A Quick Introduction to Mood and Voice in Spanish Verbs

Learn more in our advanced lessons

Barcelona skateboarder
El hombre anda en patineta en Barcelona. (The man skateboards in Barcelona. In the Spanish sentence, the verb, "anda," is in the indicative mood and active voice.).

Westend 61 / Getty Images

Spanish verbs have at least five important grammatical qualities, and even if you're a beginner you probably know about three of them: A verb's tense involves when its action takes place, and while its person and number give us essential information about who or what is performing the verb's action. These qualities can be noted in a simple verb such as hablas (you speak): The action takes place in the present tense, the verb is in the second person because that is the person being spoken to, and the verb is singular because only one person is talking.

On the other hand, two other categorizations of verbs—the mood and voice—probably aren't as familiar. They can also be seen in hablas, which is in the indicative mood and the active voice.

What is the Mood of Verbs?

The mood of a verb (sometimes called the mode, or modo in Spanish) is a property that relates to how the person using the verb feels about its factuality or likelihood; the distinction is made much more often in Spanish than it is in English. The voice of a verb has to do with the grammatical structure of the sentence in which it is used in and refers to the connection between a verb and its subject or object.

Both English and Spanish have three verb moods:

  • The indicative mood is the "normal" verb form used in everyday statements. In a sentence such as "I see the dog" (Veo el perro), the verb is in the indicative mood.
  • The subjunctive mood is used in many statements that are contrary to fact, are hoped for, or are in doubt. This mood is by far more common in Spanish, since it has mostly disappeared in English. An example of the subjunctive in English is the verb in the phrase "if I were rich" (si fuera rico in Spanish), which refers to a contrary-to-fact condition. The subjunctive is also used in a sentence such as "I request that my pseudonym be published" (pido que se publique mi seudónimo), which indicates a type of desire.
  • The imperative mood is used to give direct commands. The short sentence "Leave!" (¡Sal tú!) is in the imperative mood.

Because it is so frequently necessary in Spanish yet unfamiliar to English speakers, the subjunctive mood is an endless source of confusion for many Spanish students. Here are some lessons that will guide you through its usage:

The imperative mood is used for making direct commands or requests, but it is far from the only way to ask that someone do something. These lessons look at the different ways of making requests:

What is the Voice of Verbs?

The voice of a verb depends primarily on the structure of a sentence. Verbs used in a "normal" fashion, in which the subject of the sentence is performing the action of the verb, are in the active voice. An example of a sentence in the active voice is "Sandi bought a car" (Sandi compró un coche).

When the passive voice is used, the subject of the sentence is acted on by the verb; the person or thing performing the action of the verb isn't always specified. An example of a sentence in the passive voice is "The car was bought by Sandi" (El coche fue comprado por Sandi). In both languages, a past participle ("bought" and comprado) is used to form the passive voice.

It is important to note that, while common in English, the passive voice isn't used as much in Spanish. A common reason for using the passive voice is to avoid stating who or what is performing the action of a verb. In Spanish, that same goal can be accomplished by using verbs reflexively.

Key Takeaways

  • The mood of a verb distinguishes the possibility of a verb's action, such as whether it is factual or being commanded.
  • The voice of a verb involves whether it's subject is performing the subject's action or acting on the subject.
  • Verbs stating facts in the ordinary way are in the indicative mood and active voice.