Being Italian Blog

Il Congiuntivo: “Do I really need to learn it?”

Il congiuntivo (subjunctive). A real nightmare, isn’t it?

Che io sia, che io vada, che io abbia fatto…

I know most learners want to ignore it and feel they can get away with it using normal present or past tense, but that is not always possible. There are some words that do require that we use it.

For example:

  • Nonostante fossi stanco, ho continuato a lavorare.

Let’s say you do not want to use the subjunctive but still want to say the same thing:

  • Nonostante ero stanco, ho continuato a lavorare.

Nonostante” (altough/even if) requires the subjunctive and its equivalent without the subjunctive would be “anche se” (anche se ero stanco, ho continuato a lavorare). As a consequence, if you use nonostante+indicativo it is considered a mistake and Italians would not say that. “Nonostante” is only one of the many words or phrases that require the subjunctive.

Sometimes it is a matter your own knowledge of the Italian language, the way you master it and, as a consequence, what your listener will think if you use the indicativo instead.

For example:

  1. Non sapevo che fossi già qui!
  2. Spero che tu sia felice.

If we switch to the indicativo, we will say or write:

  1. Non sapevo che eri già qui!
  2. Spero che sei felice.

These two, I must admit, would probably be heard in spoken language. They are still informal and conversational register, not something we would find in books or articles, but we all know that spoken language is made simple to make communication easier.

Still, being able to use the subjunctive effectively is considered a way to determine your education level. If you say sentences number 1 and 2 from this latter group, other people might think your education is poor. A common mistake made by poorly educated people is to invert the subjunctive with the conditional: “se io sarei” (my fingers refuse to even type this one) instead of the correct “se io fossi”.

Italians talk a lot about the subjunctive. People correct each other or make fun of people who get the subjunctive wrong. A common joke is that you can decide not to date the other person anymore the moment he/she gets the subjunctive wrong. If the said person uses the conditional instead, than you should run away as fast as you can!


 Stay tuned, as I will post a funny interactive activity soon!

And you? Can you use the subjunctive and what do you think about it?

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