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Published on: Grammar Bites

Main differences between the Indicative & the Subjunctive Mood

El modo indicativo:

We use the indicativo to express real and specific actions, to describe the real world. Within this mood we can find a wide range of verbal tenses: presente, pretérito indefinido, pretérito perfecto, pretérito imperfecto, pretérito pluscuamperfecto y futuro.

  • Alicia se levanta temprano todas las mañanas. Alicia gets up early every morning.
  • Ellos fueron a la playa el fin de semana pasado. They went to the beach last weekend.
  • Tú viajarás a Colorado mañana. You will travel to Colorado tomorrow.

The indicativo discusses real facts; we do not use it to express wishes or possibilities.

El modo subjuntivo

On the other hand, we use the subjuntivo to discuss possibilities and hypothesis. We use it to express wishful thinking, ie, something we wish would happen, or to discuss events or situations that could take place in the near or far future, but we cannot know for sure at the time of speaking if they will occur. Within the subjuntivo we can find the tenses: presente, pretérito perfecto, pretérito imperfecto, pretérito pluscuamperfecto.

  • La madre de Alicia quiere que ella se levante temprano todas las mañanas. Alicia’s mother wants her to get up early every morning.
  • Ojalá vayamos a la playa el próximo fin de semana. I hope we can go to the beach next weekend.
  • Espero que tú puedas viajar a Colorado mañana. I hope you can travel to Colorado tomorrow.
Diferencias entre el modo indicativo y subjuntivo

As we can see, the indicativo deals with specific times and actions, while the subjuntivo deals in hypothetical scenarios, wishes and possibilities. Let’s take a closer look to their differences:

1) We use the indicative mood to express truths and facts while we use the subjunctive to indicate feelings, hope, doubts:
  • El día está frío hoy [Indicativo – Fact]. Today’s cold.
  • Ojalá no haga frío en la noche [Subjuntivo – Wish]. I hope it won’t be cold tonight.
2) We use the indicativo in affirmative/positive statements, while we always use the subjuntivo in negative ones:
  • Me parece que el día está frío [Indicativo – Affirmative statement]. I think today is cold.
  • No creo que haga frío hoy [Subjuntivo – Negative statement]. I don’t think it will be cold today,
3) When discussing a regular action or one that has already taken place, we use el indicativo; when the action has not taken place yet, we use el subjuntivo:
  • Nos quedamos en casa hasta que dejó de llover [Indicativo – Fact]. We stayed at home until it stopped raining.
  • Nos quedaremos en hasta que deje de llover [Subjuntivo – Conditional situation]. We will stay at home until it stops raining.
4) When talking about people or things, the indicativo allows us to be specific in their descriptions, while the subjuntivo allows us to be general:
  • Estoy buscando a la persona que vende los paraguas aquí [Indicativo – Specific person I already know]. I’m looking for the person that sells umbrellas here.
  • Estoy buscando a una persona que venda paraguas [Subjuntivo – Unknown person with a general requirement].  I’m looking for a person who sells umbrellas.
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