SUBJUNTIVO vs INDICATIVO: Don’t ever confuse these again!

SUBJUNTIVO vs INDICATIVO: Don’t ever confuse these again!

Which one is correct?

“Espero que estés bien.” o “Espero que estás bien.” (I hope you are well.)

First, I said “Espero que estés bien”” in the subjuntivo (subjunctive) and then in the indicativo (indicative).

Which one was correct? If you know, leave a comment. Solution at the end!

I’m Spring Spanish teacher, Maura, and let’s learn once and for all when to use the subjuntivo and when the indicativo.

1. Subjunctive VS Indicative: What’s the difference?

In general terms, the difference between these two moods has to do with how real or factual the information is.

Esencialmente, se utiliza el indicativo para indicar hechos o aquello que es cierto. (Essentially, you’d use the indicative to indicate facts or what is true.)

And the subjunctive when you’re expressing personal opinions or feelings of duda, esperanza o deseos (doubts, hopes, or wishes), after specific verbs and to describe an unspecified something or someone.  

Repasemos algunos ejemplos. (Let’s review some examples.)

Indicative mood: talking about facts or truths.

  • Tu famila viene esta tarde. (Your family comes this afternoon.)
  • El sol sale todas las mañanas. (The sun comes out every morning.)
  • Ella habla muy bien en español. (She speaks very good Spanish.)

Subjunctive mood: talking about opinions, wishes, describing unspecified people, etc.

  • No creo que lleguemos a tiempo. (I don’t think we’ll get there on time.)
  • Quiero que practiques más. (I want you to practice more.)
  • Necesito a alguien que hable bien inglés. (I need someone who speaks English well.)

The only way to get a real feeling for these two moods is to put them to the test, so stick with me till the end if you want to solidify this knowledge through some good practice!

2. Tips and tricks on when to use each mood

Ahora, vamos a profundizar un poco más en cuándo utilizar cada uno. (Now, let’s go a little deeper into when to use each.)

Some of these categories are meant to be broader, like when the subjuntivo (subjunctive) is used for personal opinions or feelings since this includes deseos, dudas y esperanzas (wishes, doubts, and hopes). Because all of these are, in fact, personal opinions.

Some are very straightforward, like using the subjuntivo (subjunctive) after specific verbs. Here are the main categories you should concern yourself with for the subjunctive:

  1. Personal opinions: wishes, hopes, doubts, feelings.
    • Espero que se alegren de vernos (I hope they are happy to see us.)
    • Dudo que traigan hielo. (I doubt they’ll bring ice.)
    • Quiero que salgamos más. (I want us to go out more.)
  1. To describe an unspecified person or thing.
    • Hay que comprar algo que pique vegetales mejor. (We have to buy something that cuts vegetables better.)
    • Contrata a una persona que sepa trabajar en equipo. (Hire someone who knows how to work as a team.)
  1. After the very common expressions quizás (maybe) and ojalá (hopefully).

We do have a video about ojalá (hopefully) and how it works with the subjuntivo (subjunctive) that you can check out here. For now, here are some examples:

  • Quizás te llame pronto. (Maybe he’ll call you soon.)
  • Ojalá llueva mañana. (I hope it rains tomorrow.)
  • Quizás alquilen algo por esos días. (Maybe they’ll rent something for those days.)
  • ¡Ojalá el verano llegue rápido! (I hope summer comes soon!)

With quizás (maybe), you do have the choice of using the indicative as well, but using the subjunctive will, once more, add more uncertainty a lo que dices que quizás suceda. (to what you say might happen.)

Now, use the indicative mood when the following applies.

  1. To express something that is true:
    • El gato come muy rápido. (The cat eats very fast.)
    • La amabilidad es muy importante. (Kindness is very important.)
    • Yo amo a mi familia con toda mi alma. (I love my family with all my soul.)

Chunk Alert!

Amo con toda mi alma (Love with all my soul) might sound very passionate but, hey, el español es una lengua muy apasionada. (Spanish is a very passionate language.) We would use this when it makes sense, like talking about your family as shown in the example, yo amo a mi familia con toda mi alma (I love my family with all my soul) or, when exaggerating something like: amo comer pizza con toda mi alma. (I love to eat pizza with all my soul.)

