Using the Subjunctive Mood Following Impersonal 'Es' Phrases

Sentence Introduction Triggers Verb Mood

Enchiladas
Es importante que comiences una dieta sana. (It is important that you begin a healthy diet.). Photo by Regan76; licensed via Creative Commons.

Learning when to use the subjunctive mood can be a challenge, so to help you get started, this lesson looks at one particular type of simple sentence, one that starts with "Es + adjective or noun + que." The English equivalent is "It + is + adjective or noun + that," and the usage is common in both languages.

The general rule about the use of mood in Spanish would require that "Es _____ que" would be followed by a verb in the indicative mood if the initial phrase expresses certainty but in the subjunctive, if it expresses doubt, uncertainty, desire, probability or an emotional reaction.

The phrase can be thought of as a trigger — some phrases trigger one mood, some phrases another. The following list is far from complete, but learning them should help give you a feel for which mood will be triggered by other phrases. In the examples below, the verbs triggered by the "it is" statement are in boldface.

"Es ... Que" Phrases Triggering the Subjunctive

Es probable que (It is likely that): Es probable que las temperaturas mínimas se acerquen a los 20 grados bajo cero. It is likely that the low temperatures will approach the minus 20s. (Note that the "that" in this and the English translations below is optional, but the que of Spanish is mandatory.)

Es importante que (It is important that): Es importante que comiences una dieta sana. It is important that you begin a healthy diet.

Es aconsejable que (It is advisable that): ¿A partir de qué edad es aconsejable que un niño tenga móvil?

Beginning at what age is it advisable that a child has a cellphone?

Es necesario que (It is necessary that): Es necesario que todo cambie. It is necessary that everything change. (Note that in this instance and the following two, the English translation explicitly uses the subjunctive mood.)

Es preciso que (It is necessary that): Es preciso que América Latina reduzca la pobreza.

It is necessary that Latin America reduce poverty.

Es posible que (It is possible that): Es posible que un religioso sea deshonesto. It is possible that a religious person be dishonest.

Es (una) lástima que (It's a shame that): ¡Es una lástima que no estés conmigo! It's a shame that you aren't with me!

Es imposible que (It's impossible that): Es imposible que el mundo termine el 2012. It's impossible that the world will end in 2012.

No es cierto que (It isn't certain that): No es cierto que la medicina inyectable cause cáncer. It is not certain that the injectable medicine causes cancer.

Es bueno que (It is good that): Es bueno que tus clientes te sigan en Twitter. It is good that your customers are following you on Twitter. (Note that the statement following que is factually true; the subjunctive is used here because the sentence is an evaluation of that fact.)

No es seguro que (It is not certain that): No es seguro que el cliente tenga capacidad para devolver el préstamo. It is not certain that the customer has the ability to pay off the loan.

"Es ... Que" Phrases Triggering the Indicative

Es cierto que (It is certain that): Es cierto que solo dos personas conocen la formula secreta. It is certain that only two people know the secret formula.

Es obvio que (It is obvious that): Es obvio que Miley Cyrus es múchisimo mejor que Selena Gómez. It is obvious that Miley Cyrus is much better than Selena Gomez. (The use of the opening "es obvio que" mandates the use of the indicative here even though the purpose of the sentence may be to express an opinion.)

Es seguro que (It is certain that): Es seguro que el cliente tiene capacidad para devolver el préstamo. It is certain that the customer has the ability to pay off the loan.

No es dudoso que (It is not doubtful that): No es dudoso que estás obligado a restituirla. It is not doubtful that you are obligated to pay her back. (In real-life speech, however, it is fairly common to use the subjunctive after "no es dudoso," despite what the rules of grammar say, possibly because "Es dudoso que" is always followed by the subjunctive.)

Es verdad que (it is true that): ¿Es verdad que los elefantes temen a los ratones? Is it true that elephants are afraid of mice?

Sources: Sample sentences are adapted from a variety of sources, mostly ones written by native speakers. Among the sources consulted for this lesson are: Twitter, Siempre Feed, es.Wikipedia.org, Mundopoesía, Facebook discussions, Mujer Actual, Planeta Curioso, Antonio Velos, es.Chabad.org, VentanaLegal.com.