How To Conjugate The Spanish Subjunctive

So you want to conjugate the Spanish subjunctive? Don’t you have anything better to do?! If you aren’t sure if you have come to the right article, because you don’t know what the subjunctive is, you may want to read my article What Is the Spanish Subjunctive and How To Use It?

As you may know, there are 4 different verb tenses that can be conjugated in the subjunctive. They are:

Present subjunctive
Present perfect subjunctive
Imperfect subjunctive
Past perfect (or pluperfect) subjunctive

(Two more, the future and future perfect subjunctive, are antiquated tenses that can be found in old manuscripts and legal documents. They are no longer used or taught in modern Spanish, ¡gracias al cielo!)

Conjugating these 4 subjunctive tenses is pretty easy to do. Figuring out how and when to use them is a different matter entirely. But before we can use them, we need to conjugate them correctly. So that’s the first step in mastering the Spanish subjunctive. Let’s start with

CONJUGATING THE SPANISH PRESENT SUBJUNCTIVE

First get your stem by going to the first person singular conjugation of the verb. Let’s take an irregular verb like poder. The first person singular is yo puedo. Drop the “o” and that is your stem. “pued-“. Now stick the correct ending on it to get your present subjunctive.

There are two possible endings to choose from. If the original verb is an -AR verb, a verb that ends in -AR in the infinitive, like hablar, you use these endings for the following subjects:

yo = -e = Yo hable
tú = -es = Tú hables
él, ella, usted = -e = Él hable
nosotros = -emos = Nosostros hablemos
vosotros = -éis = Vosotros habléis
ellos, ellas, ustedes = -en = Ustedes hablen

If the verb ends in -ER, or -IR in the infinitive, like our friend poder above, slap on one of these bad boys:

yo = -a = Yo pueda
tú = -as = Tú puedas
él, ella, usted = -a = Él pueda
nosotros = -amos = Nosostros podamos
vosotros = -áis = Vosotros podéis
ellos, ellas, ustedes = -an = Ustedes puedan

Whoa there tiger! Why is the stem different in the nosotros and vosotros. That’s because if there is a stem-changing verb, you know, where the O changes to UE, or E to IE, the nosotros and vosotros want to keep the stem of the infinitive.

empezar – yo empiece, nosotros empecemos (here the z changes to c to keep the original pronunciation)
rogar – yo ruegue, nosotros roguemos (here the g changes to gu)
contar – yo cuenta, nosotros contemos (here the t stays a t)
querer – yo quiera, nosotros queramos

The above examples are for -AR and -ER verbs. If it’s an -IR stem-changing verb with E to IE, the nosotros / vosotros takes an I where the IE would go. (In case you are wondering, this evolved this way due to the sound of the IE coming before the accented A.)

preferir – yo prefiera, nosotros prefiramos
sentir – yo sienta, nosotros sintamos

With -IR stem-changing verbs that change from U to UE, the nosotros / vosotros take a U where the UE would go.

dormir – yo duerma, nosotros durmamos

You’ll be happy to know that with -IR stem-changing verbs that change from E to I don’t change stems in the nosotros forms. To wit:

Pedir – yo pida, nosotros pidamos
Medir – yo mida, nosotros midamos
Seguir – yo siga, nosotros sigamos

Anymore weird conjugations? So glad you asked! As a matter of fact, there are 6 verbs that are irregular in the present subjunctive. They are:
Dar, Estar, Haber, Ir, Saber, Ser

All of these verbs have an irregular conjugation in the first person singular, so this makes it difficult to create our stem for the present subjunctive. Here are the conjugations:

Dar = dé, des, dé, demos, deis, den
NOTE the accent (or tilde) is written over dé so as not to confuse it with de
Estar = esté, estés, esté, estemos, estéis, estén
Haber = haya, hayas, haya, hayamos, hayáis, hayan
Ir = vaya, vayas, vaya, vayamos, vayáis, vayan
Saber = sepa, sepas, sepa, sepamos, sepáis, sepan
Ser = sea, seas, sea, seamos, seáis, sean

If you are knew to the subjunctive, your head is probably spinning by now. My head is spinning trying to remember what all these rules are! The cool thing is that once you memorize all these various conjugations of the present subjunctive, you forget all about the rules. It really does become second nature, like your ear tweaks if you hear it pronounced incorrectly. So take heart, I know it may seem overwhelming, but it really is a matter of time and practice, and you really do get used to these conjugations.

The other good news is that the other 3 tenses are MUCH easier to conjugate. Let’s take a quick looksee.

