I'm having trouble understanding the grammar in this excerpt from the novel by ANTONIO SANTA ANA:

Mi hermano hubiese cumplido ayer 31 años, pero murió hace 5. Se había ido de casa a los 18, yo tenía 5 años. Mi familia nunca le perdonó ninguna de las dos cosas, ni que se haya ido, ni que se haya muerto.

Is there a concrete rule dictating why the author chose the subjunctive?

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    Funny, I wouldn't have written the sentence like that. If I use the past tense (perdonó), then I would have used "hubiera ido" and "hubiera muerto". If you use "haya ido" and "haya muerto" then you must use the present tense "no le perdona" in the previous part.
    – Charlie
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 7:11
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    @user135711 That's a nice book, especially for teenagers. I think the use of the subjunctive present perfect is justified by the fact that "nunca le perdonó" continues to be true now, implying: "y sigue sin perdonarle", which makes the situation closer to the present and not so distant as if "hubiera" had been used. I personally like it better as it is.
    – Gustavson
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 10:24
  • I agree with @Gustavson and pablodf76. Also, consider "Disculpa que haya llegado tarde." There's not much emotion there, and a look at the clock resolves any doubt there might be. I think of it like "Please forgive my having arrived late," and "My family never forgave his having died." That's just how I think of it in my own mind -- hope it helps. Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 19:08

2 Answers 2


I'd just like to add to pablodf76's excellent answer that, according to the NGLE (New Grammar of the Spanish Language), this case of subjunctive could be described as "affection" (afección) or "appraisal" (valoración). These are the examples provided under each concept:

AFECCIÓN: Alba perdió el temor de que su madre la abandonara; Entonces me entró miedo de que nos viera alguien; Había tenido la esperanza de que al entrar, Felipe estuviera de lado; Me da pena que alguien sufra por tu muerte; [...] Lamento que nunca hayas sabido amar. VALORACIÓN: Fue una suerte que aceptara efectuarlo; Creo que es una locura que hayas vuelto; A mí no me parece mal que tenga novia; Entonces no veía bien que una señorita hiciera mandados.

Other contexts that require subjunctive, according to the NGLE, are willingness, intention and influence; opposition; cause; achievement; tendency or inclination; and frequency or infrequency.

Under Chapter 24, The Verb, I find two references to the point at issue (the use of subordinate present perfect subjunctive with superordinate past indicative) that seem contradictory (first they claim that mixing past and present may not sound like educated Spanish, but then they admit that there are instances in which such combination is allowed):

24.1.1e [...] En estas variantes (algunas variantes del español popular andino y, en menor medida, del rioplatense) son comunes secuencias como No llovió. Yo quería que llueva (por ... que lloviera), y también las correspondientes con los tiempos compuestos Yo quería que haya llovido (por *...que hubiera llovido). Estos usos no han pasado a los registros formales.

I have to say that the second sentence above, Yo quería que haya llovido, sounds terrible to me and to most Spanish speakers. However, we then find this (V1 is the main verb, and V2 is the subordinate one):

24.3.2e Se denomina DOBLE ACCESO (también DOBLE ANCLAJE O DOBLE ORIENTACIÓN TEMPORAL) a la doble dependencia temporal que muestra V2 en ciertos contextos de subordinación, es decir, al hecho de que V2 puede estar orientado desde el momento del habla, a la vez que en función del tiempo expresado por V1. [...] El jefe comunicó el martes pasado que Pedro está trabajando estos días en un nuevo proyecto.[...]

I think the sentence in question could very well be defined as a case of double temporal reference: Mi familia nunca le perdonó ninguna de las dos cosas, ni que se haya ido, ni que se haya muerto. (My family never forgave him either of these two things: the fact that he has left, and the fact that he has died.) I find it harder to explain "has left", as this was obviously previous to the person's death (the only reason could be that the writer meant for those two verb phrases to form a pair, that is to say, he just wanted to seek parallelism). However, his death has present results (he is now dead), and this is something that has never been and will never be forgiven, as the writer intends to express in my opinion.

  • "Creo que es una locura que hayas vuelto" is tricky. In this case I would have guessed to use the subjunctive because of a hidden impersonal expression obscured by the expression of certainty "Creo que..." which normally requires the indicative. Commented Apr 1, 2017 at 1:43
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    @user135711 creo que does require (not normally, as a rule) indicative and it gets it (es). It's just a main clause (creo...) that has a subordinante noun clause (que es una locura...) which in turn has its own subordinante noun clause (que hayas vuelto). Commented Apr 1, 2017 at 2:56
  • @user135711 guifa is right. The subjunctive is required by the immediately preceding structure, not by "Creo que." In fact, we can just say: Es una locura que hayas vuelto.
    – Gustavson
    Commented Apr 1, 2017 at 15:13
  • @guifa, that's why it's tricky. If you just answer without thinking(before the Spanish version is given), you might not see that. Not TOO tricky, but a little bit. Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 7:58

As far as I can see, this is one of those usages of the subjunctive that you have to learn by heart. Wikipedia says:

The subjunctive of a verb is used to express certain connotations in sentences such as a wish or desire, a demand, an emotion, uncertainty, or doubt.

So I guess perdonar might go under the "emotion" verbs. It does indeed require the subjunctive in phrases like

No le perdono que me haya abandonado.
Nunca me perdonó que le hubiese gritado.

As noted in the comments, the mix of tenses in the text you cited is a bit odd, but depending on your understanding of the situation, it might be OK. Or maybe it's ungrammatical but the text simply reflects careless, natural speech.

Colloquially, I wouldn't find fault with using the indicative tense in the examples (No le perdono que me abandonó, etc.), but I think this might be dialectal.

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