To be honest, before I started studying Italian full-force, I didn’t know that the subjective tense (il congiuntivo) was a thing.
And then proceeded to let it be a menace to me for six months before I could finally use it correctly in conversation (partly because I had a teacher that wondered how I ever learned Italian without running into it and encouraged, for lack of a better word, me to improve. For this, I am grateful).
Even then, learning is a process, and I’m still refining how I use it.
To put it in the most basic terms, it’s the tense that you should use when:
— You have an opinion.
— You have a desire or a wish that something would be a certain way.
— You’re experiencing an emotion (happy, sad, sorry, scared).
— You’re suggesting something to someone.
So, a lot, right?
It’s the proper form of what Italian should be, but as you’ll notice in conversation, you won’t hear it being used correctly even by native speakers.
Just remember it’s the same as how we constantly misuse English and ignore the ‘proper’ way it’s supposed to be spoken.
As a constantly evolving language, this is totally normal.
But it’s super important to learn as it’s still heavily used.
How to conjugate the present subjunctive
The conjugations of il congiuntivo are a little wonky. Only because the first three are exactly the same, thus requiring you to actually use the io, tu, and lui/lei* to describe who the subject is.
*If you’re not already familiar with the pronouns, I suggest you (Ha! Used the subjunctive in English!) go to this article that will be more your level on Singular and Plural Nouns (& a little Masculine/Feminine Action, too)
Let’s drop some examples below.
For a verb like ASCOLTARE, which ends in –ARE, it’s as follows:
– io ascolti
– tu ascolti
– lui/lei ascolti
For a verb like SENTIRE, which ends in –IRE, it’s as follows:
– io senta
– tu senta
– lui/lei senta
For a verb like CONOSCERE, which ends in –ERE, it’s as follows:
– io conosca
– tu conosca
– lui/lei conosca
But the most important conjugations for you to know are:
If you’ve been learning Italian for a while now, you should know that the most important verbs for you to know are always irregular.
Each will have a conjugation, its own fancy image, and two esempi (examples) so you can better grasp the concept.
ESSERE: to be
– io sia
– tu sia
– lui/lei sia
Peccato che Italia sia troppo lontana da qui. – It’s a shame that Italy is too far from here.
ANDARE: to go
– io vada
– tu vada
– lui/lei vada
– Spero che Luis non vada in Polonia da solo. – I hope that Luis does not go to Poland by himself.
FARE: to do/make
– io faccia
– tu faccia
– lui/lei faccia
Mi fa piacere che facciate colazione. – I am glad that you all made breakfast.
VOLERE: to want
– io voglia
– tu voglia
– lui/lei voglia
Penso che Maria voglia uscire con noi. – I think that Maria wants to go out with us.
AVERE: to have
– io abbia
– tu abbia
– lui/lei abbia
Penso che gli italiani abbiano molte ricette per la pasta. – I think that Italians have many recipes for pasta.
POTERE: to be able to
– io possa
– tu possa
– lui/lei possa
Spero tu possa capire quello che cerco di dirti. – I hope you can understand what I’m trying to tell you. (from Fabio Volo)
STARE: to stay/remain, to be
– io stia
– tu stia
– lui/lei stia
Non desideriamo che tu stia qui negli stati uniti. – We don’t wish that you stay here in the United States.
DOVERE: to have to, must
– io debba*
– tu debba
– lui/lei debba
*You may also see ‘deva’ for ‘debba’, but it’s more widely read than used in conversation.
Penso che io debba comprare qua. – I think that I should buy something here.
VENIRE: to come
– io venga
– tu venga
– lui/lei venga
Sono triste che tu non venga stasera. – I am sad that you are not going out tonight.
USCIRE: to go out
– io esca
– tu esca
– lui/lei esca
Non è necessario che tu esca di casa. – It’s not necessary that you leave home. (from Franz Kafka)
SAPERE: to know (a fact, ability)
– io sappia
– tu sappia
– lui/lei sappia
Dubitano che gli statunitensi sappiano cucinare il cibo italiano. – They doubt that Americans know how to cook Italian food.
DIRE: to say
– io dica
– tu dica
– lui/lei dica
Crediamo che dicano le bugie. – We believe that they are saying/telling lies.
DARE: to give
– io dia
– tu dia
– lui/lei dia
Credo che lui dia l’anello a Luisa. – I believe that he is giving the ring to Luisa.
One thing I hope you noticed:
1.) There are trigger phrases used over & over again where you can easily decided whether to use the subjunctive tense or not.
– Peccato che… – It’s a shame that…
– Spero che… – I hope that…
– Mi fa piacere che… – I am pleased that…
– Penso che… – I think that…
– Desidero che... – I desire/want that…
– Dubito che… – I doubt that….
– Credo che… – I believe that…
Have questions? Drop ’em in the comments below.