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Could you please help me out with this subjunctive problem I've got?

Is the verb tornare in this sentence in subjunctive?

Aspetterò che torni come aspetto il sole

If yes, then why isn't the verb aumentare in the next sentence also in subjunctive?

Ti giuro che l’attesa aumenta il desiderio

For context, both sentences are taken from the lyrics of a song.

From what I studied I know if there are different subjects in the dependent and independent clauses, subjunctive kicks in. Maybe you could provide some way I can distinguish when to use subjunctive in similar cases (besides the conjunctions, some verbs).

Thank you!  

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    “I know if there are different subjects in the dependent and independent clauses, subjunctive kicks in”: Someone will certainly answer the question itself, but for now know that this, phrased in general like this, is simply, utterly false. There are several different dependent clauses, and in many of them you never use subjunctive. Just think Mi sbrigo perché è tardi or So che hai ragione. – DaG May 19 at 19:54
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    I really wish I were able to write a good answer explaining the rules for the usage of subjunctive, but they are really really hard and I am often uncertain myself. I might write a brief primer later today if I have the time, but it'll be very incomplete. If anyone feels like writing a good one, I'd love to read it :). – Denis Nardin May 20 at 5:55
  • I took the liberty of improving a bit the formatting. Feel free to revert it, if you prefer to do so. – Denis Nardin May 20 at 6:50
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In the first sentence the verb is in the subjunctive mood: if, instead of a single person there are several, it would be

Aspetterò che torniate come aspetto il sole

at least in standard Italian.

However, the text might use some colloquial register, where the subjunctive is often substituted with the indicative and it cannot be inferred from this single line, as the verb tornare has the same form for the second person singular in the present indicative and subjunctive:

torno, torni, torna, torniamo, tornate, tornano (indicative)
torni, torni, torni, torniamo, torniate, tornino (subjunctive)

The subjunctive is required, because the action is set in the future. The second sentence has the present tense and it is about a certainty: the subjunctive would be wrong. If I swear to something, I can't have doubts.

  • It's fun, because reading the first sentence I automatically assumed the clause to be at the third person singular. Of course the text is ambiguous, so it could be either way... – Denis Nardin May 20 at 8:19
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The subjunctive is thorny topic: even extremely well-educated people use it incorrectly from time to time. However don't panic. By remembering a few rules you can get as good as most native speakers. Which, admittedly. is more of a criticism of most native speakers but still, it's not bad uh?

A small caveat: to every "rule" I list here there are a lot of exceptions, as well as additional complex rules I haven't mentioned. I hope however that this primer will help you to orient yourself in this beautiful mess that is Italian subjunctive usage. Let's get started.


The general rule is that the subjunctive in a subordinate expresses a lack of objectivity in the situation. Some sort of lingering doubt that what's expressed by the clause is not, in fact, certain. Let's see a few examples where this is a bit more clear cut.

In a subordinate sentence, the subjunctive is mandatory in the following situations:

  • With verbs expressing will, desire, doubts, feelings or opinions:

    Voglio che stasera vi divertiate.
    Mi piacerebbe che veniate a trovarmi!
    Non so se questa sia la decisione giusta.
    Sono felice che tu sia tornato da me.
    Credo che questa sia la risposta giusta.
    Giovanni pensa che sua madre abbia sempre ragione!

  • With clauses expressing a goal or a qualification

    Il pittore lavorò a lungo affinché il quadro fosse perfetto.
    Nonostante la situazione sia dura, bisogna cercare la felicità nelle piccole cose.

  • When doing general comparisons. However, when doing limited or specific comparisons, the indicative is used.

    È il libro più interessante che io abbia mai letto.
    È il libro più interessante che ho letto quest'anno

  • In relative clauses referring to something undetermined (often expressed by an indefinite pronoun like nulla, comunque, qualsiasi...)

    Non c'è nulla che mi piaccia
    Comunque vada, almeno ci siamo incontrati.
    Cerco un insegnante che mi faccia capire il congiuntivo!

  • With the indirect interrogative clauses when the answer is unknown or uncertain. [1]

    Il cavaliere chiese alla dama se volesse essere accompagnata al suo castello.
    È inutile chiedersi perché i draghi sono in via d'estinzione.

  • In certain forms of the periodo ipotetico ("if/then clauses"). I wrote an answer here with more details

    Se volessi, sarei capace di usare il congiuntivo.

The subjunctive is not used when expressing certainty (as it is often the case for verbs of perception):

È indubbio che studiare è utile
Vedo che sei tornato a casa


Finally, to look at your example sentences

Aspetterò che torni come aspetto il sole

Here the clause che torni is at the subjunctive: it expresses a desire, so it falls into the first bullet point. In particular the verb aspettare always requires the subjunctive in the subordinate clause. In the grammars you can find long lists of such verbs.

Ti giuro che l’attesa aumenta il desiderio

Here the clause expresses a strong certainty: the subjunctive cannot be used here and in fact the verb aumenta is at the indicative. Compare with

Credo che l'attesa aumenti il desiderio

where an opinion is stated, and so the verb is at the subjunctive.


[1] The subjunctive used to be mandatory in all indirect interrogative clauses, but the indicative and the conditional have been making more and more inroads into the common usage. When in doubt, use the subjunctive but don't be too surprised if you hear people using the indicative liberally in this context.

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    Suggestions to improve the explanation (that ended up more complicated than I wanted) are highly appreciated – Denis Nardin May 20 at 8:34
  • Cannot thank you enough for your effort – Cerbari Anatol May 21 at 6:24

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