Spanish speakers know how to use the subjunctive (subjuntivo) because it is endemic (endémico) in the Spanish language. Many English people hardly use the subjunctive even though it is part of the language. It is important in the use of the verb “to be”.
Let´s examine some easy uses. In English, if something is a fact you will use “was”. Two examples:
- Mr. Sánchez, the Spanish Prime Minister, was wearing a hand-made leather hat yesterday.
- When I was young (a fact) I used to go blackberry picking (…solia ir a recoger moras…) in England.
That part is easy. However, if something is contrary to facts (contrario a los hechos) or if you are imagining something, the subjunctive is the rule. So, some simple examples.
- If I were you (si yo fuera tu), I would go on a walking holiday in Patagonia. Here the subjunctive verb is “were” not “was”.
- Some people say “if I was you” and quite frankly (francamente) it is wrong and to educated English ears it sounds horrible.
- If I were rich (but I am not), I would have to pay a lot of taxes. It is not necessary to say “but I am not” because it is obvious due to “were”, the subjunctive use.
- If Mr. Sanchez were wise (but he is not) he would organize a pact with Mr. Casado, the PP leader.
- If I were able to be young again, I would choose to go into politics.
There are many other uses: for another article.