In Spanish, there are two different ways to talk about reality. There are also two different verbs for the word “to be”, based on temporary vs. permanent states of being. However, there are two ways to talk about every tense: The Imperative Mood and the Subjunctive Mood.
That seems confusing in English, and it routinely baffles students in intermediate to upper level Spanish classes. The idea is that the verb itself, called an “infinitive” comes as one basic package, ending in er/ir/ar. Hablar, for example.
From that point forward, the verb itself is changed so that it reflects specific information about the sentence, called “conjugation”. Different verbs can be conjugated differently, based on what class of verb they are.
The difference between the Imperative Mood and the Subjunctive Mood is whether what you say (based on your opinion and the tone of the sentence you wish to convey) is fact or opinion. Using the subjunctive implies doubt, uncertainly, or a healthy degree of skepticism. Which is funny, because given how the subjunctive in the English language once existed by casually died off over time, maybe having the subjunctive is actually a good thing for hispanohablantes (Spanish speakers).
Having the subjunctive gives a grammatically produced, culturally verified, and linguistically monitored license for uncertainty. To have an opinion, but to be able to state non-confrontation-ally and still respectably that you may not know what you are talking about; that is the role of the subjunctive. It could be as simple as stating that it may or may not rain tomorrow. Or it could actually have to do with the facts, as you see them, in a formal sense.
Not only are these rules important to formal written Spanish, but they can also have a dark side. Spanish speakers with less formal education will speak worse Spanish, as will the speaker of any language who knows it least in a way that separates. Often, if you speak poorly, that speaks for you long before whatever you say, and that is universal in every culture with written language I can think of; it is even relevant to younger people using forms of communication like slang, which for the record, provides an excellent way to hide things from older, less “with it” audiences.
But it is fascinating. What would a world with a living Subjunctive Mood in English look like? With English as the most coveted and taught language in the world, and with so many business transactions taking place in this common ground, in-between language of influence, and relatively, money, what would it look like to be forced to label speculations as opinions? Would quite as many things be sold? Would outsourcing have ever happened, in terms of bloodshed, globalization, colonization, and the collective history that has pit different ethnic variations against one another in the name of the good of the group? It’s childish, but it’s interesting to think about what might have happened if Spanish were the leading language in the world. Or Chinese. That would level US culture in about five minutes, and I get the feeling the US government knows that. Chinese is a language of characters, tones, and clearly, different cultural values. If people can’t often deduce what is fact from fiction in English, how will they do it within 4 different potential meanings, each from a separate respective vocal tone? Good luck.
It’s fascinating. While people bicker here, there is a reason the Tower of Babel was effective in terms of creating divisions among people, and it’s the same kind of logic that results in having next to no police officers that speak Spanish on our local police force, according to today’s paper and the $1500 sign on bonus to join the Lawrence Police Force for Officers that speak fluent Spanish.