The Complete Guide To Spanish Subjunctive Triggers, Part 1

The Complete Guide To Subjunctive Triggers

Part 1: Introduction
Spanish subjunctive triggers
When learning about the subjunctive tense, we not only have to learn new conjugations, but also when to apply these conjugations. One trick for learning the “when” is to memorize the various subjunctive triggers.

Triggers are words or phrases that automatically require you to use the subjunctive. Triggers are usually in the first part of a two part sentence. The two parts are usually separated by a que or si, and the second part of the sentence has a subject that is different than the first part.

I explain this in more detail, as well as how to conjugate in the subjunctive in the following articles:

What Is the Spanish Subjunctive and How To Use It

How To Conjugate the Spanish Subjunctive

When I was creating the course Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive, I was able to get a little more intimate with the various types of triggers. So I have decided to write an in-depth series of articles, one for each type of trigger.

What is Wrong With W.E.I.R.D.O.?

Triggers are usually grouped into a type, or category, to help identify them. Each category has different characteristics. This series of articles will explore the nuances of each trigger group.

One of the things we will look into is how these trigger types can differ depending on the tense. There are 4 possible subjunctive tenses that can be used: the present, present perfect, imperfect, and past perfect. These tenses sometimes work differently with different trigger types. Because of this, I found it makes more sense to classify the trigger types a little differently than how they are conventionally categorized with the W.E.I.R.D.O. approach.

Will this new categorization be revolutionary, controversial, or, most likely, completely ignored? Who knows. But it makes sense to me, and maybe it will make sense to whoever decides to look into it themselves.

So the W.E.I.R.D.O. categorization is this.
W = Wishes
E = Emotions
I = Impersonal Expressions
R = Recommendations
D = Doubts / Denial
O = Ojalá

Now the creator of this acroynimcally inspired categorization system, I am pretty sure, meant for this to be a useful mnemonic device for helping us remember when to use the subjunctive. It wasn’t meant to be an exact science that could be strictly applied to all aspects of the subjunctive. I am not saying the W.E.I.R.D.O. system is bad, I’m just not sure how really useful it is. It may help some high school students pass a test, but in the moment of a conversation, the brain isn’t going to have time to take that detour. I have noticed, however, that other Spanish learning websites have tried to incorporate W.E.I.R.D.O. into their teaching method as if there is some science to it, and it doesn’t really hold up well.

My categorization is somewhat similar but there are a few alterations. For now, let’s compare it to W.E.I.R.D.O., and then in future articles I will treat each category in more depth.

1. Doubts, Desires, Denial and Ojalá
Whereas W.E.I.R.D.O. gives doubts and denials their own category, and keeps them separate from wishes, I include them with desires/wishes. First off, there is really only one denial trigger that I can think of, the verb negar, so that doesn’t deserve its own category. Secondly, all of these wish/desire triggers act similarly to the doubt/denial triggers in terms of the tenses. So they all go good together. Also, Ojalá means to hope (in the present) or wish (in the past) so it functions similarly, especially in meaning, to the other triggers of desire. The only difference is you don’t have to worry about conjugating it.

2. Emotions
This is the same as W.E.I.R.D.O. These triggers are emotion based and they must indicate a specific subject that is a person expressing the emotion (as opposed to impersonal expressions below).

3. Impersonal Expressions
Same as W.E.I.R.D.O. It is important to note that impersonal expressions either express doubt or emotion. So they are similar to 1. and 2. above. However, the subject is removed from the sentence, though not from the process of expressing the opinion. These impersonal expressions essentially could have “I believe that” in front of it. This implies a degree of uncertainty, however miniscule, as it is just the opinion of the speaker. Interestingly, if you were to say “I believe” or “I think”, it only triggers the subjunctive if it is negative. But for some reason, when it is expressed as an impersonal expression, it DOES trigger the subjunctive. We’ll look at some examples in the article on this trigger type.

4. Suggestions and Commands
W.E.I.R.D.O. calls these Recommendations. They also include demands and ordering people around. Probably the biggest difference between my classification system and W.E.I.R.D.O. is that W.E.I.R.D.O. includes imperative triggers with wishes and desires. In a way it makes sense because it IS a wish or a desire. But grammatically, these imperative triggers work differently. For example, you can’t use them with the present perfect or past perfect in the subjunctive. Go ahead and try it! Another interesting feature of these triggers is that they can be used as command forms, like the recommendation triggers, whereas desire triggers cannot also be commands. If that was confusing, there will be some example to look at in another article. Imperative triggers belong in the Recommendation category, not the Wishing category.

5. Adverbial Phrases
The weird thing about W.E.I.R.D.O. is that it doesn’t include this type of trigger. Most Spanish textbooks and websites do. It just doesn’t fit well into the anacronym. The person who created W.E.I.R.D.O. does indeed cover adverbial phrases in his textbook. Basically this category covers all the adverbial clauses that trigger the subjunctive. There are quite a variety within this category.

6. Miscellaneous
This final category includes all the oddball triggers that don’t fit nice and neatly into the categories above. This includes indefinite antecedents. It is important to remember that Spanish is a language that has it’s own rules. It doesn’t obey the rules of English speaking linguists. What I mean by this is that the subjunctive is a rather fluent and amorphous aspect of the Spanish language that sometimes defies logical explanation.

So those are the 6 categories of subjunctive triggers that I use in my course Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive. I will be writing a series of articles that explore each of these triggers in greater depth. Each article will have plenty of examples, and come with a podcast episode with practice drills! So don’t worry if some of the above explanations were confusing.

I would also like to mention that memorizing all the triggers in all of these categories will help you about 97% percent* of the time. There are certain cases where the subjunctive is used in ways that can’t be easily confined within the concept of a trigger. These types of uses come with greater facility and familiarity with the language. Creating instructional drills for learning them is impractical.

*percentage is an estimate and will vary from person to person

And now, I fear, that I must christen my own acronym so that nobody runs off with my idea and makes a boatload of cash. What’s more, nobody is going to go running around calling this Scott’s system. So let’s see what can we come up with here. We have a D, E, I, S, A, and M.

Oh, this is too hard for me. I just wrote a long article and my brain is fried. Let’s see if there is an online acronym generator. What do you know there is!

So, those 6 letters do not spell any recognizable word. I tried swapping out some of the words, for example Recommendation for Suggestion, or Expression for Impersonal, but the best that I got was M.E.D.I.C.S.
Doubts and Desires
Impersonal Expressions
Clauses (Adverbial)

Lame. Misc should be at the end because it is least important. You aren’t going to start by learning the oddball triggers! OK, I guess I am going to settle for Scott’s Not Weirdo as the title. Let’s see if that sticks.


The Complete Guide To Spanish Subjunctive Triggers, Part 2

10 Tips For Improving Your Spanish Conversation Skills

Mastering the Spanish Subjunctive Free Lessons

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