4 Tips to make learning the Spanish subjunctive mood easy

Learning the subjunctive can be hard.  There are so many rules, a whole new set of verb conjugations and tons of subjunctive triggers.

It’s a lot to deal with and I still have occasional night terrors from my experiences working towards getting a firm grasp on the subjunctive.

In this article I’m not going to teach you the subjunctive, but I am going to share four strategies I used to help me win a few battles against the subjunctive.

Let’s get started.

1. Learn how to give commands in Spanish first

I know what you’re thinking.   This article is supposed to be about learning the subjunctive so why am I telling you to learn how to give commands in Spanish?

Many of the subjunctive verb conjugations are exactly the same as those for giving commands.   Learning the command forms of verbs is a stepping stone to learning to conjugate verbs in the subjunctive.

The present subjunctive is used for commands addressed at usted or ustedes or negative commands addressed at tú or vosotros

Pretty cool huh? You learn how to boss people around and how to conjugate verbs in the present subjunctive.

2. Don’t try to learn all of the rules at once

The subjunctive has a lot of rules about when and how to use it, and learning all of these rules can be overwhelming.

Here’s a link to a great page that summarizes what the subjunctive mode is.  The page doesn’t cover all aspects of the subjunctive, but it’s a great place to start.


Now let’s get back to our discussion about how to make learning the subjunctive mood easier.   I suggest the “less is more” approach.

It’s much easier to incrementally learn the subjunctive as opposed to trying to tackle everything at once.   Limiting your focus will also help improve your retention.

Zoom in on one or two rules at a time and work with those until you’ve mastered them, then add one or two more.

3. Learn the present subjunctive verb conjugations first

The subjunctive has many verb forms you’ll need to learn how to conjugate, but the present subjunctive is the one you’ll have the most immediate need for and therefore the best one to start with.

If you took my advice about learning the command forms of verbs first, then you’ve practically conquered this hurdle.

Start by learning how to conjugate the high frequency verbs, limiting  the number of verbs you work with at one time.   Here are eleven high frequency Spanish verbs that I recommend you start with:

querer, poder, ir, irse, saber, decir, venir, estar, haber, tener and ser.

I don’t recommend working with more than two or three of these verbs at a time.   Well, that’s what worked best for me.   I found my retention was better and I learned faster when I limited the scope of my studies.

The subjunctive has a few irregular verbs.   You have no choice but to memorize those.   But the strategy is still the same, work with one or two at a time until you master them all.

Here’s a great page that will help you with learning how to conjugate verbs in the present subjunctive:


4. Learn these five subjunctive triggers first

If you don’t already know this, a subjunctive trigger is a word or phrase that indicates you need to use the verb that follows in the subjunctive.

There are a ton of these and your brain will hurt from just skimming the list.

So what do we do? You guessed it, we turn to our “less is more” strategy.  Learn the most common subjunctive triggers first.

Here are my recommendations for which subjunctive triggers you should focus on first.

Esperar que
To hope that

Ojalá que
To hope that

No creer que
To not believe that

No pensar que
To not think that

Querer que
To want that

Learning just these five subjunctive triggers will greatly improve your Spanish and impress your Spanish speaking friends.   Once you get these down pat you can move on to tackling some of the other triggers.

I almost forgot.  Here’s a nice page that discuss subjunctive triggers and the subjunctive in general.


Wrapping things up

And that’s it.

My four strategies to help make the process of learning the subjunctive easier.

Remember, learning the subjunctive will be a long term process, so it may take months (possibly years to truly master it), so buckle in for the long haul.

The subjunctive can be tough, but if you tackle it in bite size pieces using the “less is more” approach, it won’t be so bad.

Espero que les sirva!

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