Clarifying the use of the subjunctive mood in Spanish

I’ve recently begun to pick up Spanish again after learning it for nearly seven years throughout middle school and high school; however, I’m a little confused with the subjunctive mood.

As far as I can remember, it is used with certain phrases as well with uncertainty or doubt. However, after having gone through some examples and thinking that I understand it, the examples below have confused me because I don’t understand why the subjunctive mood is used over the indicative.

Any explanations would be much appreciated!

Example 1 from the tutorial:

Example 2 from a news article:

Example 3 from the same news article as Example 2:

First of all: understanding the general meaning of subjunctive forms is not enough to be able to use it or even make sense of every use case. It’s a good beginning but you still need to pay attention to the different contexts in which they are used because there are a lot of idiomatic cases that you just need to get used to. This happens with most language structures. As an example, consider a “simple” case: the English past forms. Oh, good, I get them, they are used when talking about something in the past. However you get:

You get a lot more of that in more complicated cases, such as the Romance subjunctive verb forms.

Now for your examples:

  1. That’s probably the more difficult one: in relative clauses (the one that, those who, the car that…) both indicative and subjunctive forms are used, with a change in meaning. If you know for sure that there are in fact members learning the same language as you and you have even met them, so you have a “mental picture” of them, then you’d use the indicative. That is:
    Would entail almost a guarantee that you’ll find those members and even that I know who they are
    In contrast
    means that such members may or may not exist and that, in any case, I haven’t met them personally.
    Another example, the normal way of saying such things as
    would use subjunctive:
    Because any person or any shop that fulfils such a condition will do. I haven’t met that person or seen that shop yet.
    If I use indicative:
    I mean that I know such a person, I’m looking for a concrete person who speaks Japanese and whom I’ve met or a particular shop that I already know.
    That is, if I say the first version (with subjunctive) and someone says: “Ok, here is one person who speaks”, I’ll say “great, what I was looking for!”. In the second case it may be the case that I’d say “Oh, yes, but I was looking for someone other Japanese speakers, not this one”.

  2. This one’s easy: after “para que” (so that, in order that,…) only subjunctive forms are possible. The rationale here is that if you do something in order to achieve a result, such a result is far from sure, at least at the moment in which the main action [in the example, reposar el féretro] is performed.

  3. Same thing here: “antes [de] que” demands subjunctive. The reason here is similar to the the previous one, if you do something before something else happens, at that point in time when the main action is fulfilled, you can’t be sure whether the next thing will in fact end up happening.

Those two last examples are very typical: there is usually a reason for the subjunctive from the native speakers’ perspective but you, as a learner, would be better off acknowledging that this is the proper way of speaking and getting to know the contexts that “trigger” the use of subjunctive, rather than trying to predict them from a general concept of what subjunctive forms tend to mean.

Thank you very much, Francisco! Your explanations made a lot of sense. I think your approach of learning the various contexts that trigger the subjunctive is the best way to approach learning the mood.