Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book notes: The Spanish Subjunctive Up Close

Like many other Spanish learners, one of my greatest weaknesses is using, or failing to use, the subjunctive.  As part of an ongoing effort to improve upon this I have read and done all of the exercises in the book The Spanish Subjunctive Up Close by Eric Vogt.  These are some notes and observations from the book.    

One thing that Mr. Vogt makes clear at the beginning of the book is that the subjunctive is not a tense, but a mood that includes 4 tenses (present, imperfect, present perfect, and pluperfect).  What determines the use of the subjunctive is the relationship between dependent and independent clauses, not the time when an action happens.  The time when the action happens in relation to the verb in the main clause determines which tense of the subjunctive should be used.    

One type of clause in which the subjunctive may be called for are subordinated noun clauses.  The author provides an easy formula for determining when the subjunctive is needed for subordinated noun clauses (the second, or dependent clause).  

S1+V1 que S2+V2  where S1S2

Subject 1 & Verb 1 + Subject 2 & Verb 2 where subject 2 is not equal to subject 1, and verb 1 is a W.E.I.R.D.O. verb.  W.E.I.R.D.O. is a handy acronym for verbs of Wishing (or wanting, willing, desiring, etc.), Emotion (alegrarse, enojarse, etc.), Indirect statements/commands (que traiga, etc.), Doubt/Denial (dudar), and Ojalá.  The importance of the change in subject with W.E.I.R.D.O. cannot be overstated, if the subject does not change the subjunctive is not used.   
Subordinated noun clauses are not the only types of clause that require the subjunctive to follow; some adjective and adverbial clauses also require the subjunctive to follow.  The subjunctive is used in adjective phrases when the antecedent, or noun of the first clause, is vague, non-existent, or indefinite.  The example provided by the book is “necesitamos una computadora que funcione”.  The “computadora que funcione” describes a computer that is vague, may or may not exist, and indefinite (just a computer that works, not the computer that works).  For adverbial clauses, there is one group of these clauses that always requires the subjunctive and another group that sometimes requires the subjunctive, depending on the certainty of the speaker about an event.  The group of clauses that always requires the subjunctive includes:  
a menos que/a no ser que  (unless)
antes de que  (before)
como si  (as if)
con tal de que, siempre y cuando  (provided that/as long as)
el hecho de que (the fact that)
en caso de que (in case that)
para que, a fin de que  (in order that)
sin que (without)
(pg. 48)

The other group sometimes requires the subjunctive.  To determine whether or not the subjunctive is required we need to look at the speaker’s attitude about the dependent clause, the adverbial phrase is describing, such as uncertainty or doubt about the clause.   
a pesar de que  (despite, in spite of)
acaso, tal vez, quizá  (perhaps)
así que, así como (such that)
aunque  (although)
cuando (when)
de modo que, de manera que  (in such a way that)
después de que, luego que (after)
hasta que  (until)
mientras  (while)
por más que, por mucho que (no matter how much)
siempre que (as long as)
tan pronto como, en cuanto  (as soon as)
una vez que  (once you have)
(pg. 49)

The exercises in the book are plentiful and extensive.  Some are as simple as matching exercises.  Other more difficult exercises involve translating sentences that may or may not involve the subjunctive.  Each chapter has 5 or 6 sets of exercises, so one can feel comfortable with the content before moving on (or review the chapter more).   The entire last chapter is comprehensive exercises on material learned in all of the chapters.  I feel I personally gained the most from the exercises, though the explanations were good as well.

The Spanish Subjunctive Up Close has been a useful tool that has helped me become more confident with the subjunctive.  I would highly recommend it as a resource for anyone interested in improving their use of the subjunctive.
¡Que lo lean!  

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Some excellent movies to enjoy while learning about Latin American culture!


También la Lluvia  -  Set in Bolivia, a Spanish film crew employs Native Americans to make a film about Christopher Columbus.  Maybe employs isn’t really accurate, exploits might be a better term.   Against the backdrop of the Bolivian government privatizing the water supply and the social unrest that follows; action, emotion, and inspiration follow.  This is a truly inspirational film, and is one of my favorites in any language.   

¡No!  -  A marketing campaign that brought down a dictator.  Awesome, true story.  You can see the real ad portrayed in the movie here

La Misma Luna  -  A heart-touching story of a young boy who crosses the US/Mexican border by himself to find his mother.  His journey shows the perils of this journey that many like him take every day.  He also finds an unlikely friend and hero.  

The Motorcycle Diaries  -  An adventure through the continent of South America.  Great cinematography of the varied landscapes of the continent.   Learn the beginnings of the infamous “Che”.    

Romero  -  This movie is in English, but is culturally and historically relevant.  In my opinion, when one mentions the great non-violent leaders of the 20th century Bishop Romero should be right up there with Martin Luther King and Gandhi.  The story of a hero who knew he would be killed for doing the right thing and went ahead and did it anyway.  Excellent movie!   

Any suggestions or favorites that I missed?  Feel free to comment!

Even the Rain (2010) Poster