Up till this point, my class at the university has been smooth sailing. We have two talented and extremely patient professors, and my classmates are all a lot of fun and easy to get along with. The subject material has been mostly review with a lot of attention to fine grammatical detail (which sounds awful, but I’ve been enjoying it). Today, however, one point of our discussion really blew my mind.
We were discussing the subjunctive verb tense, which doesn’t play nearly as big of a role in English as it does in Spanish. Ever wondered why it’s correct to say “I wish he were here” rather than “I wish he was here”? That’s an example of the subjunctive tense; someone’s wants, wishes, or desires are projected onto someone or something else. In Spanish, the subjunctive tense is everywhere. There’s no escaping it. It’s used for giving advice and permission, making requests, expressing emotional reactions, and a ton of other things. It has a lot to do with influence. The parent/child dynamic is a good example:
Te aconsejo que hagas tu tarea antes de mirar televisión. / I advise you to do your homework before you watch TV. (advice)
Te prohíbo que salgas en ese vestido. / I forbid you to go out in that dress. (permission)
Pasame la sal, por favor. / Pass me the salt, please. (request)
Me pone feliz que hayas aprobado tu examen. / It makes me happy that you passed your test. (emotional reaction)
I’ve also been taught that the subjunctive tense has a lot to do with doubt, like whether or not something is going to happen. BUT according to our professor, in the majority of cases, doubt has nothing to do with anything! What really matters is the grammatical construction of the sentence, like whether or not the subject changes or whether or not there are certain time indicators or blah blah blah. I know. Bear with me. For example:
Necesito limpiar la cocina antes de que mi mamá vuelva. / I need to clean the kitchen before my mom returns.
Old school of thought: the verb “vuelva” (from “volver”, “to return”) needs to be subjunctive because I don’t know if or when my mom will return.
New school of thought: “vuelva” needs to be subjunctive because that’s the only verb form that can follow the time connector “antes de que” (“before”).
While all this was going on in class I was mostly in denial (Everything I know is wrong! Have to start over from scratch! Panic!) but now that I’m thinking about it, I’m slowly making my peace with (dare I say liking?) the idea. It’s going to mean a lot of memorization and a lot of re-training my brain to frame these concepts in new ways, but…it will follow a logical format! There will be rules! No more guessing! No more doubt!
I’m kind of intimidated by the amount of work this is going to take, but I’m also very excited about the fact that this is all starting to come together and make sense. It has to get harder before it gets easier, right?
Let’s take a moment to marvel at/appreciate/laugh at the fact that I just wrote five hundred words about nothing but grammar. Kudos to you if you made it through the entire thing! I’m off to go pick up my laundry and tackle my homework.