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Learning the Spanish Subjunctive in Adverbial Clauses

By Curt Smothers

The adverbial clause in Spanish is normally introduced by a conjunction (e.g., "a menos que" [unless]). Some conjunctions are always followed by the subjunctive, but others can be followed either by the subjunctive or the indicative, depending on their context.

Conjunctions that Require the Subjunctive

In Spanish, some conjunctions are always followed by the subjunctive. These conjunctions introduce actions (or states) that have not yet happened or are uncertain. Conjunctions commonly expressing purpose, condition, or intent are followed by the subjunctive:

a menos que - unless

antes (de) que - before

con tal (de) que - provided that

en caso (de) que - in case

para que - so that

sin que - without, unless

A few examples of sentences with adverbial clauses followed by the subjunctive:

La enfermera siempre repite las instrucciones para que las comprendan. (The nurse always repeats the instructions so that they understand them.

Pedro no irá al dentista a menos que sus padres le exjijan. (Pedro will not go to the dentist unless his parents order him.)

Hay unas vendas en el amario para medicinas en caso de que las necesites. (There are bandages in the medicine cabinet in case you need them.)

Subjunctive Mood Is Not Used When Subject Stays the Same

The examples above show a change in subjects of the main and dependent clauses. In cases where there is no change of subject (i.e., no subordinate clause), Spanish uses the conjunctions antes de, con tal de, en caso de, para, and sin followed by the infinitive. Two examples:

Juan corre cada día para mantenerse en forma. (Juan runs every day in order to keep fit.)

Ana siempre come antes de ir al cine. (Ana always eats before going to the movies.)

Conjunctions Can Take Either Subjunctive or Indicative

The following conjunctions "time and concession" that introduce adverbial clauses are followed by the subjunctive when the main clause indicates a condition or future action that has not yet happened:

a pesar de que - despite

aunque - although; even if

cuando - when

después (de) que - after

en cuanto - as soon as

hasta que - until

luego que - as soon as

mientras que - while

siempre que - as long as

tan pronto como - as soon as

A few examples:

Cuando el doctor me vea, va a enojar conmigo. (When the doctor sees me, he is going to be annoyed with me.

Una enfermera lo examinará en cuanto llegue a la clinica. (A nurse will examine him as soon as he arrives at the clinic.)

Tendrás la pierna vendada hasta que se cure la herida. (You will have your leg bandaged until the wound heals.)

But if the action has already (or habitually happened), Spanish uses the indicative in the subordinate clause.

Two examples:

Sr. Smothers siempre tiene la misma disculpa cuando sus editoriales llegan tarde. (Mr. Smothers always has the same excuse when his editorials arrive late.)

Tuve miedo de los dentistas hasta que cumplí veinte años. (I was afraid of dentists until I turned twenty.)