The Subjunctive Mood in Noun Clauses

Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns

     Introduction: the subjunctive mood.  Presumably, up until now you have been using primarily the indicative mood. The indicative (modo indicativo) in both English and Spanish is used to indicate facts or states of being in the “real world”, and to ask questions:

Jorge dice la verdad.     Jorge is telling the truth.
Elena no canta hoy. Elena is not singing today.
¿Estás cansado? Are you tired?

     In contrast to the indicative, the subjunctive mood (modo subjuntivo) is very rarely used as the main verb of a sentence; it is used primarily in dependent (“subjoined”) clauses and to express a subjective view or the negation or the anticipation of an action or state. In the case of a subjective view, the action or state may in fact exist in reality; the emphasis, however, is on the reaction of the speaker. We can find some examples of situations where we use the subjunctive both in Spanish and in English; in the English translations note that the third person singular form does not end in the usual -s:

We recommend that she *come.    Recomendamos que ella venga.
I insist that he *be here. Insisto en que esté aquí.

*Note that the normal forms are “she comes”and “he is”.

     Unfortunately —at least for purposes of transferring our knowledge of English grammar to Spanish— modern English uses the subjunctive very little. In Spanish it is used constantly, both in conversational and literary form, and you must be able to use it where appropriate.

Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns

     Introduction: noun clauses. A clause is a group of words that expresses an idea and contains a subject and a conjugated or “finite” verb (in contrast to an “infinite” or non-conjugated form such as the infinitive). A sentence will have one or more main clauses, and may have one or more dependent clauses or none at all.

main clause   dependent clause


que vengas a la fiesta.

I hope

(that) you'll come to the party.

     For purposes of this section on the subjunctive, noun clauses are dependent clauses which serve as the direct object or predicate complement of another verb (or as the subject of a verb), just as a noun can do. Please note that English frequently employs an infinitive in these cases, whereas Spanish frequently requires a conjugated verb.

Quiero el libro.     I want the book.    El libro/the book is the direct object.
Quiero que compres el libro. I want you to buy the book. In English the direct object is the phrase you to buy the book. The literal equivalent of the Spanish sentence is: I want that you buy the book, and the clause que compres el libro is the direct object of the verb Quiero.

In the above example involving a dependent clause —“I want that you buy the book”— please note that:

Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns

     The rule: In Spanish, the subjunctive mood is used for the verb in a dependent noun clause when:
  1. The subject of the governing verb is different from the subject of the dependent clause [e.g., “you / ” vs. “I / yo” in the above example], and
  2. The governing verb is one of:
    • Influence or willing [want, prefer, desire, insist, request, etc.], or
    • Emotion [fear, be angry, be sad, be happy, be surprised, etc.], or
    • Doubt or negation [be uncertain, be unsure, doubt, deny, etc.], or is an
    • Impersonal expression of influence, emotion, doubt, probability, possibility, necessity, or a subjective reaction on the part of the speaker [e.g.,: It's urgent / bad, wonderful / uncertain / possible / probable / unlikely, etc.]

     In contrast: The infinitive is normally used when there is no change in subject (I want to leave = Quiero salir), and the indicative mood is used when the governing verb expresses knowledge (to know) certainty (to be certain / sure), truth (to be true / the truth), affirmation (to believe, think, affirm, assert, declare), or reporting (to say, indicate [when not used as a verb of influence], report).

     See also WIDEN vs. CART or WEIRDO for a short form of the rules.

Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns

  1. Verbs of influence or willing. Verbs such as querer (to want), preferir (to prefer), desear (to desire), insistir en (to insist), mandar (to command), prohibir (to prohibit), requerir (to require), exigir (to demand, require), recomendar (to recommend), pedir (to request/ask for), decir (to tell, say [when not used as a verb of reporting]), alentar (to encourage), etc. require that the subjunctive be used in any subordinate clauses they govern.

    Queremos que lo cantes.    We want you to sing it.
    Insistes en que lo hagamos? Do you insist that we do it? (Or: Do you insist on our doing it?)
    Deseo que te quedes. I want you to stay.
    Ella prefiere que lleguemos a las seis. She prefers us to arrive at 6:00.
    Recomiendo que salgas. I recommend that you leave.
    Manda él que yo lo escriba? Is he ordering me to write it?
    Se prohíbe que entremos. It is forbidden for us to enter.
    Piden que cenemos allí. They're asking us to dine there.
    No permitimos que lo compres. We don't permit you to buy it.
    La ley exige que paguemos impuestos. The law requires us to pay taxes.

    NOTE: Some verbs can either indicate influence (and thus take the subjunctive) or reporting (and thus take the indicative):

    Ella dice que nos vamos.    She says we're leaving.    [Reporting a fact: indicative]
    Ella dice que nos vayamos. She's telling us to leave. [Giving us a command: subjunctive]
    Yo insisto en que él viene. I insist that he is coming. [Know it for a fact: indicative]
    Yo insisto en que él venga. I insist that he come. [Giving an order: subjunctive]

    NOTE: If the same person is the subject for both the verb of influence and the dependent verb, the infinitive is normally used instead of the subjunctive:

    Nadie quiere trabajar.    No one wants to work.
    Yo prefiero manejar. I prefer to drive.

    NOTE: Certain verbs of influence may be used either with the subjunctive or an infinitive, even when there's a change of subject. The infinitive is more frequent when the subject of the dependent verb is a pronoun (rather than a noun or noun phrase). Such verbs include hacer (to make [someone do something]), permitir (to permit), and dejar (to let, allow):


    Nadie me hace pensar.    Nobody makes me think.
    Déjame trabajar en paz. Let me work in peace.
    Ellas no nos permiten bailar. They don't permit us to dance.


