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Spanish subjunctive in adverbial clauses

Updated on October 30, 2014

When to use the subjunctive

It can be difficult to know when to use the subjunctive mood. It can be simplified as the mood used to express opinion, emotion, commands, and other subjective ideas, meaning they are not fact. There is more to it than that though. There are some uses that are invariable and always require the subjunctive and others that depend on what the speaker is trying to say. Some of the mandatory uses are explained in the "When to use which Subjunctive--Special uses" section of the following article:

Adverbial clauses

The subjunctive is often used with adverbial clauses but not always. Here are some of the most common clauses and an outline of when to use the subjunctive.

A. Always use subjunctive:

A menos que

A no ser que

Antes (de) que

Con tal (de) que

En caso que

Para que

Sin que

B. Use the subjunctive if the primary clause is in or refers to a future time:

Note: the primary verb does not have to be in the future tense. It may be future periphrastic, present, imperfect or a command.

Así que

En cuanto

Luego que

Tan pronto como


Después (de) que

Hasta que


C. Use subjunctive only when the primary clause is future or if there is doubt:

A pesar de que

Aun cuando


De manera que

De modo que

Group A--always subjunctive

This is the easiest group. All you have to do is memorize these phrases and use the correct tense of the subjunctive after them.


  • Cuando era joven limpiaba sin que mis padres me pagaran (When I was young I used to clean without my parents paying me)
  • Mis padres viajaron a Nicaragua antes de que yo naciera (My parents traveled to Nicaragua before I was born)
  • Vamos a comprar la computadora X a no menos que haya un modelo más nuevo.
  • Siempre cierro la puerta para que mi perro no escape (I always close the door so that my dog does not escape)
  • Mis padres me comprarán un carro con tal que yo haya pasado todas mis clases (My parents will buy me a car as long as I have passed all of my classes)

*For more on choosing which tense of the subjunctive see Breaking down the Spanish Subjunctive.

Group B--only with the future

These clauses always require the subjunctive when there is a future concept. This does not necessarily mean there is a verb in the future tense.

Examples without subjunctive:

  • Ayer comí tan pronto como llegó mi madre del trabajo (Yesterday I ate as soon as my mother arrived from work)
  • Siempre escucho la radio mientras manejo (I always listen to the radio while driving)
  • Cuando era joven, ella leía una novela cuando llegaba de la escuela (When she was young, she used to read novels when she got home from school)

Examples with subjunctive:

  • Voy a comer tan pronto como llegue mi padre (I am going to eat as soon as my father arrives)
  • Iré al parque mientras haga sol (I will go to the park while it is sunny)
  • Ayer ella iba a leer una novela cuando llegara de la escuela (Yesterday she was going to read a novel when she got home from school)

Group C--with future or doubt

The phrases can depend on what meaning the speaker wishes to convey. It may not be clear without context if there is doubt.

Examples without subjunctive:

  • Pasé el examen a pesar de que no estudié (I passed the test even though I did not study)
  • De niño él siempre jubaga fútbol aun cuando hacía mal tiempo (As a child he always played soccer even when there was bad weather)
  • Compro el carro aunque es muy caro. (I will buy the car even though it is very expensive--Implies that I know it is expensive)

Examples with subjunctive:

  • Compro el carro aunque sea muy caro (I will buy the car even though it is very expensive--the cost is not known, but the speaker will buy it regardless)
  • Vamos al parque a pesar de que llueva (We will go to the park despite the rain--meaning that we will go to the park regardless; it is not raining now but it might).

Zocalo, Mexico D.F.
Zocalo, Mexico D.F.

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