I just learend the conditional and past subjunctive. Here is an example:

If I had a million dollars, I would buy a big house.

Si tuviera un millón dolares, compraría una casa grande.

So I'm just wondering how I would say it in present tense. A friend told me this:

If I have a million dollars, I will buy a big house.

Si tengo un millón dolares, compraré una casa grande.

If she is correct, why is it tengo instead of tenga? Aren't we expressing uncertainty/doubt here?

Thank you!

5 Answers 5


Your friend is correct and both statements are correctly translated in the quesitons. I can't tell you why (as in historically where these things came from) the subjunctive is not used in your "present tense" example. I can give you some more examples and rules about the subjunctive in this case.

First, the subjunctive is used for expressing uncertainty or doubt, but only in certain cases. Here are some examples:

  • In a dependent clause (usually after que) where the main clause expresses doubt or uncertainty. Dudo que tengas un millón de dólares. (I doubt that you have a million dollars.)
  • After a conjunction of time when the action is pending or uncertain. Voy a comprar la casa cuando tenga un millón de dólares. (I am going to buy the house when I have a million dollars.)

For some reason, an if/then sentence does not use the subjunctive for the present tense, only the past subjunctive in a contrary to fact situation. Again, I can't tell you "why", just that it doesn't fit into one of the categories of Spanish phrases that need the subjunctive.

The if/then sentences typically follow patterns where if you use a certain tense on one side, then you will use a predictable tense on the other side. Here are some examples of many of those:

  • If + present indicatave, then + present indicative or future Si tengo un millón de dólares, compro (or "compraré") una casa grande. If I have a million dollars, I buy/will buy a big house.
  • If + past subjunctive, then + conditional Si tuviera un millón dólares, compraría una casa grande. If I had a million dollars (which I don't), I would buy a big house.
  • If + imperfect, then + imperfect Si tenía un dólar cuando era joven, siempre compraba dulces. If I had a dollar when I was young, I always bought candy.
  • Si + past perfect subjunctive, then + conditional perfect Si hubiera tenido un millón de dólares, habría comprado la casa grande. If I'd had a million dollars, I would have bought the big house.

So, there are lots of options with if/then sentences, but only the contrary to fact situations requires subjunctive (specifically past subjunctive), not the uncertainty or doubt in this construction.


I don't know if the English conditionals are taught or explained the same to native speakers, but when I learnt them there were three:

  • First conditional: If (present), (future):

    If I win a million dollars, I will buy a big house.

  • Second conditional: If (simple past), (would + verb):

    If I won a million dollars, I would buy a big house.

  • Third conditional: If (past perfect), (would have + past participle):

    If I had won a million dollars, I would have bought a big house.

Well, in Spanish, we have basically the same cases, but since verbs are conjugated, it can be trickier:

  • First conditional: Si (presente), (futuro):

    Si gano un millón de dólares, me compraré una casa grande.

  • Second conditional: Si (pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo), (condicional):

    Si ganara un millón de dólares, me compraría una casa grande.

  • Third conditional: Si (Pretérito pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo), (condicional perfecto):

    Si hubiera ganado un millón de dólares, me habría comprado una casa grande.

So, in the case you are asking about, is just the first conditional. As others have pointed out, it sounds a bit strange, but maybe because of the verb tener. But we can mend it with a little addition:

Si (el año que viene) tengo un millón de dólares, me compraré una casa.

  • This whole 1st/2nd/3rd conditional thing is something of an unnatural stupidification that doesn’t actually work well on real English sentences in observed corpora. For more information, please read the most excellent paper “If only it were true: the problem with the four conditionals” by Christian Jones and Daniel Waller, published in ELT Journal Volume 65/1 January 2011 (Oxford University Press); doi:10.1093/elt/ccp101
    – tchrist
    May 9, 2012 at 14:57
  • Just the simple fact that you are using "Si" implies doubt. Unfortunately I cannot think of an English comparison for an example since the English language does not use subjunctives the same way as Spanish.. or any other language. Still, I consider the use of "Si" to imply doubt, simply because it means "If"
    – dockeryZ
    May 16, 2012 at 2:32

Because I'm a Spanish native speaker I don't exactly remember the grammatical explanation so I'll go my best of explaining how these two forms are used.

"Tenga" is some kind of a conditional form, not present, for example if I say:

Que tenga un millón de dólares no significa que sea multimillonario.

The fact that I have a million dollars does not mean I am a multimillionaire.

On the other hand I am not so sure about your example that says:

Si tengo un millón de dólares, compraré una casa grande.

In this case you are mixing up two tenses in a single sentence which I am pretty sure is not correct, at least not in this case.

Hope this helps.

  • Thank you! I have two more questions. In your first example, do you really have a million dollars? If so, why would you use the subjunctive? In English, you would use "have" and "am" instead of "had" and "were". Also, how would you say it Spanish if my second sentence isn't correct? Thanks so much!
    – gonnastop
    Apr 30, 2012 at 14:58
  • 2
    I may be wrong but you can't use present simple "tengo" as a verb for conditional, that's why the setence "sounds" wrong. You can say "Cuando tenga un millón..., compraré..." Conditional is always expressed with subjunctive.
    – Laura
    Apr 30, 2012 at 15:20
  • @gonnastop: For your first question imagine the following dialog: Per1 - "Wow, a million dollars!! You're a multimillionaire." Per2 - "The fact that I have ....". In Spanish: Per1 - "Wow, un millón de dólares!! Eres un multimillonario." Per2 - "Que tenga un ....." Apr 30, 2012 at 15:21
  • @gonnastop: For your second question. To say the phrase in present tense it would be something like: "Si tengo un millón de dólares, me compro una casa grande." This would be used in a "daydreaming" case :) Apr 30, 2012 at 15:24
  • 1
    I'd like to add a possible use of "si tengo..." For example, I'm checking my bank account to see how much money I've saved up to date, and I say to my friend: "si tengo un millón de dólares..."
    – JoulSauron
    May 2, 2012 at 6:48

Damn I'm not as good in grammar as I used to be.

But my best guess is "Si llegara a tener un millón de dólares, compraré una casa grande" which is a more elaborated form to express the plausibility to aquire a million dollar in a near future, then, I will do something with it.

In the first part, before the comma, you are implying that there is a chance for the subject to get the money, with no certainty in deed.

Then If the subject, would perform an action if the first part turns true, otherwise, that action won't happen at all.

Tuviese, Tuviera, tendría, are different forms to transform the verb tener (have) subjectively.

the auxiliary "entonces" is a form to denote that if the condition is met, then something will happen. (Just like a simple if.. then)

The trick here is how to conjugate the verbs correctly to imply the future or next action to perform.

I hope I didn't mess it more than already is.

Cheers Oscar


Very simple, because 'tengo' is 'I have' in present whereas 'tenga' is used when speaking of hypothetical circumstances such as 'if I had', for example:

Si tengo diez pesos, me lo compro = If I have ten pesos, I'll buy it
Cuando tenga diez pesos, me lo compro = When I get/have ten pesos, I'll buy it

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