Conjuntivo: What is it?
What in English is called the subjunctive mood, in European Portuguese is named modo conjuntivo subjunctive mode. While the indicativo indicative mood refers to actions that are certain or real, the conjuntivo, in contrast, indicates something possible, desired, hypothetical, or even unreal. It conveys the idea of uncertainty, doubt, or hope.
It is often found in sentences that contain the word se if or after a verb + que that, as you will notice in many (but not all) of the examples.
The conjuntivo can appear in simple sentences1 (of doubt or desire) or coordinate clauses2, but most of the time you find it in subordinate clauses3 (a.k.a. dependent clauses). In the latter case, it is preceded by conjunctions or by verbs that express doubt, will, order, permission, expectation, among others.
- Talvez dê para ir Maybe it's possible to go
- Vamos embora, quer queiras quer não We're leaving, whether you want it or not
- Espero que estejas bem I hope that you're doing well
Verb Tenses in the Conjuntivo
The conjuntivo includes these three distinct verb tenses:
- futuro do conjuntivo future subjunctive
- imperfeito do conjuntivo imperfect past subjunctive
- presente do conjuntivo present subjunctive
The distinction between these values depends a lot on the context, verb, and words used, and it’s not always obvious which is correct. Furthermore, keep in mind that the conjuntivo in Portuguese is used much differently than the English subjunctive, so it’s most helpful to focus on the examples to “get a feel” for when to use it. We can notice some common patterns that we’ll cover below as we compare the three tenses.
Futuro do Conjuntivo (Future Subjunctive)
The future subjunctive lets you talk about something that may or may not happen in the future. Sometimes it describes a condition that must be met in order for another action to take place (i.e. If this goes well, I will do that or When we get home, I will do that). It often goes along with words like se if and other conjunctions such as:
Assim que o almoço estiver pronto, eu digo-te As soon as the lunch is ready, I'll tell you
Podes brincar quando fizeres a cama You can play once you make your bed
Se fores ao supermercado, diz-me If you go to the supermarket, tell me
Imperfeito do Conjuntivo (Imperfect Subjunctive)
The imperfeito do conjuntivo imperfect past subjunctive is often used in circumstances when you are talking about something purely hypothetical or speculating about a possible action (If things were different, I would do that).
However, it can also be used to talk about a desired future action (I would like you to do that).
The imperfeito do conjuntivo is found in the dependent clause of a sentence. You may find it within clauses that use phrasing such as:
- Se eu... If I...
- Mesmo que... Even if...
- Como se... As if...
- Talvez... Maybe...
- E se nós...? What if we...?
As you’ll see in the examples below, the main clause of the sentence usually contains a verb in the imperfeito do indicativo or in the conditional. For example:
- Eu faria se... I would do it if...
- Gostaríamos que... We would like...
- Eu esperava que... I expected that..., I was hoping that...
- Pensei que... I thought that...
- Seria bom que... It would be nice if...
- O que faria se... What would you do if...?
- Queria que... I would like it if...
This is a good way to help you remember when to use the imperfeito do conjuntivo. Let’s see some examples:
Não ficaria chateado se dissesses a verdade I wouldn't be upset if you told the truth
Queria que trouxesses o meu casaco I wanted you to bring my coat
O ideal era que vocês estudassem mais The ideal thing would be for you to study more
Presente do Conjuntivo (Present Subjunctive)
The presente do conjuntivo is used in most other cases. It’s for talking about something that may or may not happen (in the present or future), but that is within the realm of possibility. The other verb in the sentence tends to be in the presente do indicativo along with the word que , such as with clauses beginning with:
- Espero que... I hope that...
- É importante que... It's important that...
- É bom que... It would be good if..., Literal - It is good that...
- Receio que... I'm afraid that...
- Duvido que... I doubt that...
- Desejo que... I wish that...
- Quer que eu... Do you want me to...?
Subjunctive Verb Conjugations
Finally, let’s compare the conjugations for each subjunctive tense by exploring these examples:
Falar – Conjuntivo – Futuro
- eu falar
- I speak
- tu falares
- you speak
- ele / ela falar
- he / she speaks
- você falar
- you formal speak
- nós falarmos
- we speak
- eles / elas falarem
- they masc. / they fem. speak
- vocês falarem
- you pl. speak
Notice that some forms look exactly the same as in the infinitive form of the verb.
Ser – Conjuntivo – Imperfeito
- eu fosse
- I were
- tu fosses
- you were
- ele / ela fosse
- he / she were
- você fosse
- you formal were
- nós fôssemos
- we were
- eles / elas fossem
- they masc. / they fem. were
- vocês fossem
- you pl. were
Falar – Conjuntivo – Imperfeito
- eu falasse
- I spoke
- tu falasses
- you spoke
- ele / ela falasse
- he / she spoke
- você falasse
- you formal spoke
- nós falássemos
- we spoke
- eles / elas falassem
- they masc. / they fem. spoke
- vocês falassem
- you pl. spoke
Notice that the imperative mood shares the same verb endings as the presente do conjuntivo (2nd person singular and plural), with the presente do conjuntivo filling in the gaps for the other personal pronouns that are missing from the imperativo. Thus, you’ll notice these same forms used for commands and requests, such as Sejam felizes! Be happy! pl.