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Using the Subjunctive Mood After 'Cuando'

Choice of Verb Mood Dependent on Time



Ana cometió dos errores cuando compró la bicicleta. (Ana made two mistakes when she bought the bicycle.)

Photo by Txapulín; licensed via Creative Commons.

Either the indicative or subjunctive mood can be used following cuando, the choice often depending on whether the action of the verb has been completed.

As a subordinating conjunction, cuando — usually translated as "when" or "whenever" — typically is followed by a verb in the indicative mood when that verb refers to something that has already occurred or is occurring in the present. The present includes referring to an event that has occurred and could continue to occur:

  • Recuerdo cuando llegaron mis padres. I remember when my parents came.
  • No sé cuando fue la última vez. I don't know when the last time was.
  • Ana cometió dos errores cuando compró la bicicleta. Ana made two mistakes when he bought the car.
  • No hay nada que hacer cuando la víctima ya está muerta. There is nothing to do when the victim is already dead.
  • Nadie me paga cuando estoy enfermo. Nobody pays me when I'm sick.
  • Quiero saber cuando se usa el modo subjuntivo. I want to know when the subjunctive mood is used.

In contrast, the present-tense subjunctive mood typically is used when cuando comes before a verb referring to an event that has yet to occur:

  • Llegaremos cuando debamos y no antes. We will arrive when we should and not before.
  • Mírame a los ojos cuando hables. Look in my eyes when you speak.
  • Despiértame cuando lleguen tus amigos. Wake me up when your friends arrive.
  • Vamos a hacerlo cuando seamos capaces. We are going to do it when we are capable.
  • ¿Qué voy a hacer cuando esté viejo? What am I going to do when I am old?

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