Comparison of Italian and Spanish

The Subjunctive Mood

There is no room here to explain the subjunctive mood in detail, but it will suffice to say that it is used to express subjectivity or hypothetical situations. Frequently, but not always, it appears in a subordinate clause following the word che/que.

There are two simple forms of the subjunctive: present and imperfect. (There is also a future subjunctive in Spanish, but it is used only in very restricted contexts, such as legal language.) The two corresponding compound forms are the perfect subjunctive and the pluperfect subjunctive.

Present subjunctive:

In Italian, roughly speaking, you put an 'i' into the 'are' verbs and an 'a' into 'ere' and 'ire' verbs:

ParlareVenderePartire
1st pn sg.parlivendaparta
2nd pn sg.parlivendaparta
3rd pn sg.parlivendaparta
1st pn pl.parliamovendiamopartiamo
2nd pn pl.parliatevendiatepartiate
3rd pn pl.parlinovendanopartano

Spanish is similar: you put an 'e' into the 'ar' verbs and an 'a' into 'er' and 'ir' verbs:

HablarVenderPartir
1st pn sg.hablevendaparta
2nd pn sg.hablesvendaspartas
3rd pn sg.hablevendaparta
1st pn pl.hablemosvendamospartamos
2nd pn pl.habléisvendáispartáis
3rd pn pl.hablenvendanpartan

Note that, whereas the singular endings are the same in Italian regardless of person, in Spanish only the first and third person singular endings are the same.

Example: 'I hope that he comes' is Spero che (lui) venga in Italian and Espero que (él) venga in Spanish.

Imperfect subjunctive:

This is an easy mood/tense to learn in Italian:

ParlareVenderePartire
1st pn sg.parlassivendessipartissi
2nd pn sg.parlassivendessipartissi
3rd pn sg.parlassevendessepartisse
1st pn pl.parlassimovendessimopartissimo
2nd pn pl.parlastevendestepartiste
3rd pn pl.parlasserovendesseropartissero

In Spanish, strangely, there are two alternative versions of the imperfect subjunctive. The first one is very similar to the Italian:

HablarVenderPartir
1st pn sg.hablasevendiesepartiese
2nd pn sg.hablasesvendiesespartieses
3rd pn sg.hablasevendiesepartiese
1st pn pl.hablásimosvendiésimos partiésimos
2nd pn pl.hablaseisvendieseispartieseis
3rd pn pl.hablasenvendiesenpartiesen

But the second form is rather different:

HablarVenderPartir
1st pn sg.hablaravendierapartiera
2nd pn sg.hablarasvendieraspartieras
3rd pn sg.hablaravendierapartiera
1st pn pl.habláramosvendiéramos partiéramos
2nd pn pl.hablaraisvendieraispartierais
3rd pn pl.hablaranvendieranpartieran

Unfortunately, the second form, the one which is unlike Italian, is more common in spoken Spanish.

Example: 'I hoped he was coming' is Speravo che (lui) venisse in Italian and Esperaba que (él) viniera/viniese in Spanish.

Perfect subjunctive:

This is just formed by using the present subjunctive of the auxiliary followed by the past participle. For example, 'I doubt that he has come' would be Dubito che (lui) sia venuto and Dudo que (él) haya venido.

Pluperfect subjunctive:

Similarly, this is formed by using the imperfect subjunctive of the auxiliary followed by the past participle. For example, 'I didn't think he had been to Italy' would be Non credevo che fosse andato in Italia and No creía que hubiese/hubiera ido a Italia.

More comments on the subjunctive

Created October 2006 by Adam N. Letchford.