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Unraveling the Portuguese Subjunctive Mood


The subjunctive mood is one of the most notoriously tricky parts of Portuguese grammar to master. It’s particularly tough for native English speakers. We often aren’t even aware of what the subjunctive is in our own language, because there are no specific subjunctive verb conjugations; it’s something we use automatically without learning about it. Fortunately, help is at hand: if you learn with our expert tutors, before long you’ll be conjugating your subjunctives with confidence.


What Is the Subjunctive Mood?

The subjunctive is a grammatical mood used to express various different states of unreality. Typically, it is used to express an attitude toward a hypothetical situation. In English, constructions using the word “that” are common, for example, “it is important that you learn subjunctives with a tutor.” Past-tense subjunctives using the word “were” are also used in English, for example, “I wish you were here.”


The Portuguese subjunctive mood, much like the indicative mood, has different tenses that affect the suffixes of verbs. There are three different Portuguese subjunctive tenses: present, imperfect, and future.


Present Subjunctive

The present subjunctive is used for any Portuguese subjunctive construction where the preceding clause is in the present tense. For example, a verb following the clause espero que... (“I hope that…”) would be conjugated into the present subjunctive tense. The suffix for the verb conjugation depends on the personal pronoun used, and also the infinitive form of the verb. Verbs ending with -er and -ir have one set of suffixes, and verbs ending with -ar have another, as shown below:


Verbs ending with -er and -ir

Personal pronoun: eu Suffix: -a

Personal pronoun: tu Suffix: -as

Personal pronoun: ele/ela/você Suffix: -a

Personal pronoun: nós Suffix: -amos

Personal pronoun: vós Suffix: -ais

Personal pronoun: eles/elas/vocês Suffix: -am


Verbs ending with -ar

Personal pronoun: eu Suffix: -e

Personal pronoun: tu Suffix: -es

Personal pronoun: ele/ela/você Suffix: -e

Personal pronoun: nós Suffix: -emos

Personal pronoun: vós Suffix: -eis

Personal pronoun: eles/elas/vocês Suffix: -em


Some examples of how this works in practice are provided below:


I hope that she speaks loudly.

Espero que ela fale alto.


It’s unlikely that they’ll succeed.

É improvável que eles consigam.

Here, the English sentence uses the future tense in the second clause, whereas the Portuguese translation uses the present subjunctive to express a hypothetical future outcome. It’s also irregular—in the conjugation, the letter “u” from the infinitive conseguir is deleted, and the “e” changes to an “i.”


It’d be good if we allowed it.

É bom que nós permitamos.

Here, the English sentence is not using the subjunctive—the literal translation of the Portuguese sentence is something like “it’s good that we allow it,” which in English sounds like a statement of fact rather than an expression of an attitude about a hypothetical situation.


Imperfect Subjunctive

The imperfect subjunctive is used for Portuguese subjunctive constructions where the preceding clause is in the conditional or imperfect tense. For example, in a subjunctive following the clause eu faria isso, se... (conditional, “I would do it, if...”) or eu esperava que… (past imperfect, “I hoped that…”), the verb is conjugated into the imperfect subjunctive tense. The verb suffixes for the imperfect Portuguese subjunctive are shown below:


Verbs ending with -ir

Personal pronoun: eu Suffix: -isse

Personal pronoun: tu Suffix: -isses

Personal pronoun: ele/ela/você Suffix: -isse

Personal pronoun: nós Suffix: -íssemos

Personal pronoun: vós Suffix: -ísseis

Personal pronoun: eles/elas/vocês Suffix: -issem


Verbs ending with -er

Personal pronoun: eu Suffix: -esse

Personal pronoun: tu Suffix: -esses

Personal pronoun: ele/ela/você Suffix: -esse

Personal pronoun: nós Suffix: -êssemos

Personal pronoun: vós Suffix: -êsseis

Personal pronoun: eles/elas/vocês Suffix: -essem


Verbs ending with -ar

Personal pronoun: eu Suffix: -asse

Personal pronoun: tu Suffix: -asses

Personal pronoun: ele/ela/você Suffix: -asse

Personal pronoun: nós Suffix: -ássemos

Personal pronoun: vós Suffix: -ásseis

Personal pronoun: eles/elas/vocês Suffix: -assem


Now let’s see some examples of how the imperfect Portuguese subjunctive works in practice:


We hoped that they were OK.

Esperávamos que eles estivessem bem.


He would help you if he could.

Ele te ajudaria, se pudesse.


I would like you to help me.

Eu gostaria que você me ajudasse. (Brazilian)

Gostaria que me ajudasses. (European)

Note that in this example the English sentence uses the infinitive “to help” rather than the subjunctive “I would like that you helped me.” In Portuguese, it is ungrammatical to use the infinitive in this context.


Future Subjunctive

Portuguese is unique among modern Romance languages for still using a future subjunctive tense. It is used when adverbs of time such as quando (“when”) or enquanto (“while” or “as long as”), or the conjunction se (“if”), are used to indicate future events. The conjugation of verbs for this tense is relatively simple; the list of suffixes is shown below.


All Verbs

Personal pronoun: eu Suffix: same as infinitive

Personal pronoun: tu Suffix: infinitive plus -es

Personal pronoun: ele/ela/você Suffix: same as infinitive

Personal pronoun: nós Suffix: infinitive plus -mos

Personal pronoun: vós Suffix: infinitive plus -des

Personal pronoun: eles/elas/vocês Suffix: infinitive plus -em


Now we’ll look at a few examples of how to conjugate for the future subjunctive:


When I leave, I’ll call you.

Quando eu sair, ligarei para você.


When we meet up, let’s go to the bank.

Quando nós encontrarmos, vamos ao banco. (Brazilian)

Quando encontrarmos, vamos ao banco. (European)


If you don’t help me, I’ll complain.

Se você não me ajudar, eu vou reclamar. (Brazilian)

Se não me ajudares, reclamarei. (European)


Now Practice!

The Portuguese subjunctive is the second-most complex mood (in terms of the number of conjugations to remember) after the indicative, and it can be quite hard to remember exactly when to use it. To perfect this and other areas of Portuguese grammar, book a lesson now.

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