VIII. Ten Things to Know about the Subjunctive in Italian.


In this section we will insert pronunciation guides only for words which may be difficult for the beginner, such as three-syllable words stressed on the first syllable (unico, siano), or words ending in an accented vowel which must be stressed on the final syllable (benché, così). For an explanation of the phonetics of the Pronunciation Guide, click here.


1. Subjunctive in subordinate clauses.
So far we have been studying the indicative mood of the verb, which deals with simple statements of fact. The subjunctive mood (Italian: congiuntivo) indicates possible but not factual events, and is usually found in subordinate clauses introduced by che or chi, following verbs of desire, command, doubt, or belief. The subjunctive has largely disappeared from ordinary English but is still used in conversational Italian. 
Examples: Tutti vanno, everybody goes (indicative mood), but: voglio che tutti vengano, I want everybody to go (subjunctive--literally, I want that everybody would go). Carlo è ancora a casa, Charles is still at home (indicative), but: Crediamo che Carlo sia ancora a casa, we believe that Charles is still at home (subjunctive).
The subjunctive should also be used in Italian when direct discourse is changed to indirect, a practice no longer found in modern English. Example: Il madre di Piero mi dice "Piero fa male oggi," Peter's mother says to me "Peter is sick today" (direct discourse--indicative mood). But: Il madre di Piero mi dice che Piero faccia male oggi, Peter's mother tells me that Peter is sick today (indirect discourse--subjunctive mood).


2. Subjunctive with conditional verbs.
Another common use of the subjunctive is in se clauses introduced by a conditional verb, indicating a contrary-to-fact situation: andrei in Italia se avessi il denaro, I would go to Italy if I had the money. Sarei andato in Italia se avessi avuto il denaro, I would have gone to Italy if I had had the money. If the se clause is introduced by the future tense, the present indicative is used instead of the subjunctive after se: andrò in Italia se ho il denaro, I will go to Italy if I have the money.


3. Subjunctive with conjunctions.
The subjunctive is also commonly found after certain conjunctions such as benché (behn-kay), although, poiché (poh-ee-kay), since, and come se, as if: benché riceva tante lettere, non é contento, although he receives so many letters, he is not satisfied. Poiché tu leggia, non suonerò il piano, since you are reading I will not play the piano. Trasalì (trah-sah-lee) come se avesse veduto uno spettro, he jumped as if he had seen a ghost.


4. Subjunctive with impersonal expressions.
The subjunctive is used after many impersonal expressions such as bisogna che, it is necessary that..., conviene che, it is proper that..., si dubita che, it is doubtful that..., and è possibile che, it is possible that... Examples: Bisogna che arrivino (ahr-ree-vee-noh) presto, it is necessary that they arrive soon; è possibile che siano (see-ah-noh) arrivati ieri, it is possible that they arrived yesterday.


5. Subjunctive with superlatives.
The subjunctive is also used in relative clauses which modify a superlative expression, including il solo, l'unico (loo-nee-koh) and the like: questo è il più bello quadro che io conosca, this is the most beautiful painting that I know. Luigi era l'unico studente chi abbia (ahb-bee-ah) partecipato, Luigi was the only student who participated.


6. Tenses of the subjunctive.
There are only four tenses used with the subjunctive: the present, imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect. The first two are simple tenses and the second two are compound, formed by combining the present and imperfect subjunctive forms of avere and essere with the past participle of the verb. Thus for cantare, with stressed syllables indicated in boldface:
Person   Present Sub.   Imperfect Sub.   Perfect Sub.   Pluperfect Sub.
io canti cantassi abbia cantato avessi cantato
tu canti cantassi abbia cantato avessi cantato
lui, lei canti cantasse abbia cantato avesse cantato
noi cantiamo cantassimo abbiamo cantato avessimo cantato
voi cantiate cantaste abbiate cantato aveste cantato
loro cantino cantassero abbiano cantato avessero cantato
For regular second and third conjugation verbs the present subjunctive endings are -a, -a, -a, -iamo, -iate, -ano. Examples (for credere): creda, creda, creda, crediamo, crediate, credano. For partire: parta, parta, parta, partiamo, partiate, partano.
Third conjugation verbs like finire which insert the syllable -isc- in the present indicative tense, do the same for the present subjunctive: finisca, finisca, finisca, finiamo, finiate, finiscano.
For second conjugation verbs the imperfect subjunctive ends in -essi, -essi, -esse, etc., while for the third conjugation it is -issi, -issi, -isse, etc.


7. Use of present and perfect subjunctive.
When the verb in the main clause is in the present or future tense, the verb in the subordinate clause must be in the present subjunctive tense (if it is contemporary with the action of the main verb), or in the perfect subjunctive (if it is prior to the action of the main verb): spero che lei arrivi sana e salva, I hope that she arrives safe and sound. Spero che lei sia arrivata sana e salva, I hope that she arrived safe and sound.


8. Use of imperfect and pluperfect subjunctive.
When the verb in the main clause is in a past tense, the verb in the subordinate clause must be in the imperfect (if it is contemporary with the action of the main verb), or in the pluperfect (if it is prior to the action of the main verb): speravo che Maria partisse, I hoped that Mary would leave. Speravo che Maria fosse partita, I hoped that Mary had left.


9. Infinitive constructions replacing subjunctive.
When the subject of a dependent clause is the same as the subject of the main clause, an infinitive construction is generally preferred over a subjunctive verb: Roberto spera di venire, Robert is hoping to come, instead of Roberto spera che venga, Robert hopes that he may come.


10. Subjunctive as polite imperative.
We also find the present subjunctive used to express the polite form of the imperative: Vieni, tu, Come, you (informal); but: venga, Signore, per favore, please come, sir (formal). Ragazzi, guardate questo, children, look at this (informal); but: Signori, guardino questo, gentlemen, look at this (formal).
Indirect commands in Italian tend to be in the subjunctive, sometimes introduced by che: Viva il presidente! Long live the president! Che sia così (koh-see), let it be so. Che venga alle due, one should come at two.


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