Other concepts to consider for verb conjugation

In Spanish, besides considering the concept of subject-verb agreement, writers must use a verb conjugation that reflects the adequate mood, i.e., the attitude of the writer towards the information being presented; tense, i.e., the time of the action, process, or state of being; reference point, i.e., the temporal reference used by the writer; and aspect, i.e., how an event begins, extends over time, ends, or repeats without referring to its temporal location.

Mood is either dependent or independent. The dependent mood is brought about by inductors, which are words, such as verbs, adverbs, nouns, or prepositions, as well as punctuation, such as question marks, that provide the attitude, i.e. mood, of the writer towards what is being presented. The independent mood does not need these inductors, which can appear either in an independent clause or a subordinate clause to induce the mood of the subordinate clause.

The three different moods a writer can assume towards the information presented are the indicative, the imperative, and the subjunctive. Although independent clauses are usually written in the indicative mood, they may also be written in the subjunctive and imperative moods; subordinate clauses are written either in the indicative or subjunctive moods.

RAE’s dictionary defines the indicative, subjunctive, and imperative moods as follows:

The indicative mood is used “to mark what is expressed by the predicate as information that is real”.[1] This mood is used in the present, imperfect, preterit, future, and conditional simple tenses as well as in the present perfect, pluperfect, past anterior, future perfect, and conditional perfect compound tenses, in the first person, second person, and third person.

The subjunctive mood is used “to mark what is expressed by the predicate as information that is virtual, unspecified, unverified, or not experienced”.[1] This mood is used in the present, imperfect, and future simple tenses as well as in the present perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect compound tenses in the first person, second person, and third person.

The imperative mood “mainly denotes orders, pleas, or appeals”.[1] This mood is used in the present tense, mostly in the singular and plural second person, but there are a couple of exceptions wherein the first person and the second person are used.

Verb tenses—of the indicative and subjunctive moods—which indicate the time of an action, process, or state of being, are usually classified by their morphological structure, i.e., whether they are simple or compound. The only difference between these two classes is that simple verbs are one word, which is the conjugated verb, while compound verbs are two words, which are the conjugated form of the auxiliary verb haber and the past participle of the main verb.

In the following table, verb tenses of the indicative mood are classified as simple or compound.

Indicative mood

SIMPLECOMPOUND
Present
Presente
(CANTO)
Compound present perfect
Pretérito perfecto compuesto
(HE CANTADO)
Preterit
Pretérito perfecto simple
(CANTÉ)
Pluperfect
Pretérito pluscuamperfecto
(HABÍA CANTADO)
Imperfect
Pretérito imperfecto
(CANTABA)
Past anterior
Pretérito anterior
(HUBE CANTADO)
Future
Futuro simple
(CANTARÉ)
Compound future
Futuro compuesto
(HABRÉ CANTADO)
Conditional simple
Condicional simple
(CANTARÍA)
Compound conditional
Condicional compuesto
(HABRÍA CANTADO)

In the following table, verb tenses of the subjunctive mood are classified as simple or compound.

Subjunctive mood

SIMPLECOMPOUND
Present
Presente
(CANTE)
Compound present perfect
Pretérito perfecto compuesto
(HAYA CANTADO)
Imperfect
Pretérito imperfect
(CANTARA O CANTASE)
Pluperfect
Pretérito pluscuamperfecto
(HUBIERA O HUBIESE CANTADO)
Future
Futuro simple
(CANTARE)
Compound future
Futuro compuesto
(HUBIERE CANTADO)

To select the adequate tense, however, a writer must consider a verb’s temporal reference point, which renders them absolute or relative. Absolute tenses use the time something is written or said as their reference point.

[Juana] [corrió rapidísimo].

In this sentence, Juana ran before this sentence was written.

Relative tenses do not refer to the time something is written or said but rather to another reference point in the same sentence.

[El entrenador] [le advirtió que su rival había corrido más rápido que ella].

In this sentence, her rival’s running happens before the trainer’s warning (reference point), which happens before the sentence was written.

The relationship between a verb’s morphological structure and its reference point is close in the sense that most simple tenses are absolute and most compound tenses are relative. But in the indicative mood, the imperfect and the conditional simple are not absolute but relative, and the present perfect is not relative but absolute. In the subjunctive mood, simple tenses do correlate with absolute tenses and compound tenses with relative ones.

In the following table, verb tenses of the indicative mood are classified as absolute or relative.

Indicative mood

ABSOLUTERELATIVE
Present
Presente
(CANTO)
Imperfect
Pretérito imperfecto
(CANTABA)
Preterit
Pretérito perfecto simple
(CANTÉ)
Pluperfect
Pretérito pluscuamperfecto
(HABÍA CANTADO)
Compound present perfect
Pretérito perfecto compuesto
(HE CANTADO)
Past anterior
Pretérito anterior
(HUBE CANTADO)
Future
Futuro simple
(CANTARÉ)
Compound future
Futuro compuesto
(HABRÉ CANTADO)
Conditional simple
Condicional simple
(CANTARÍA)
Compound conditional
Condicional compuesto
(HABRÍA CANTADO)

Regarding the subjunctive mood, all the simple tenses are absolute, and all the compound tenses are relative.

The final concept to consider when selecting the adequate verb conjugation is its aspect, i.e., how an event extends over time, ends, or repeats without referring to its temporal location. According to section 23.2a of RAE’s Nueva Gramática, “verbal aspect informs, instead, of the internal structure of the events; this is to say, the manner in which they rise, end, or repeat, but also if they are perceived in its integrity or if only a few of its segments are shown” (1684).[2] The concept of aspect is complex because it encompasses three types, each of a different nature:

  1. The lexical, which focuses on the root (meaning) of verbs.
  2. The periphrastic, which corresponds to the aspect of verb phrases.
  3. The morphological, which is based on the desinence, i.e., ending, of verbs.

These three different types will be discussed in an article about aspect, but it is necessary to keep in mind the concepts of mood, tense, and reference point when reading it. This is to say that after determining the attitude, or mood, of what is being written, writers must select a verb from the indicative or subjunctive moods—or from the imperative only when an order, plea, or appeal is made. Then writers must consider the reference point to determine whether to use an absolute or a relative verb.

References