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Usage: Subjunctive with Negative Antecedents

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The Subjunctive mode is used whenever the primary clause references a situation or thing which does not exist (the negative antecedent), and therefore the action of the subordinate clause will not or cannot occur.

What is a “Negative Antecedent?”

…where there are no barriers which will detain me…
…donde no hay barreras que me detengan…

In the first, primary, clause, Gracie claims that no barriers exist anywhere in the future which could possibly hold her back. That negative declaration is called a “Negative Antecedent”. Clearly, Gracie can’t possibly know the future and all that it could bring, so in the subordinate clause, “that will detain me…”, she uses the Subjunctive mode to express her subjective relationship to that potential future which falls outside of her “bubble”.

Let’s look at some more examples:

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…there is no need for us to talk…
…no hace falta que hablemos…

In this primary clause, “There is no need” we can see that the speaker is saying that something doesn’t exist. Now if we think about our “bubble” , we can see that the speaker couldn’t possibly know all circumstances in which they might have to speak. So the fact of whether or not they will ever speak clearly falls outside of his or her experiential bubble.

There is nothing that pleases you.
No hay nada que te guste.

In this example once again we see the speaker declaring the non-existence (negative antecedent) of something in the primary clause that would result in the action of the subordinate clause.

For more examples of the subjunctive mode with a negative antecedent, see below:

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