Using the Subjunctive Mood Following Impersonal ‘Es’ Phrases

‘Es’ sentences help students get started using the subjunctive mood in Spanish

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

Regan76 / Creative Commons.

Learning when to use the subjunctive mood in Spanish can be a challenge, so to help you get started, this lesson looks at a 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.

These sentences provide a good introduction to the subjunctive for Spanish students because the verb mood depends on how the verb is used rather than requiring memorization of particular phrases.

The general rule about the use of mood in Spanish requires 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.

Note that the "that" in the English translations before the verb is optional, but the Spanish que is mandatory.

"Es ... Que" Phrases Triggering the Subjunctive

Examples of the subjunctive being used to express lack of certainty:

  • 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.)
  • Es posible que (It is possible that): Es posible que un religioso sea deshonesto. (It is possible that a religious person be dishonest.)
  • Es imposible que (It's impossible that): Es imposible que el mundo termine el 2021. (It's impossible that the world will end in 2021.)
  • 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.)
  • 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.)

Examples of the subjunctive being used in giving advice:

  • 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.)

Examples of the subjunctive being used in expressing personal reactions:

  • 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 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.)

"Es ... Que" Phrases Triggering the Indicative

The indicative is used in these examples because of the expression of certainty, even though that certainty may be an opinion rather than factual.

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.

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?

Key Takeaways

  • A Spanish sentence beginning with "es ____ que" (it is _____ that) can be followed by a verb in either the subjunctive or indicative mood.
  • The indicative verb is "triggered" by "es ____ que" phrases that express certainty.
  • Subjunctive verbs are "triggered" by "es ____ que" phrases that indicate uncertainty, give advice, or provide an emotional reaction.