The subjunctive tense or el subjuntivo in Spanish causes native English speakers a lot of trouble. Spanish language learners find it confusing, awkward to use, and hard to recognise. Plus, we have mentioned before that the subjuntivo involves six irregular verbs that are used quite often. Irregular verb conjugations can be such a headache to remember. As a result, Spanish students tend to make a lot of mistakes with this tense. If we know the trouble spots, we can do a better job at avoiding them.
Let’s look at the 4 most common mistakes with subjuntivo in Spanish
1. Poor conjugation of subjunctive verbs
The most common mistake is to simply forget how to conjugate a subjunctive verb correctly. Poor conjugation sounds clunky and makes you sound like a non-native speaker. If you are working in improving your Spanish accent, this mistake will give you away.
The 4 steps to subjunctive conjugation are easy once you get the hang of it: start with the infinitive form of the verb (tener), find the present indicative yo form (tengo), remove the yo ending (teng-), and add the subjunctive ending (tenga). Remember that to get the subjunctive ending in Spanish, you have to swap –ar verbs to –e endings and –er/-ir verbs to –a ending.
2. Using indicative instead of subjunctive
When a language learner in the classroom or taking online Spanish tutoring can’t remember how to properly conjugate in the subjunctive, they often skip it and use the indicative or imperative form instead. This mistake totally changes the meaning of what you are trying to say. Here you can see a big difference:
Indicative: Que tienes un buen día.This is incorrect and sounds like you are asking “What do you have? A good day?”
Imperative: Ten un buen día. This is a stern command that sounds like, “I force you to have a good day.” and is impolite.
Subjunctive: Que tengas un día. This is correct and expresses hopeful, polite wishes. “I hope that you have a good day.”
3. Forgetting the 6 irregular verbs in subjunctive
No sean olvidadizos. Don’t be forgetful about these guys. They are super common in usage.
- Dar – dé, des, dé, demos, den
- Estar – esté, estés, esté, estemos, estén
- Ser – sea, seas, sea, seamos, sean
- Haber – haya, hayas, haya, hayamos, hayan
- Ir – vaya, vayas, vaya, vayamos, vayan
- Saber – sepa, sepas, sepa, sepamos, sepan
4. When to Use Subjuntivo in Spanish
We already wrote about why recognising when to use the subjunctive tense in Spanish is so difficult for English speakers to grasp. It is a language tense that has dropped out of everyday use in English. For beginner students who still translate in their heads, it is easy to miss. Let’s re-visit the issue. In Spanish, the subjuntivo is used:
- to express what you think is true or false
- to express doubt about a certain detail
- when another person is the principal subject of your statement
- when expressing an opinion, a desire, or a suggestion
For Spanish language learners, the 4 most common mistakes we see are incorrect conjugation, using the wrong tense, forgetting the six subjunctive verbs that are irregular, and missing when to use subjunctive. Learning the proper use of the subjuntivo will not only improve your Spanish to help you sound well-educated, but it will increase your listening fluency as well. Can you improve by fixing these mistakes?