Spanish subjunctive: “Apenas…”

spanish subjunctive apenas 1

The present subjunctive is a Spanish tense we use in specific situations. These situations are usually hypothetical, uncertain, or when we want to express our wishes. Moreover, the subjunctive also appears as qualifying facts that are real and confirmed.

The subjunctive appears in subordinate clauses. Generally, we can only use it in independent sentences with “ojalá” (for wishes), “tal vez” o “quizás” (for doubts). Sometimes, Spanish speakers use the subjunctive with some exhortations like “¡que te vaya bien!” = “have a good one!”.

The present subjunctive can refer to the hypothetical present or future. For that reason, it is “tricky” even for Spanish native speakers. If you want to keep learning and developing your Spanish skills, you’re in the right place.

Today, we will show you not only key things about the subjunctive but also how to use the structure apenas + present subjunctive.

What’s the present subjunctive?

The present subjunctive is a verb tense we use to express uncertainty, probability, or feelings. Also, we can use it to describe situations that have not yet occurred. We can use the present subjunctive in subordinate clauses. The subjunctive clause can have a present or future meaning if the main clause is in the present tense.

If you are not familiar with subordinate clauses, let’s say that a subordinate sentence follows the structure shown below.

Main sentence + connection word + subordinate sentence.

The main sentence will always have a meaning, it does not matter if we remove the connection word and the subordinate clause. On the other side, the subordinate clause will lose its meaning if we remove the main sentence.

For a better understanding, here are some examples.

Ojalá gane en el bingo esta tarde.

I hope I win at the bingo this afternoon.

A mi amiga Catalina le encanta que sea tan positiva.

My friend Catherine loves that I am so positive.

Quiero que Julia haga un viaje de mochileras conmigo el próximo verano.

I want Julia to go on a backpacking trip with me next summer.

Please note that there are lots of subordinate sentences with different connection words and subordinate clauses. So, even though the examples above don’t follow the main formula at their best, they are still subordinate expressions where the main clause exists.

Conjugating verbs in the present subjunctive tense isn’t a struggle. We need to change the ending of the infinitive form (“-ar“, “-er“, “-ir“). For regular verbs, we have to replace the infinite ending with “-e“, “-es“, “-emos“, “-éis“, “-en“, for verbs ending in “-ar“. If we have “-er“/”-ir” verbs, we need to replace the infinite ending with “-a“, “-as“, “-amos“, “-áis“, “-an“.

Of course, there are some exceptions since there are also irregular verbs. A good example would be the verb “hacer” which is the one we used in the last example above.

How to use “apenas”

“Apenas”, in Spanish, has several uses. It’s an adverb but it’s also a very flexible word. Here we will explain just the main uses of “apenas” because teaching them all requires more time.

First, we can use “apenas” to refer to an action that happened recently. Second, Spanish speakers use “apenas” to indicate that the action happens to the least degree. And third, we can use “apenas” as an alternative to “at the same time as”.

Below, are some examples to provide you with a clear picture of how to use “apenas”.

En la oscuridad, apenas se veía el sendero.

In the dark, the path was hardly seen.

Apenas oíamos las palabras del anciano.

We barely heard the old man’s words.

Apenas salí del trabajo, me llamaste por teléfono.

As soon as I got off work, you called me on the phone.

Putting an eye on the examples above, we could say that the following formula will help you build sentences using “apenas”.

Apenas + Subject/ pronoun + verb + complement

Writing “apenas” has become a dilemma among Spanish native speakers and Spanish learners. It’s because you may see it in texts as “apenas” or “a penas”. Yet, the correct way to write it is as a single word. If you see “a penas” in a text it’s because a long time ago it was also accepted. Using “apenas” as “a penas” is no longer common so you should avoid doing it.

Another common Spanish phrase with “apenas” is “apenas si”. It is equal to “apenas” with the meaning of “casi no” (“almost not”), “escasamente” (“scarcely”) or “sólo” (“only”).

Let’s have a look at the example right below.

Estaba tan cansado que apenas si podía respirar.

I was so tired I could hardly breathe.

Please note that “si”, in this sentence, just works as a conjunction and not as a conditional.

How to use ‘apenas + present subjunctive’

In Spanish, we use the present subjunctive with conjunctions and locutions to build temporal sentences. Some of these locutions are “apenas”, “cuando”, “después (de) que”, and “en cuanto”.

We use apenas + present subjunctive to express a moment in the future in which we place the action.

Let’s see some examples.

Apenas tenga tiempo, me iré de viaje.

As soon as I have time, I will go on a trip.

Apenas termine de arreglarme, voy para allá.

As soon as I finish getting ready, I’m going there.

Apenas le diga la hora, Paco irá a hablar con ella.

As soon as she tells him the time, Frank will go to speak with her.

When the main verb does not state a future action or a command, it should be in the indicative mood and not in the subjunctive. It’s because the main verb will represent an event that has already been done.

For example:

Lo llamé apenas había terminado el trabajo.

I called him as soon as the job was done.

We’re finishing “apenas”!

In conclusion, there’s no doubt that “apenas” is an adverb with different uses and meanings. But, if we use it in a negative phrase, it can be equal to “casi”. Also, “apenas” is temporal conjunction. In that case, it has a similar meaning to “en cuanto” (“as soon as”) and “en el momento en que” (“at the moment in which”).

Every time we use “apenas” with the present subjunctive, we can refer to future actions and make suggestions. It does not matter if they are in the short, medium, or long term. Don’t forget that you should always write “apenas” and not “a penas”. Put into practice what you have learned today and show others how good you have become at speaking Spanish.


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