I know that indicativo comes from the Latin word indicatīvus, and this one from indicô, -âs, -âre, indicâvî, indicâtum, meaning "to indicate". The reason for that name is that the indicative tenses point out or state objective, proven facts, and we are just indicating that fact.

Nonetheless, the subjuntivo word comes from Latin subiunctīvus, and this one from subiunctus (from sub, "under", and iungô, is, ere, iûnxî, iûnctum, "to join"), meaning to join beneath, to subordinate.

But the subjunctive mood is used to state facts as "virtual, non-specified, non-verified or non-experimented". So what does that etymology have to do with the subjunctive mood and its uses?

  • Does your question not already contain the answer in the form of the word subordinate? As in subordinate clause.
    – mdewey
    Oct 11, 2017 at 12:06
  • @mdewey maybe, but the question is about the etymology itself. The link between the current meaning of "subjunctive" and its etymology is not as clear as in the indicative case. And not every verb in subjunctive mood must go in a subordinate clause.
    – Charlie
    Oct 11, 2017 at 12:11

2 Answers 2


The word subjunctive appears in English as an adjective and then as noun, according to EtymOnline (usually a good source). It is attested as the

"mood employed to denote an action or state as conceived and not as a fact," 1620s, from earlier adjectival use of subjunctive (1520s), from Late Latin subiunctivus "serving to join, connecting," from subiunct-, past participle stem of Latin subiungere "to append, add at the end, place under," from sub "under" + iungere "to join together" (from nasalized form of PIE root *yeug- "to join"). The Latin modus subiunctivus probably is a grammarians' loan-translation of Greek hypotaktike enklisis "subordinated," so called because the Greek subjunctive mood is used almost exclusively in subordinate clauses.

(Emphasis mine.)

The names of grammatical categories are always conventional and, in Western European languages, often derived from Latin models, in turn derived from Greek grammar, in the manner explained above. Grammarians no longer try to force modern languages into classical molds, but the traditional names remain.


In 1771, when the RAE introduced its first Gramática to the world, the subjunctive mood was defined in a different way than today's. Then the subjunctive verb tenses were described like this:

el que necesita juntarse con otro verbo expreso ó suplido que perfeccione el sentido de la oración

This is, every verb tense that cannot stand alone in a sentence and needs from another verb (present or omitted) to make sense, that tense is a subjunctive one. So, the definition of subjunctive was not about the mood, but about the way you use it in a sentence, and making it clearer the relation between the etymology of the word itself and its definition, as the subjunctive verb tenses really needed to be subordinated to another tenses.

But there was a time in which the definition of subjunctive changed, and that leads me to another question...

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