Pablo has taught college Spanish at the University of Missouri and Central Methodist University, and has a master's degree in Spanish literature.
Conditional & Subjunctive Moods
'If I were you, I would pay a lot of attention to this lesson.'
What are we saying in this sentence? Well, two things:
- That if the condition of me being you were fulfilled (although we know that this is only hypothetical because I cannot be you)
- Then, I would do something
In this simple sentence, we can find two different moods coming together:
- The conditional that talks about what would happen or what one would do in certain circumstances
- The subjunctive that talks about a situation that is uncertain, unreal, or just a wish. Also, the subjunctive mood talks about the urgency or importance of something.
The conditional mood expresses something that would happen if certain circumstances happen.
Let's take a look at this example: 'I would eat insects if I were starving.' We have a condition: 'If I were starving.' So, what would I do if the condition were fulfilled? 'I would eat insects.'
Let's look at another example: 'I would climb Mount Everest if I wanted to.' What is the condition here? 'If I wanted to.' And what would I do if the condition were fulfilled? 'I would climb Mount Everest.' (I don't want to because I have TV, but that's not relevant right now.)
These sentences have used the word 'would,' but we can also use the words 'could' and 'might' in the conditional tense. For example, 'He could get the concert tickets tomorrow.' 'It might work.'
Most of the time, the subjunctive mood is used to discuss something that is uncertain or is hypothetical. The present subjunctive is used with triggers (certain verbs and expressions that indicate that a subjunctive tense is required. You will learn some later in this lesson). The past subjunctive is used in unreal if-clauses similar to the conditional tense.
To conjugate verbs in the present subjunctive, it's just like the present tense, except for the 'he,' 'she' and 'it' are conjugated identically to all the other subjects. In the present tense, the third person singular usually has an -s at the end. For example, 'I eat,' 'you eat,' 'he eats,' 'we eat,' 'you eat,' 'they eat.' In the subjunctive, even he/she/it is conjugated as eat. The verb 'to be' is an irregular verb because in the present, we use the infinitive 'be' without the word 'to,' as in 'I suggest that you be yourself.'
For past subjunctive, verbs are conjugated like the past ('I ran,' 'you ran,' 'she ran,' 'we ran,' 'you ran,' 'they ran,' 'everyone ran'). Past subjunctive is to discuss hypothetical or unreal situations in the present or even in the future, as in 'I wish you were here for my birthday.' Before we go any further, let's take a look at the verb 'to be:'
|subject||be (present)||be (past)|
Let's look at some examples:
- 'I suggest that you be ready for the lesson.'
- 'He recommended that I be patient for my own sake.'
- 'We advise that he be organized in his work.'
Here are some of the verbs and expressions that trigger the present subjunctive:
- to advise
- to insist
- to recommend
- to suggest
- it is best that
- it is important that
- it is urgent that
Here are some examples of the triggers:
- 'I advise that you study and also suggest that she study.'
- 'It is important that they be on time for class.'
- 'It is urgent that he turn in the paper.'
Let's start completing some 'if clauses' using the conditional tense. Choose the correct word to complete the sentence:
- If it rains, we (would/should) get wet.
- If I go on vacation, I (can/would) miss you.
- If you rest, you (might/be) feel better.
- They (would/got) be better if they practiced.
- He (would/be) ace the test if he studies.
(Answers: 1. would 2. would 3. might 4. would 5. would)
Now, let's practice the subjunctive filling in the blanks:
- It's important that they (blank) (to be) responsible.
- They request that she (blank) (to arrive) early.
- I recommend that we (blank) (to drive) under the speed limit because of the rain.
- If I (blank) (to be) him, I would cut my hair.
- If it (blank) (to be) my birthday today, all of you would be invited to my party.
(Answers: 1. be 2. arrive 3. drive 4. were 5. were)
In this lesson, we have learned how to use the conditional and the subjunctive moods. The conditional tense is often used with words, like 'if,' 'would,' 'could,' and 'might.' The present subjunctive is used with triggers, like 'It is important that,' and the past subjunctive is used in unreal or hypothetical situations, like 'If I were a dog.'
Once you are finished with this lesson, make certain you're able to:
- Decide when to use the subjunctive and the conditional moods
- Recall some of the triggers to be used with the present subjunctive and the conditional tense
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