CONJUGATING THE SPANISH PRESENT PERFECT SUBJUNCTIVE TENSE

Remember that the perfect perfect tense is to have done something:

I have eaten = Yo he comido
You have drank = Tú has bebido
She has burped = Ella ha eructado
We have sweated = Nosotros hemos sudado
You (plural, familiar) have returned = Vosotros habéis vuelto
They have put = Ellos han puesto

This “have” verb is the Spanish verb haber which you can see above, is one of the 6 irregular conjugations of the present subjunctive. So all you do is change the above conjugations thusly:

PRESENT PERFECT — PRESENT PERFECT SUBJUNCTIVE

Yo he comido — Yo haya comido
Tú has bebido — Tú hayas bebido
Ella ha eructado — Ella haya eructado
Nosotros hemos sudado — Nosotros hayamos sudado
Vosotros habéis vuelto — Vosotros hayáis vuelto
Ellos han puesto — Ellos hayan puesto

That’s all you have to do for the present perfect subjunctive. The past participles stay the same! Easy enough.

CONJUGATING THE SPANISH IMPERFECT SUBJUNCTIVE TENSE

Another easy one. We start with the third person plural of the preterite tense. Let’s take the verb hacer. In the preterite, the 3rd person plural is hicieron. To get our stem, we drop the -ron to get:

hicie-

The 6 endings to choose from are these:

yo = -ra = yo hiciera
tú = -ras = tú hicieras
él, ella, usted = -ra = él hiciera
nosotros = -ramos = nosotros hiciéramos
vosotros = -rais = vosotros hicierais
ellos, ellas, ustedes = -ran = ellos hicieran

There is another set of endings for the imperfect subjunctive tense that is less common, but you will run across it in written Spanish, and spoken in some parts of Spain.

yo = -se = yo hiciese
tú = -ses = tú hicieses
él, ella, usted = -se = él hiciese
nosotros = -semos = nosotros hiciésemos
vosotros = -seis = vosotros hicieseis
ellos, ellas, ustedes = -sen = ellos hiciesen

(Nosotros in both forms always have an accent on the 3rd to last syllable.)

CONJUGATING THE SPANISH PAST PERFECT (PLUPERFECT) SUBJUNCTIVE TENSE

The 4th and final subjunctive tense to learn to conjugate is similar to the present perfect subjunctive that we learned above. Here we are using that “have” verb in the past tense. For example:

I had eaten = Yo había comido
You had drank = Tú habías bebido
She had burped = Ella había eructado
We had sweated = Nosotros habíamos sudado
You (plural, familiar) had returned = Vosotros habíais vuelto
They had put = Ellos habían puesto

That’s the ole pluperfect. Now to subjunctify it, we go to our 3rd person plural of haber. Don’t worry if you have no frickin’ clue what it is. Why would you? It is hubieron. Like the imperfect subjunctive, drop the -ron, and add the same endings as above. It can take either of the two versions, but the first set is more common.

PAST PERFECT — PAST PERFECT SUBJUNCTIVE

Yo había comido — Yo hubiera comido
Tú habías bebido — Tú hubieras bebido
Ella había eructado — Ella hubiera eructado
Nosotros habíamos sudado — Nosotros hubiéramos sudado
Vosotros habíais vuelto — Vosotros hubierais vuelto
Ellos habían puesto — Ellos hubieran puesto

So there we have it, the 4 tenses that can be conjugated using the subjunctive mood. I hope I explained this well enough. If not, look up another website that explains it, and between the two, hopefully it will start to sink in.

The big question is, how do you go about practicing all this? Sure you can read about how to conjugate the Spanish subjunctive, but it really isn’t going to help you learn it.

If you are only looking to practice the various verb conjugations of the subjunctive described above, I HIGHLY recommend using the Verberrator to help you drill over 500 verbs, including all the irregular ones. With the Verberrator you can select the verbs and the tenses that you want to practice. To purchase, click here.


It is an amazing tool, although it has some flaws. When practicing the subjunctive tenses, it only gives you one trigger, “Esperar que”. And many of the sentences that result in the randomizer make absolutely no sense, and will teach you the wrong way to use the subjunctive mood. It will help you with the actual conjugations, but will mess you up with the “how” and “when” part of speaking subjunctively. (I know, that’s not a word. I’m just being silly.)

If you want to practice the “how” and “when” of using the various subjunctive forms, the best resource for that is in production. It is called Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive and it is the creative work of yours truly. It is currently in production and the first volume will be available in July 2012. To stay informed about its release, be sure to sign up to my newsletter BY CLICKING HERE.


2 comments

This is finally coming through to me again Scott. This is great stuff. Keep it up. Sandy (For others who may be having trouble, to avoid error 404, just click on the link at the bottom).

Celia Schmidt

So sorry to hear that your website got ruined by terrible people that create malware. I look forward to hearing more about your program for drilling the use of the subjunctive and seeing more articles on how to use it.

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