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Lesson Transcript


Hi everybody! Marika here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Italian questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: When should I use the subjunctive or congiuntivo?
The subjunctive is a verb mood used to express doubt, hope, fear, or possibility. In other words, the subjunctive expresses subjectivity. Basically, you need it to express anything that isn’t a sure fact.
So, where should you use the subjunctive?
In subordinate clauses introduced by a verb expressing doubt, a supposition, or a guess.
Look at the difference between these two sentences:
So che sei stato tu. (indicative) VS Penso che sia stato tu. (subjunctive)
“I know it was you.” VS “I think it was you.”
“I know” holds the same meaning as “I’m sure, I know for a fact”; therefore, you don’t need the subjunctive.
In the second sentence, penso, “I think,” means “I believe, but I’m not 100% sure”; therefore, it requires the subjunctive.
Let’s go ahead. You also need the subjunctive in...
Subordinate clauses introduced by a “thinking verb.” This may express desire, hope, will, but never a fact. Here’s an example:
Spero che tu possa venire alla festa.
“I hope you can come to the party.”
Another case is when you’re talking about other people’s feelings and thoughts. Again, these are things that you can never be sure 100%. For example:
Sono contenta che ti piaccia il mio libro.
“I’m happy that you like my book.”
You need to use the subjunctive after certain conjunctions: sebbene (“although”), benché (“although”), affinché (“so that”), dovunque (“wherever”), nonostante (“despite”), prima che (“before”). For example:
Sebbene fosse tardi, la chiamai.
“Although it was late, I called her.”
Diglielo, prima che sia troppo tardi.
“Tell him, before it’s too late.”
You should use the subjunctive after impersonal expressions, such as: bisogna che (“it’s necessary that”), è necessario che (“it’s necessary that”), è possibile che (“it’s possible that”), è probabile che (“it’s probable that.”) For example:
È probabile che piova domani.
“It’s probable that it will rain tomorrow.”
To form the polite imperative. Italian imperative doesn’t have all the persons, so the third person borrows its form from the present subjunctive.
Prego, si sieda.
“Please, have a seat.”
Finally, you need the subjunctive in the “if clauses” of the second and third conditional. You’ll study these later. For now, here’s an example:
Se lo sapessi, te lo direi.
“If I knew, I’d tell you.”


Colloquial Italian often replaces the subjunctive with the indicative. It’s not unusual to hear “Prima che te ne vai…” (“before you leave”) instead of “Prima che tu te ne vada…” Or, you might hear “Sono contenta che ti piace” (“I’m happy you like it”) instead of “Sono contenta che ti piaccia.”
This is actually a very controversial topic. Some people don’t accept these examples as “correct Italian,” but language is a living thing, so who knows how it’ll change in the future?
Pretty interesting, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
A presto! “See you soon!”