I am currently learning Spanish, and I encountered a sentence recently which has been throwing me for a loop. It's from "La Luz Fantástica", the Spanish translation of 'The Light Fantastic' by Terry Pratchett.

La violencia no era algo en lo que le gustase involucrarse directamente.

Which, unless I'm mistaken, translates to:

Violence was not something he liked to get involved with directly.

What I don't understand is the usage of the subjunctive imperfect in this sentence. In my mind, it would make more sense to write "gustaba" instead, and I can't seem to really understand the reason why the subjunctive would need to be used here.

I am starting to understand the way tense harmony works in Spanish, but I just can't wrap my head around this particular case. If anyone could explain to me why the subjunctive is used here, I would greatly appreciate it!


1 Answer 1


Oftentimes when considering the subjunctive in the past, it can generally be illustrative to change the tense to the present.

 La violencia no es algo en lo que le guste involucrarse directamente

Hopefully in this structure, subjunctive sounds correct. Effectively, the structure is

La cosa no es algo que...

Here we have an adjectival clause (que...) that modifies algo. The mood verb in adjectival clauses in determined by the noun it modifies. If the noun is known to exist, we use indicative. If, however, its existence or identityis unknown or —in this case, outright rejected — the subjunctive is used.

  • 1
    Thank you for your answer! If I understand your explanation correctly, a "positive" version of the sentence would be: "La violencia era algo en lo que le gustaba involucrarse", replacing the subjunctive with the indicative?
    – CeraVieja
    Apr 27, 2019 at 15:40
  • @ceravieja correct Apr 27, 2019 at 15:42
  • Muchas gracias por tu explicacíon, ¡que tengas un buen día!
    – CeraVieja
    Apr 27, 2019 at 15:48
  • @CeraVieja - Do you want to accept the answer? (Give it a green checkmark?) Apr 27, 2019 at 18:28

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