Si amas los chunks con toda tu alma (If you love chunks with all your soul), don’t forget to check the link in the description to get many more like this with our free Essential Spanish Chunking kit!

Back to our lesson, also use the indicative:

  1. To describe something or someone specific:
    • Busco a una persona que se llama Alejandra. (I’m looking for a person named Alejandra.)
    • Pásame el cuchillo que corta bien los vegetales. (Hand me the knife that cuts vegetables well.)

After the expressions:

  • cuando (when)
  • mientras (while)
  • hasta que (until)
  • tan pronto como (as soon as)

you can use both, but it depends on whether the action you’re referring to has taken place or not.

  • Use the indicative mood after cuando, mientras, hasta que, tan pronto como (when, while, until, as soon as) if the action has already taken place or takes place regularly. For example:
  • Me quedé hasta que llegaste. (I stayed until you came.)
  • Me encanta como me siento cuando hablo contigo. (I love how I feel when I talk to you.)
  • El gato siempre me espera en la puerta mientras me ducho. (The cat always waits for me at the door while I take a shower.)
  • Use the subjunctive after the same expressions, but when the action has not yet taken place.
    • Me quedaré hasta que vengas. (I’ll stay until you come.)
    • Me sentiré mejor cuando hable contigo. (I will feel better when I talk to you.)
    • Apuesto que mientras me duche, el gato me esperará en la puerta. (I bet that while I’m taking a shower, the cat will be waiting for me at the door.)

Check your tenses. If you’re talking about something that will happen later, meaning, the future, chances are you’d need the subjunctive after these expressions.

3. Practice the subjunctive

Let’s start with the example from the beginning, shall we?

  • Subjuntivo: Espero que estés bien. (Subjunctive: I hope you are well.)
  • Indicativo: Espero que estás bien. (Indicative: I hope you are well.)

And the correct answer is… alternative number one: espero que estés bien. Why? We need the subjunctive because we are talking about hopes.

  • Subjuntivo: Conozco a alguien que sepa nadar mejor que yo. (Subjunctive: I know someone who can swim better than me.)
  • Indicativo: Conozco a alguien que sabe nadar mejor que yo. (Indicative: I know someone who can swim better than me.)

Correct answer: Indicativo: Conozco a alguien que sabe nadar mejor que yo. Because we are talking about someone specifically, someone we know.

  • Subjuntivo: Nos quedaremos en el hotel hasta que llegues. (Subjunctive: We will stay at the hotel until you arrive.)
  • Indicativo: Nos quedaremos en el hotel hasta que llegas. (Indicative: We will stay at the hotel until you arrive.)

Correct answer: Subjuntivo: Nos quedaremos en el hotel hasta que llegues. Because we are using the expression “hasta que” (until) in reference to an action that hasn’t happened yet. In this case, llegar (to arrive.)

  • Subjuntivo: La naturaleza sea lo máximo. (Subjunctive: Nature is the best.)
  • Indicativo: La naturaleza es lo máximo. (Indicative: Nature is the best.)

Correct answer: Indicativo: La naturaleza es lo máximo. Because you are describing a specific thing.

  • Subjuntivo: Ojalá vayamos a la playa pronto. (Subjunctive: I hope we go to the beach soon.)
  • Indicativo: Ojalá vamos a la playa pronto. (Indicative: I hope we go to the beach soon.)

Correct answer: Ojalá vayamos a la playa pronto. Why? Simplest answer so far, you’re using ojalá (hopefully). That’s it!

Before we get to our next exercise, which will be a trick question, si llegaste hasta aquí, ¡bien hecho! (If you made it till here, way to go!) Let me know by posting an angry emoji in the comments.

I really hope this helped you deal with the crazy subjunctive. Just hang in there, it’ll feel super good when all of this pays off, which it will, and you can handle it like a pro!

And our last exercise would be:

  • Subjuntivo: Quizás compremos una casa nueva. (Subjunctive: Maybe we will buy a new house.)
  • Indicativo: Quizás compramos una casa nueva. (Indicative: We may buy a new house.)

Correct answer… Remember why this is a trick question? Because you can use both! But there’s a difference. If we say “quizás compremos una casa nueva” it sounds more doubtful than if we say “quizás compramos una casa nueva”.

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