Welcome to the Italian subjunctive!
If you are here, that means your Italian is getting very good. If you want to sound like an Italian, then you have to learn how to use the congiuntivo (subjunctive). You probably already heard it’s difficult but don’t worry! It’s definitely not the end of the world. You just need to learn some rules and practice. Even some native speakers make mistakes and use the subjunctive incorrectly. So, using it correctly will make you seem smart and you’ll probably receive compliments. Anyway, don’t worry about making mistakes when you first try to put it into practice. Italians will still understand what you mean if you use it incorrectly. Just so you know, the congiuntivo consists of four tenses: presente, passato, imperfetto, and trapassato. In this lesson, we’re going to focus on the congiuntivo presente, that is the present of the subjunctive and we’ll go little by little.
What’s the subjunctive?
The subjunctive is a verbal mood (a verb category, like the indicative). We use the present of the subjunctive to talk about hopes, hypotheses, desires, fears, possibilities, and doubts. We find it mostly after the main clause and it’s usually preceded by the conjunction “che“. You’ll notice that the present of the subjunctive in Italian doesn’t always translate into the present tense. This is because it really depends on what you want to say. Let’s have a look at some examples. Make sure you pay attention to the purpose of each sentence (whether it is to talk about hope, a desire, a doubt, etc.).
- Voglio che tu sia felice.
I want you to be happy.
- Spero che loro stiano meglio.
Io hope they are better.
- Ho paura che mia sorella perda il lavoro.
I’m scared my sister might lose her job.
- È possibile che le cose non vadano bene.
It’s possible that things won’t go well.
Regular verbs: conjugation
In order to form the present of the subjunctive in Italian, you basically have to keep the root of the verb in the present of the indicative (parl-, ved-, part- if we take the roots of the verbs below) and add the correct endings, which are in bold in the table below:
You probably noticed the following aspects:
- for “io“, “tu” and “lui/lei” the ending is exactly the same;
- for “noi“( parliamo/vediamo/partiamo), the subjunctive looks exactly like the present of the indicative (which means you probably won’t get it wrong); same for “tu parli“;
- the presence of the letter “i” for”voi” and in “parlino“.
Let’s have a look at some examples:
- Mi sembra che lei non parli sul serio.
I think she’s not talking seriously.
- Non credo che Marco veda bene.
I don’t think Marco can see well.
- Anna non vuole che i nonni partano.
Anna doesn’t want her grandparents to leave.
- Lei preferisce che io compri questa casa.
She prefers that I buy this house.
- Non voglio che tu creda a quello che ti dicono.
I don’t want you to believe what they tell you.
- Spero veramente che vi sentiate meglio.
I really hope you feel better.
Common phrases preceding the subjunctive
You probably already noticed this (and if not, you can check above): there are some key phrases that are followed by the subjunctive. When they’re negative they are also followed by the subjunctive. Here they are:
- Penso che: I think that
- Credo che: I believe that
- Spero che: I hope that
- È possibile che: It’s possible that
- Sembra che: It seems that/It seems like
Other than the conjunction “che”, you’ll find the subjunctive after the following phrases:
- a meno che non: unless
- affinché: so that
- prima che: before
- purché: provided that
- salvo che: unless
- senza che: without
Here are some examples:
- Lei vuole venire a meno che tu non parli sul serio.
She wants to come unless you’re not talking seriously.
- Compra il biglietto prima che cambi idea.
- Buy the ticket before I change my mind.
- Va bene purché tu dica la verità.
It’s fine provided that you tell the truth.