered by the first half of the sentence
Here is where the memorization comes in. The uses of the subjunctive in the dependent clause (the second half of the sentence) is always triggered by the independent clause (the first half of the sentence). So, it’s not enough to memorize the funky subjunctive conjugations, but also, you have to commit to memory what expressions trigger the conjugation into the subjunctive.
#5 There are lots of rules and exceptions
Once you think you’ve mastered the subjunctive, all of a sudden, a sentence throws you a curve ball and you spiral into a fit of rage, “Why the heck is THAT subjunctive?!?!” Or, at least, that’s what happened to me when I was elbow deep in this stuff.
#6 There are 4 new tenses to learn
Once you’ve mastered the use of the subjunctive mood, there are 4 new tenses complete with new conjugations to learn. Although some of these, like the past perfect subjunctive tense for example, are used less frequently in spoken Spanish, they are still tenses that you should be, at least “familiar with” if you want to move to a higher level.
So, what’s the best way to tackle the subjunctive?
Speaking from personal experience from learning the subjunctive as a native English speaker, it was definitely not something I could have taught myself from a book or YouTube.
It took me about three focused months with a teacher in Spain to, not only understand the subjunctive, but to use it fluidly. That being said, I, hands-down believe that the fastest track to mastering this topic is with the help of a supportive, patient teacher who can break things down for you (and cry to if you need to).
If you are new to the subjunctive and are ready to dive in, I am offering a 4-Week Conquering the Subjunctive Mini Course starting on March 9, 2021. We will be reviewing the subjunctive from the ground up so you have a good base and understanding of the concept to springboard you to the next level.
Whether you are in the midst of your subjunctive struggle or are standing looking up at the big subjunctive mountain, don’t be afraid – the hardest part is always taking the first step.