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Wishful Thinking: Using the Subjunctive to Describe Desired or Nonexistent Entities

Since there is rarely an equivalent of the subjunctive in English, this grammatical mood can be extremely difficult for English speakers to understand. For this reason, the Yabla Spanish archive contains many lessons that deal with the plethora of scenarios in which the subjunctive is used in Spanish, and this lesson will address one more: the use of the subjunctive to describe either things we hope exist or things that definitely do not. 


Using the Subjunctive for Things We Hope Exist

If we are "looking for," "seeking," "desiring," "needing" or "wanting" something or someone with certain characteristics but are not sure whether or not that person or thing exists, a subjunctive verb form should be utilized in Spanish. Let's see an example from the Yabla Spanish video library:


Por eso es que nosotros por lo regular buscamos trabajos que paguen a la semana,

That is why we usually look for jobs that pay weekly

Caption 35, La Banda Chilanguense El habla de México - Part 3

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On the other hand, if the person or thing does exist, for example, we actually have a job that pays weekly, we should use an indicative verb form, as we see here:


Por eso es que nosotros por lo regular tenemos trabajos que pagan a la semana,

That is why we usually have jobs that pay weekly,


A typical formula for this usage involves some type of "seeking" or "wishing" verb or phrase plus the conjunction que plus a verb conjugated in the subjunctive. Let's look at examples of such "wishful" words and phrases. Note that the personal a is included when what is sought or hoped for is a person:


Wishful Verbs and Phrases:

Querer (a): to want

Buscar (a): to look for

Necesitar (a): to need

Desear (a): to desire/wish for

Querer encontrar (a): to want to find

Esperar encontrar (a): to hope to find 


We can see many instances of the aforementioned construction in the video La Doctora Consejos: Subjuntivo y la persona ideal (Doctor Advice: Subjunctive and the Ideal Person). First, let's see an excerpt where the Doctor uses the indicative to describe a person who actually does exist:


Eh... No es tan joven como tú. 

Um... She's not as young as you.

Caption 75, El Aula Azul La Doctora Consejos: Subjuntivo y persona ideal

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In contrast, her patient employs the subjunctive in a similar sentence that describes the hypothetical person he seeks:


Es que yo busco a alguien que sea un poco más joven.

It's just that I'm looking for someone who's a bit younger.

Caption 76, El Aula Azul La Doctora Consejos: Subjuntivo y persona ideal

 Play Caption


Note that this subjunctive formula can be frequently found in want ads since their very nature is to seek desired entities. Let's take a look at a couple of examples:


Se buscan cajeros que puedan trabajar el turno de la tarde.

Cashiers wanted who can work the afternoon shift. 


Necesitamos a una persona que sea bilingüe.

We need a person who is bilingual. 


Using the Subjunctive for Things That Don't Exist 

Verbs that describe nonexistent people or things should also be conjugated in the subjunctive. The formula in this case includes some phrase that indicates nonexistence such as no hay nadie que (there's no one that), no hay nada que (there's nothing that) and no existe... (...doesn't exist) plus the conjunction que plus a verb in the subjunctive. Let's hear these in context:


No hay ninguna experiencia que sea cien por cien mala

There's no experience that's one hundred percent bad

Captions 69-70, Soledad El insomnio - Part 2

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No existe persona en el mundo que rechace una propuesta de Aldo Sirenio.

There isn't a person in this world who refuses an offer from Aldo Sirenio.

Caption 45, Yago 5 La ciudad - Part 8

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yo ya fui allá y no hay nadie que concuerde con la descripción que tenemos. 

I already went there, and there isn't anyone who matches the description that we have.

Caption 42, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 2 - Part 3

 Play Caption


Taking this last example, remember that if such a person actually did exist, a similar sentence could be created with the indicative:


yo ya fui allá y hay alguien que concuerda con la descripción que tenemos.

I already went there, and there is someone who matches the description that we have.


That's all for today. We hope that this lesson has clarified the use the Spanish subjunctive to describe things we hope exist or definitely don't... and don't forget to write us with your feedback.



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