Every serious Portuguese student runs straight into the subjunctive mood and immediately begins to question their reason for being. The subjunctive mood has been known to break students. But do not let that happen to you because: it's actually a rose with thorns. It easily repels most. But the Portuguese subjunctive is a truly beautiful piece of the language that should be embraced and used with flair. It is truly cool. Even if unnecessary 😉
Lets' look at some sentences in English that are pretty simple for us, but that each trigger a different subjunctive conjugation.:
If she came (were to come) she'd have a great time.
She either did not go, or it's very, very unlikely that she will. If she came => this is your trigger that it's the imperfect (past) subjunctive. The name "imperfect" is confusing. Many people like to think of it as the "past subjunctive" because the sentence is always in the past tense - even though it might be talking about the future (!). That sounds really crazy but look at these examples. We do it all the time: (1) If she came she'd have a great time > talking about a future event but look - came is the past tense!; (2) If she (had) came she would have enjoyed herself > clearly talking about an event in the past. So, call it the past subjunctive if you like.
I hope she comes to the party.
Not certain that she will. Even though this seems to be talking about the future, it will uses the present subjunctive because the sentence is in the present tense: I hope.
When she comes, introduce her to everyone.
This is uncertain because it's in the future. What isn't uncertain about something to occur in the future, you rightfully ask> Well, in Portuguese this is not considered uncertain: She will (is going to) arrive later. Why? The "will" makes it a sure thing - even though it's not.
If you get existential about these or try to take their definition literally, your head will begin to ache. So, don't. Just start using it. You will get the feel for it, trust me. Just avoid thinking things like, Hmm, well actually nothing is certain unless it already happened so.... Just stop those thoughts.
Let's find out. Here's a little test. For each of these sentences, I want you to quickly say whether it needs the past, present or future subjunctive treatment:
(a) If I buy you a drink will you come along?
(b) I hope that you buy my drinks tonight!
(c) If I paid your bar tab I'd be a poor man today.
If you answered
you are doing good!
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