Most Spanish students have trouble understanding the subjunctive tense in Spanish as well as using it properly. In this article I’ll lay out some mental triggers that will help you use this difficult tense without even being aware of it.

The subjunctive tense, as you probably know if you have been studying Spanish for some time, is one of the hardest tenses for Spanish students to understand and use properly. I am certain you have asked yourself in which situations or context you should use this difficult tense, however you haven’t managed to get rid of all that mess yet and you’re still struggling to use it.

It turns out that a lot of native Spanish speakers, if you ask them, don’t know exactly why or when to use this tense. Most native Spanish speakers have simply never thought about it and they simply rely on their intuition or what “sounds good”.
You might be wondering then how on earth you are going to be capable of such achievement. The answer to this question lies in your brain. Have you ever thought of the predictive text of your cell phone and how it can give you exactly what you need depending on the words you have already typed? Exactly, your brain simply hasn’t found the right hints to trigger the subjunctive tense automatically and naturally in your brain.

Obviously, your handle of the basics of the language must be good at this point nevertheless .The sooner you start to get used to finding and applying some“triggers” in your speech, the better your Spanish will become in the long run.

As you study Spanish, it’s advisable to get used to putting this technique into practice because it’ll help you learn the language in a more natural way. If you think carefully about it, that’s really how all human beings learn languages.

To get a clear insight into how to use this technique let’s take a look at the following examples,

  • I’m going to give you a good example so that you can understand this idea
  • Voy a darte un buen ejemplo para que “puedas” entender esta idea
  • I gave you a good example so that you could understand this idea
  • Te di un buen ejemplo para que “pudieras / pudieses” entender esta idea

As you can see in the above sentences I highlighted the “triggers”. The Spanish translation of “so that”, “para que” automatically triggers the proper subjunctive conjugation of the following verb. In this case, any verb placed right after “para que” needs to be conjugated in one of the two main forms of the subjunctive tense whether it be the present or the past, which would depend only on the timeline of your speech.

There are a bunch of cases like the previous one and they can make your job easy. Let’s take a look at another example:

  • You might have to do it
  • Puede que “tengas” que hacerlo
  • You might have had to do it
  • Puede que “tuvieras / tuvieses” que haberlo hecho

In this case, the expression “puede que” is the hint you need to pay to attention to in order to conjugate the following verb in the subjunctive tense intuitively and quickly.

As I said before, it’s crucial that you know how to conjugate the basic verb tenses properly, and that means that you are supposed to have invested a lot of time previously. But remember that the more you practice, the better you’ll use the subjunctive tense and if you are able to handle a bunch of cases like the prior ones your Spanish will sound much more natural.

There are some expressions where you can conjugate the subjunctive tense right after the expression, but only depending on the content of your message which might leave room for error. The good news is that you can use some of those cases to get a clearer grasp of the kind of effect the subjunctive tense has in the Spanish language.
For instance:

  • Even though I have some money, I won’t buy a new car
  • Aunque tengo dinero no compraré un coche nuevo
In this case you already have the money at your disposal to buy a new car but you prefer not to buy it, that is why you use the present indicative tense after “aunque”.
Now, let’s take a look at the same example but using the subjunctive tense instead:

  • Even if I have some money, I won’t buy a new car
  • Aunque “tenga” dinero no compraría un coche nuevo

In this case, you don’t have enough money yet to buy a new car but if you had enough money you wouldn’t buy it anyway.

To sum it up, I encourage you all to take the time to identify some of these “triggers” and start practicing this technique as soon as possible. It all boils down to reflecting on many examples and possibilities. I’m sure that you will end up speaking Spanish really well without even noticing it, just like a native Spanish speaker does!
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