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Using Subjunctive to Express Concepts in Spanish

Spanish subjunctives are often used to express abstract concepts such as intentions and emotions. Let’s learn some sentence templates for this, and we’ll practice them using the subjunctives of Ser and Estar.

Full Podcast Episode


Let’s express abstract ideas using Spanish subjunctives.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

In the previous episode, we learned the subjunctive forms of Ser and Estar, and we started using them along with intentions, such as “hope” or “want”. For example, “I hope that they are here” is not “I hope que están aquí”, but instead “I hope que estén aquí”.

But I also hinted that there are other sentence templates that require the use of the subjunctive. A really good example of this involves our preposition para, which very often implies some sort of intention.

We already know how to use it in pretty simple intention situations. For example,

That is for the boy.

Eso es para el chico.

In cases like this, para means something like “intended for”.

But we’ve also been practicing the phrase para que, which indicates an intention that something be the case. This will always be followed by a subjunctive, no matter what kind of verb occurs before it.

Here’s an example:

We did it so that you be here.

Nosotros lo did para que estés aquí.

Nosotros lo hicimos para que estés aquí.

But the English translation of estés is weird here. We do use the phrase “so that” or “in order that” a lot in English, but we don’t say “so that you be here” or “in order that you be here”. Instead, we typically say “We did it so that you WOULD be here” or “we did it so that you COULD be here” or “we did it in order for you to be here”. These are all very confusing and jumbled. In Spanish, it’s very mechanical and simple: If you do something with an intended outcome for someone or something else, you’ll use para que, and then you’ll follow it with a subjunctive.

Let’s practice this a little. How would you say:

They did it so that I would be their friend.

Ellos lo did para que yo sea their amigo.

Ellos lo hicieron para que yo sea su amigo.

I did it for you to be the winner.

Yo lo did para que seas the winner.

Yo lo hice para que seas el ganador.

He’s here so that you be at home.

Él está aquí para que estés en casa.

So in general, no matter how you see intentions being expressed in English, in Spanish you just use a subjunctive after the word que in the case of intentions.

There IS one exception, however, and this confuses a lot of students. Check out this example: “She did it in order to be here.”

In this case, she’s doing something and she has an intention. But the intention is for herself. She didn’t do it in order for YOU to be here, or in order for THEM to be here. She did it in order for her, herself, to be here.

So you might think this needs to be translated like this:

Ella lo did para que esté aquí.

But actually, this is unnecessary. Instead, we’ll just do this:

Ella lo did para estar aquí.

This seems to contradict what I said in the previous episode about using infinitives with intentions. But you ARE allowed to use an infinitive for intention SPECIFICALLY when the person doing the intention is intending the thing for themself.

That may sound abstract and vague, so let’s contrast some examples with each other.

We did it so that you be here.

Nosotros lo did para que tú estés aquí.

We did it in order to be here.

Nosotros lo did para estar aquí.

[formal] You did it in order to be the winner.

Usted lo did para ser the winner.

You did it for us to be friends.

Tú lo did para que seamos amigos.

So, speaking in broad terms, a subjunctive is used when someone has an intention for someone or something else. But when they have an intention for themselves, you’ll typically just use para and then an infinitive.

While we’re on that subject, this also happens with a sentence template we learned in the last episode. So compare these two sentences:

“I want you to be a friend” versus “I want to be a friend.”

We already know how to translate the first one: I want que seas un amigo. We use the subjunctive form seas.

But in the second case, we can simply say “I want ser un amigo.”

Once again, this is because the intention is for the person who’s intending it. In these cases, it’s totally OK to use the infinitive — in fact, it’s required that you do that.

Let’s practice choosing whether to use a subjunctive or just an infinitive with a few sentence examples:

I did it for you to be here.

Yo lo did para que estés aquí.

Yo lo hice para que estés aquí.

I want her to be my friend.

I want que ella sea my amiga.

Quiero que ella sea mi amiga.

She did it in order to be at home.

Ella lo did para estar en casa.

Ella lo hizo para estar en casa.

They(f) want me to be here.

Ellas want que yo esté aquí.

Ellas quieren que yo esté aquí.

We ran in order to be here early.

Nosotros ran para estar aquí early.

Nosotros corrimos para estar aquí temprano.

We want to be friends(f).

We want ser amigas.

Queremos ser amigas.

I am here for you to be a friend(m).