    Nadie hace que los trabajadores piensen en el porvenir. No one makes the workers think about the future.
    Deja que las secretarias trabajen en paz. Let the secretaries work in peace.
    Ellas no permiten que los otros estudiantes bailen. They don't permit the other students to dance.

    Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns

  2. Verbs of emotion. Expressions such as to be happy (estar alegre, alegrarse de), to be sad (estar triste), to fear, be afraid (temer, tener miedo de) to hope (esperar), to feel sorry, regret (sentir, dar lástima), to like, be pleased, be delighted (gustar, agradar, encantar), to dislike, be displeased (disgustar, desagradar), to be surprised (sorprender, estar sorprendido), etc., likewise require the use of the subjunctive in clauses they govern.

    Espero que vengan.    I hope they come.
    Siento que ella no esté aquí. I'm sorry she's not here.
    Me alegro de que vaya a Madrid. I'm glad he's going to Madrid.
    Temo que haya muchos problemas. I fear there are many problems.
    Tengo miedo de que no llegue. I'm afraid she won't arrive.
    Te gusta que sea tan fácil? Are you pleased it's so easy?
    Le sorprende que vivamos así. He's surprised we live like that.

    Ojalá (que), while not a verb in Spanish, is used like a verb of emotion or influence with the present subjunctive:

    Ojalá que la comida sepa bien.    I hope the food tastes good.
    Ojalá nuestro equipo gane mañana. I hope our team wins tomorrow.

    Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns

  3. Verbs of doubt and negation require the subjunctive in subordinate clauses; examples include negar (to deny), dudar (to doubt), no ser verdad (to not be true/the truth), no estar cierto/seguro (to be unsure, uncertain), no creer (to not believe), etc. Remember that expressions of certainty or belief take the indicative: no negar (to not deny), no dudar (to not doubt), afirmar (to affirm), creer (to believe), estar cierto/seguro (to be sure, certain), etc.

    Dudamos que salgan bien.    We doubt they'll do well.
    No creo que asistan a la clase. I don't think they attend class.
    Niegas que yo pueda hacerlo? Do you deny that I can do it?
    No estoy segura de que venga. I'm not sure she's coming.

    NOTE: Normally the reverse (positive/negative) of each of the above sentences does not indicate doubt or negation and thus takes the indicative.

    No dudamos que salen bien.    We don't doubt they'll do well.
    Creo que asisten a la clase. I think they attend class.
    No niegan que yo puedo hacerlo. They don't deny that I can do it.
    Estoy segura de que viene. I'm sure she's coming.

    Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns

  4. Impersonal expressions do not have a specific person or thing as the subject. In English we use the non-specific “it”, but in Spanish the pronoun is omitted. Impersonal expressions such as those given below require the subjunctive in a subordinate clause because they indicate doubt, negation, emotion, influence, or a subjective reaction on the part of the speaker.

    Es bueno que lo hagan  It's good for them to do it (or: that they do it).
    Es malo It's bad
    Es mejor It's better
    Es peor It's worse
    Es horrible It's horrible
    Es horrendo It's horrendous
    Es estupendo It's stupendous
    Es maravilloso  It's marvelous
    Es posible It's possible
    Es imposible It's impossible
    Es probable It's probable
    Es improbable It's improbable
    Es increíble It's incredible
    Es necesario It's necessary
    Es preciso It's necessary
    Es urgente It's urgent
    Es importante It's important
    Es interesante It's interesting
    Es notable It's notable
    Es raro It's unusual/strange
    Es extraño It's strange
    Es estúpido It's stupid
    Es ridículo It's ridiculous
    Es curioso It's curious
    Es dudoso It's doubtful
    Es difícil It's unlikely
    Es fácil It's likely
    No es seguro It's uncertain
    No es cierto It's uncertain
    No es verdad It's untrue

    NOTE: An infinitive may be used after these expressions if no change of subject is involved:

    Es bueno estudiar mucho.    It's good to study a lot.

    In contrast to:

    Es bueno que estudies mucho. It's good that you study a lot.

    However, impersonal expressions indicating certainty, affirmation, and truth would take the indicative:

    Es cierto       It's certain  
    Es evidente que sabes esto. It's evident that you know this.
    Es verdad It's true

  5. Some other verbs and expressions that normally take the indicative in subordinate clauses include those which express: knowledge: saber (to know); certainty: estar seguro, estar cierto (to be certain / sure); truth: ser verdad (to be the truth); affirmation: creer (to believe, think), pensar (to think), declarar (to declare). Verbs of reporting also take the indicative, although many of them can also be used as verbs of influence: decir (to say), indicar (to indicate), insistir en (to insist), reportar (to report), replicar (to reply), responder (to respond), contestar (to answer).

    Sé que Elena habla español.    I know that Elena speaks Spanish.    Knowlege: Indicative
    Es verdad que yo lo hice. It's true that I did it. Truth: Indicative
    Creo que están en casa. I think they're at home. Affirmation or belief: Indicative
    Te digo que vienen. I'm telling you that they are coming. Reporting: Indicative
    Te digo que vengas. I 'm telling you to come. [= I 'm telling that you should come.] Influence or willing: Subjunctive
    Insistimos en que aprenden esto. We insist that they are learning this. Reporting: Indicative
    Insistimos en que aprendan esto. We insist that they learn this. Influence or willing: Subjunctive

Subj. mood - noun clauses - the rule - verbs of: influence or emotion or doubt - impersonal exprsns

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Contact: Fred F. Jehle


Indiana University - Purdue University Ft. Wayne
Fort Wayne, IN 46805-1499 USA