Avoiding Common Errors in Spanish: Subjunctive mood with activities

By Maje
Uncle SamAs promised last week, today we will keep focusing on common errors in Spanish by English speakers. I think it is time to start revising the uses of the subjunctive mood. Incorrect use of the subjunctive is one of the most common mistakes in Spanish by English speakers (actually, made by any non-native speaker of Spanish, ha ha).

As Sue mentioned in her previous blog post last week, “a language after all, is not something you can just pick up 3 times a week without any revision or independent learning.” And that is exactly what I tell my students when they start studying the subjunctive mood: it is not easy, it takes time but if you do not waste your time complaining about how difficult it is, you will master it. “Practice, practice and practice” is my motto. Simple? Not that much as keeping yourself motivated and embracing mistakes when speaking is the difficult part of the learning process. But that is something to which we shall return in a later post.

Back to business! Today we will learn how to use the subjunctive mood when we express a wish, intent or command for a possible action or state of being. We will also review what a subordinate clause is – a clause that begins with que. In the main clause, we must have an indicative verb and then we have the subjunctive verb in the subordinate clause (the one beginning with que). See the infographic below for more detailed information!


In short, please do not say things like “Espero para tú venir a mi casa“, “Quiero para él aprobar el examen.” In Spanish we conjugate both verbs: one in the indicative mood (“Espero”) and the second one in the subjunctive mood (“vengas”). Also bear in mind that we use “QUE” instead of “TO”: Espero QUE vengas a mi casa. Always!

Now complete the following sentences with the correct verb (and tense!):

  1. (Yo) DESEAR (tú) APROBAR el examen mañana.
  2. (Yo) QUERER (yo) IR al cine contigo esta noche.
  3. (Yo) NECESITAR (yo) SABER si hay deberes para mañana.
  4. (Y0) ESPERO (él) VENIR) pronto. (Yo) no QUERER (yo) LLEGAR tarde.
  5. (Él) QUERER (él) ACABAR pronto el trabajo porque (él) NECESITA (él) DESCANSAR.
  6. (Yo) ESPERAR (nosotros) PODER hablar esta semana.
  7. (Yo) NECESITAR (tú) QUEDAR conmigo para estudiar.
  8. (Mis padres) QUERER (yo) ESTUDIAR medicina.
  9. (Yo) DESEAR (vosotros) TENER un buen viaje.
Answers: (1) Deseo que apruebes el examen mañana; (2) Quiero ir al cine contigo esta noche: (3) Necesito saber si hay deberes para mañana; (4) Espero que venga pronto. No quiero llegar tarde; (5) Quiere acabar pronto el trabajo porque necesita descansar; (6) Espero que podamos hablar esta semana; (7) Necesito que quedes conmigo para estudiar; (8) Mis padres quieren que estudie medicina; (9) Deseo que tengáis un buen viaje.

And for these verbs: mandar, exigir, prohibir, recomendar, aconsejar, etc., do you think that we keep the same pattern? Why? Actually, when we say “Quiero que…”, we do not say that you are doing the action. We just express a virtual idea that might happen. “Quiero que estudies” does not mean that you are studying. It means that this is what I thought you should be doing. What about “Te aconsejo que estudies”. Why do we use the subjuntive mood? Could you explain it in your own words? 🙂

According to Reyes Llopis García“mood selection is the one of the most difficult aspects of learning Spanish as a FL/L2,  and it is considered to be one of the last features ever acquired, if at all. (…)The learner is left to memorizing  “puzzle combinations” (with dudo que [I doubt], use subjunctive but with creo que [I think], always indicative), never really knowing why one mood or the other are used. In order to avoid this descriptive/prescriptive grammar in the FL classroom, a different approach (…) A cognitive view of grammar portraits language as an outcome of the speaker’s own selection, and not as part of a taxonomic set of rules.”

The Spanish professor Ruíz Campillo has created something he calls “The Law”, an operational mood map to help students understand mood selection. What do you think about it? Is it possible to have a “Law” for the subjuntive mood?

Click to enlarge the picture

Click to enlarge the picture

How do you introduce the subjunctive mood to your students? Any favourite theory to explain it? Or just the traditional “long list” of verbs which require the subjunctive mood? Do you like Cognitive Grammar? How do you ensure your students know how to use the subjunctive mood in real situations?

Looking forward to your comments.


3 thoughts on “Avoiding Common Errors in Spanish: Subjunctive mood with activities

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s