Estoy aquí para que seas un amigo.

I am here in order to be a friend.

Estoy aquí para ser un amigo.

If you’re struggling with this, you can get more practice with these sentences at LCSPodcast.com/27, or of course you can always sign up for support from my team to practice this more deeply. It WILL become second nature eventually! Sure, it feels like a lot right now, because this is some very serious reprogramming, but once you rewire your brain to think about intentions this way, you’ll truly be thinking in Spanish.

We’ll practice this a bit more on the quiz after we cover just one more sentence template that uses subjunctives.

And this last template actually has nothing to do with intention! Recall this template that we’ve already learned:

¡Qué [emotion] que [something be the case]!

We’ve been practicing this structure for quite a while now; it’s an exclamation that expresses some sort of emotion, like “how strange” or “how fun”. But there’s a strange, obscure rule involved here: Whenever this sentence structure comes up, the final que phrase has to be subjunctive.

This has nothing to do with intention, so it basically has nothing to do with all the rules that we’ve learned for subjunctives in the last couple of episodes. Instead, it’s just basically a sentence structure to memorize. Whenever you express an emotional reaction to something in Spanish, with a que phrase afterwards, the que phrase will be in the subjunctive mood.

Let’s practice with some examples:

How weird that they are here!

¡Qué weird que estén aquí!

¡Qué raro que estén aquí!

How amazing that you(formal) are my teacher!

¡Qué amazing que usted sea my teacher!

¡Qué increíble que usted sea mi maestro!

How nice that they’re at home early!

¡Qué nice que estén en casa early!

¡Qué bueno que estén en casa temprano!

So in summary, we now have three sentence templates that use the subjunctive.

  • Someone intends que something be the case.
  • Someone does something para que something be the case.
  • ¡Qué [reaction] que something be the case!

At this point, we ask all of our students to write a few sentence examples using each of these templates. Since these three sentence structures are really specific to Spanish, it’s important to start producing sentences like these yourself as much as possible, which will help rewire your brain to think in Spanish!

Now let’s practice subjunctives using today’s final quiz.

They want me to be their friend(m).

Ellos want que yo sea their amigo.

Ellos quieren que yo sea su amigo.

I hope we’re students.

I hope que seamos students.

Espero que seamos estudiantes.

Why is the doctor(f) your friend?

¿Por qué es la doctor your amiga?

¿Por qué es la doctora tu amiga?

I did it for them to be at home.

Yo lo did para que estén en casa.

Yo lo hice para que estén en casa.

I hope that they’re taller than she.

Yo hope que sean taller que ella.

Yo espero que sean más altos que ella.

You want me to be at the place?

¿Tú want que yo esté en el lugar?

¿Tú quieres que yo esté en el lugar?

I’m here in order to be at home.

Estoy aquí para estar en casa.

The problem was that they(m) wanted to be students.

The problem era que ellos wanted ser students.

El problema era que ellos querían ser estudiantes.

They(f) did it for you to be the winner(f).

Ellas lo did para que seas la winner.

Ellas lo hicieron para que seas la ganadora.

Do you want to be at the place?

¿Tú want estar en el lugar?

¿Tú quieres estar en el lugar?

How silly that we are at home!

¡Qué silly que estemos en casa!

¡Qué tonto que estemos en casa!

I studied a lot in order to be a good student(m).

Yo studied a lot para ser un good student.

Estudié mucho para ser un buen estudiante.

How sad that you’re not present!

¡Qué sad que no estés!

¡Qué triste que no estés!

We(f) did it in order to be at the place.

Nosotras lo did para estar en el lugar.

Nosotras lo hicimos para estar en el lugar.

Do you(formal) want to be a millionaire?

¿Usted want ser millionaire?

¿Usted quiere ser millonario?

I did it in order for the girl to be at the place.

Yo lo did para que la chica esté en el lugar.

Yo lo hice para que la chica esté en el lugar.

Here’s an extra-hard one just for fun:

You want her to be your friend and me not to be?

¿You want que ella sea your amiga y que yo no lo sea?

¿Quieres que ella sea tu amiga y que yo no lo sea?

You can get more practice with all of this at LCSPodcast.com/27.

For the rest of this week, we’ll be learning more easy words so that we can keep practicing our subjunctives, but with a lot more examples that are mostly or entirely in Spanish.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Michael Agudelo. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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