83 – A Bad Case of Subjunctivitis

Well, the impossible has happened.  Despite the class managing to delay the arrival of the subjunctive tense for many months, and working against almost impenetrable resistance from the group, last week Juan-Mi came up with a couple of really effective exercises that has drummed the subjunctive into this recalcitrant bunch of reprobates that meets weekly at the Axalingua school in Colmenar    www.axalingua.es

It was also a master-class on how to teach adults.  Don’t frighten them, lead them in gently, show them that they understood it already, and then draw on the group’s own knowledge to come up with their own rules to help them remember.  As an ex-trainer myself (of charity workers), I recognised the techniques – but only afterwards when I was reflecting on the class.  During the session, I was totally caught up in the process which not only completely by-passed our fears of the subjunctive tense, but also made it simpler and more memorable than we would ever have thought possible.

83-juanmi-3Trick number one was beginning the session with quite a deep discussion of some controversial issues.  We were talking about demonstrations and strikes, the reasons for them, and whether we were in agreement with the aims of the demonstrators.  By getting the more political or “thinking” part of our brains going, the “learning” part of our brains sat back and went off duty while we got fired up, discussed and argued, agreed and disagreed with each other, and forgot about the bad case of subjunctivitis that had been threatened for today’s lesson.

Trick number two was giving us a very funny little scene to act out, with one simple question to answer at the end (as to whether the young woman said yes or no to going on a date).  So we concentrated on the wonderful over-acting from our enthusiastic group, and we concentrated on looking out for the answer to the question about the date.  Did we understand most of the script, Juan-Mi asked us, casually?  Yes, we agreed, pretty much.  Well without us even noticing, it had been jam-packed with examples of the subjunctive.  And we had listened to it then read and understood it, without difficulties.

83-juanmi-2Trick three was to avoid lecturing us.  Juan-Mi has a light and inclusive teaching style, ideal for adult learning.  Looking at the acting exercise we had just completed, together we came up with some of the “rules” about the subjunctive – when to use it, what are the component parts, and how to construct it.  With our five rules up on the whiteboard, it suddenly made complete sense.  And more importantly, it appeared to be both manageable and useable.  Se me encendió la bombilla. 

So then it was off to Málaga for a rowdy night with friends at an intercambio in a bar.  Every so often a subjunctive was produced with a flourish at which point four of us jumped up for a raucous high five and the cry of “¡¡¡ Subjuntivo !!!”   In return our Spanish friends were rewarded with a high five and a congratulatory shout whenever they successfully used an English possessive contraction or the second conditional tense.  At the weekend a quieter one-to-one intercambio was useful to start to bed in the new learning.

I have worked out that it takes about two months from learning something new, to being able to pull it from my memory confidently and with reasonable accuracy.  A few months ago I was ranting about the ridiculousness of the “se me da mal” construction and moaning that it would NEVER become comfortable to use.  Pues, ahora se me da bien usarlo con fluidez.  About six weeks ago in class we struggled with what seemed a completely ludicrous construction about losing keys – learning to say “Se me han perdido las llaves” (The keys have lost themselves to me) rather than “He perdido las llaves” (I have lost the keys).  It’s supposed to reflect the “involuntary” nature of the loss of the keys (as though “I have lost the keys” is somehow deliberate???).  A week ago I used the new version instinctively.

So under Juan-Mi’s tutelage we are being given all that we need to deal with this worrying case of subjunctivitis, recover, and emerge in a few weeks confidently able to announce “Espero que hablemos bien el subjuntivo”.

© Tamara Essex 2013



So it comes when there is a second verb after a “parent” verb, such as “I hope that you want it” or “I suggest that we go now” or “I want that you eat that cheese” (we would say “I want you to eat that cheese”).

Espero que lo QUIERAS.  Sugiero que nos VAYAMOS.  Quiero que COMAS ese queso.

And the construction is simply to “change track” so the A verbs (hablar etc) use the E (Espero que yo HABLE bastante bien).  And the E and I verbs (comer, vivir etc) use the A (Yo dudo que ella VIVAS aqui.  Espero que nos VEAMOS pronto).

Phew!  Not so hard after all.  Lots of other uses of it and constructions of it, but it’s a good start.


10 thoughts on “83 – A Bad Case of Subjunctivitis

  1. Hola Tamara!!

    Ya veo que tienes un buen profesor de español!!

    Ahora me suena fatal la frase : ” Se me han perdido las llaves” ( do we really say this? sounds wrong!! )

    Me suena mejor : ” He perdido las llaves” ,

    Anyway ….maybe is because I’ve been living in England for some time and probably I am forgetting my Spanish!

    Un abrazo


    • Hi Fran – thanks so much for continuing to follow, and for being an active participant! Yes I agree about “Se me han perdido las llaves” sounding wrong but it is correct. It is supposed to imply that I didn’t actively lose the keys, they sort of lost themselves …. perhaps it is used more in examples such as “Se me ha borrado el documento”, to suggest that the document deleted itself. It’s the involuntary nature that triggers the “se me ha ….” construction, apparently.

      • Yes, I agree. I suppose it depends how much we blame on ourselves the lost of the keys ! Never our fault!!



  2. Love your description of learning the grammar of Spanish. My Spanish teacher was a lovely lady but for some of us in the class it was very hard to get to grips with the way she taught the grammar to us. Most of us just wanted to learn the basics and how to get by and then pick up more when we were on holiday and were putting it all in practice. She made us translate a book that was about a murder! Not much help in our general Spanish there! Anyway, after 5 years I gave up and although I can order stuff and pick up the odd word, my Spanish is now almost non-existent but I do know that if I’d been in Spain learning I would’ve picked it up more quickly by absorbtion, like children do and so I’m going to start learning again so that when I next go I will make myself listen and learn a lot more in the hope of picking it all up.

  3. Calling the subjunctive a “tense” is a bit of a worry. Subjunctives have their own tenses, but most of them – thankfully – are rarely used.

  4. Hi Tamara,

    My hat if off to anyone who feels that they are winning with the subjunctive. I have sat down to systematically learn it several times and I can complete written exercises on the subjunctive until the cows come home, but if ever there was a perfect illustration of the saying ‘use it or lose it’ this is it for me.


    • I bet you use it a lot Sophie! What about “Que aproveche!” And “Espero que nos veamos pronto” and “Que te pases bien” or “Que tengas un buen finde” which are common everyday expressions? I think we use it without recognising it – which is of course the secret of good learning, isn’t it?

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