Whatever, Whenever, and More! Another Use of the Spanish Subjunctive

How do you translate expressions with words like "whatever," "whenever," and "however" to Spanish? Today, we will explore some simple manners of doing so using the Spanish subjunctive along with certain key words and/or phrases. 



It is fitting that the Spanish subjunctive is employed to express the notion of "whatever" because, in contrast to the more objective indicative, this mood describes things that are subjective, vague, or unknown. That said, the third person singular of the present subjunctive form of the verb ser (to be) appears in the Spanish equivalent of "whatever," lo que sea, which literally means "what it may be." With this in mind, we can use the formula lo que plus a subjunctive verb to convey the idea of "whatever" one may do, think, etc., when what that is not specifically known by the speaker. Let's look at some examples: 


Tú puedes hacer lo que tú quieras porque es tu libro,

You can do whatever you want because it's your book,

Caption 2, Escribiendo un libro Algunos consejos sobre cómo comenzar - Part 3

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Had this speaker said "Tú puedes hacer lo que tú quieres" ("You can do what you want"), in the indicative, he would probably be referring to something specific that this author wanted to do. However, the subjunctive form quieras makes it clear that her possibilities are endless. This is particularly interesting because the English equivalents of these Spanish sentences ("you can do what you want" vs. "whatever you want") do not necessarily make this distinction. Let's see another example:


haré lo que usted me diga.

I'll do whatever you tell me to.

Caption 83, Muñeca Brava 48 - Soluciones - Part 3

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Similarly, had this gentleman said, haré lo que usted me dices, the idea would be "I'll do what you're telling me (specifically) to do" rather than "I'll do absolutely any (perhaps crazy!) thing you might tell me."



The idea of "whenever" in Spanish is very similar, and the words cuando (when) and siempre que ("as long as" or literally "always that") can be paired with verbs in the Spanish subjunctive to say "whenever" as in the following caption:


y con eso ya puedes mudarte cuando quieras.

and with that you can then move in whenever you want.

Caption 43, Ricardo La compañera de casa - Part 2

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Again, had the speaker said to his perspective tenant "puedes mudarte cuando quieres" (you can move in when you want), he would most likely be referring to a specific date, perhaps one that she had previously mentioned. However, the subjunctive form cuando quieras lets her know that whatever date she might choose will work fine. Here is one more example: 


Estos ejercicios los puedes realizar en la mañana, tarde o noche, siempre que necesites mover tu cuerpo.

You can do these exercises in the morning, afternoon, or night, whenever you need to move your body.

Captions 7-8, Bienestar con Elizabeth Activar las articulaciones

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Literally meaning "always that you need," siempre que necesites means "whenever you need" or "whenever you might need to move your body," rather than at any specific moment. 



You might have guessed by now that the word donde (where) plus a verb in the Spanish subjunctive can mean "wherever." Let's take a look:


Tú dejas las cosas, donde sea, da igual. 

You leave your things, wherever, it's all the same.

Caption 5, Arume Barcelona

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Here, we can see that donde sea is a popular way of saying simply "wherever," although the literal translation would be "wherever it might be." Let's check out an example with a different verb: 


en el restaurante, en el punto de información o donde estés.

at the restaurant, at the information point or wherever you are.

Caption 26, Natalia de Ecuador Palabras de uso básico

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Like the other expressions we have examined in this lesson, the speaker's intention in this caption is to explain that she would like to help people with basic expressions they might use, not in any specific place, but anywhere at all.  



To say "whichever," we can use formulas such as a noun plus que plus a verb in the Spanish subjunctive or a relative pronoun (e.g. el que, la que, los que, or las que, which mean "the one(s)") plus que plus a verb in the Spanish subjunctive. Let's take a look:


Podéis utilizar el verbo que queráis.

You can use whichever verb you want.

Caption 58, Clase Aula Azul Pedir deseos - Part 2

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No pasa nada. Vamos a hacer los que tengamos,

No problem. Let's do whichever ones we have,

Caption 49, Escuela BCNLIP Clase con Javi: el futuro - Part 19

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In the first example, the teacher uses the formula to emphasize the students choice among all of the available verbs, while the second caption communicates that they can practice with any of the possible examples they might have gotten, even if they differ from student to student. 



By "however," we don't mean sin embargo as in the conjunctive adverb, but rather "in whichever way" as in English expressions like "Do it however you see fit." For this purpose, Let's look at some examples in Spanish:


El destino hay que aceptarlo como venga. -¿Qué?

One has to accept destiny however it comes. -What?

Caption 56, Club 10 Capítulo 2 - Part 5

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Of course, we never know "how" destiny will unfold, so it is apt to use the subjunctive to talk about it! Another possible translation for this sentence could be "however it may come." Let's see one more example of this formula:


lo que tienen que hacer es aguantar como puedan las... los golpes de los de la red,

what they have to do is to withstand however they can, the... the hits from the ones by the net,

Caption 46, Escuela de Pádel Albacete Hablamos con José Luis

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Once again, as the ways they might withstand the hits from the players by the net are innumerable, the Spanish subjunctive comes into play. 



We bet you're getting the hang of this by now, but we'd better show you some examples of how to say "whoever" and "whomever" in Spanish:


No sé, pero quien sea la tiene difícil

I don't know, but whoever it is has got it rough

Captions 7-8, Los Años Maravillosos Capítulo 8 - Part 2

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An alternative translation could be "whoever it may be." 


Nosotras les hacemos la sugerencia a las personas que escuchen el programa

We make the suggestion to whomever listens to the program

Caption 19, Protección ambiental Ni una bolsa más

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These examples demonstrate that the formulas quien(es) or la(s) persona(s) plus que plus a subjunctive verb are the Spanish equivalents of expressions with "whoever" and/or "whomever," which are frequently confused in English ("whoever" is a subject pronoun, while "whomever" is an object pronoun). That said, the manner in which those formulas are translated will depend upon which function they fulfill within the grammatical context. 


Popular Expressions with "However," etc. in Spanish

Sometimes, repetition of the Spanish subjunctive verb is used to emphasize this idea of non-specificity, which we can see in many popular Spanish expressions. You will note that the repetition is not translated, and that another possible translation for such cases is "no matter":


pase lo que pase, yo siempre voy a estar contigo,

no matter what happens, I'm always going to be with you,

Captions 30-31, Confidencial: Asesino al Volante Capítulo 1 - Part 13

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An alternative translation here could be: "Whatever happens, I'm always going to be with you."


Haga lo que haga este tipo, este delincuente, aquí en el país es responsabilidad mía...

Whatever this guy might do, this criminal, here in the country it's my responsibility...

Captions 26-27, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 1 - Part 10

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Here, one might also say "No matter what this guy does." Let's conclude today's lesson with an excerpt from a song by our friend Luis Guitarra, which includes a plethora of similar cases: 


Vivan como vivan Hagan lo que hagan Sueñen con quien sueñen Sean como sean Vayan donde vayan Cuenten o no cuenten Digan lo que digan Salgan con quien salgan Piensen como piensen

No matter how they live No matter what they do No matter who they dream of No matter how they are No matter where they go No matter whether they tell No matter what they say No matter who they go out with No matter how they think

Captions 63-71, Luis Guitarra Somos transparentes

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We hope you've enjoyed this lesson on how to say things like "whatever," "however," "whichever," etc. in Spanish, and don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments.


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