The Spanish Indicative Mood


April 1, 2020

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In this article, we’ll be looking at the Spanish indicative mood. You may not have heard of it before, but we can almost guarantee that you’ve used it!


Indicative: it’s a mood not a tense

Just for a change, this article isn’t about a tense! The indicative is actually what we call a ‘mood.’ There’s a difference between moods and tenses.

Tenses tell you when something happens, e.g. past, present, future.

Mood is less about time and more about the speaker’s attitude toward what they’re saying.

Spanish has three moods:

The indicative is the “default” mood, and the one that we use the most, so we’ll be focusing on it today!

When the indicative is used

We use the indicative for facts, and things that are concrete and certain from the speaker’s point of view. This could include:

  • Events that definitely happened in the past.
  • Events that have been scheduled and we 100% expect them to happen.
  • Objective descriptions (things everyone can agree on, like the name of a road, rather than opinions that are open to debate).
  • Facts in general.
  • Things that are true from the speaker’s point of view.

Remember, a mood is an attitude, so the statement doesn’t necessarily have to be true, but it has to be true in the speaker’s world.

For example, if I truly believed that humans had four legs each, I’d use the indicative (‘Estoy segura que cada ser humano tiene cuatro piernas’).

It’s inaccurate, of course, but in my (slightly messed up) mind, it’s a true and concrete fact, so the indicative is needed.

Facts Magnifying Glass

A method for choosing whether you need the indicative or not is to rule out the other moods:

  1. 1
    Is it a command? If yes, use the imperative.
  2. 2
    Does it contain a subjunctive trigger, such as doubt? If yes, use the subjunctive.
  3. 3
    If you answered ‘no’ to both of the above, use the indicative.

Trigger Words and Phrases

Another great idea is to get to know the words and phrases that trigger the indicative. They can be:

Verbs denoting speech, such as:

  • decir (to say)
  • describir (to describe)
  • mencionar (to mention)
  • asegurar (to assure)

Verbs of perception, such as:

  • observar (to observe)
  • oír (to hear)
  • ver (to see)
  • notar (to note)

Verbs used to talk about occurrences, such as:

  • pasar (to happen)
  • ocurrir (to occur)
  • suceder (to happen)

Verbs of knowing, such as:

  • saber (to know)
  • enterarse de (to find out)
  • aprender (to learn)

Phrases of certainty

  • estar seguro/a que… (to be sure that…)
  • es cierto que… (it’s certain that…)
  • es obvio que… (it’s obvious that…)
  • es claro que… (it’s clear that…)

The tenses of the indicative

There are lots of ways to use the indicative mood. The following is a list of all the tenses (when something happens) that we can use in the indicative. You’ve probably seen most of them before, and we have learning materials for each of them!

The present tense in the indicative is used for descriptions, facts, and things that happen or are happening right now.

Jorge es una persona increíble.Jorge is an incredible person.
España está en Europa.Spain is in Europe.
Yo bebo mucho zumo de naranja.I drink a lot of orange juice.
Los clientes están en caminoThe clients are on their way.

We use the imperfect tense in the indicative to talk about what used to happen, or what was in progress (e.g. ‘we were watching TV when the phone rang.’) It’s in the past and it definitely happened.

De pequeño, leía mucho.When I was little, I used to read a lot.
¡Estábamos durmiendo cuando el perro se metió en la cama con nosotros!We were sleeping when the dog got into the bed with us!

The preterite is another type of past tense in the indicative, and is used to talk about events that happened in the past and are over now.

Sé que fuisteis al parque.I know you went to the park.
Vi a mi ex. I saw my ex.

The perfect is yet another indicative past tense! We use it to talk about what has happened in the recent (or sometimes more distant) past.

He terminado mis deberes.I’ve finished my homework.
En toda mi vida, he mentido solamente unas pocas veces.In all my life, I have only lied a few times.

The pluperfect is similar to the perfect, except it’s kind of further back in the past. It refers to what had happened.

Sabrina estaba cansada porque había caminado 15 kilómetros.Sabrina was tired because she had walked 15 km.
¡Yo no sabía que habías tenido una relación con Ronaldo!I didn’t know that you’d had a relationship with Ronaldo!

So far, we’ve said that the indicative is used for facts. But surely with the future, there’s room for doubt? Yes, this is kind of true, but the thing to remember is that when we use the future indicative, we’re talking about something that we fully expect will happen.

El vuelo llegará esta noche.The flight will arrive tonight.
Mañana por la tarde te llamaré si no te veo en clase.Tomorrow evening I’ll call you if I don’t see you in class. (I don’t know if you’ll be in class, so there is room for doubt as to whether I’ll call you. But what this sentence is saying is that there’s one thing for sure: if I don’t see you in class, then I will call you!)

The conditional is an indicative tense that talks about something that hypothetically would happen.

Habría sido mejor así.It would have been better that way.
Si tuviera* la oportunidad, viajaría a Perú.If I had the opportunity, I would travel to Peru.

*This is the imperfect subjunctive! It describes the condition that would have to be fulfilled in order for the traveling to occur.

Room for confusion?

Woman Confused

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When we talk about the indicative, it’s often because we’re contrasting it with the subjunctive. There are a couple of tenses which have similar names in the indicative and the subjunctive:

  • The present indicative tense (we often drop the word ‘indicative’ and just call it the ‘present tense’) is different from the present subjunctive.
  • The imperfect indicative tense (we often drop the word ‘indicative’ and just call it the ‘imperfect tense’) is different from the imperfect subjunctive.

For clarification, we’ve given you conjugation tables for regular verbs in these four tenses, so you can easily see the differences. Refer back to this if you ever get confused!

-ar verbs, e.g. hablar (to talk)

Present Indicative
Present Subjunctive
Imperfect Indicative
Imperfect Subjunctive

-er verbs, e.g. vender (to sell)

Present Indicative
Present Subjunctive
Imperfect Indicative
Imperfect Subjunctive

-ir verbs, e.g. vivir (to live)

Present Indicative
Present Subjunctive
Imperfect Indicative
Imperfect Subjunctive

As you can see, although they have similar names, they’re honestly quite different, so don’t let the names confuse you! For this lesson, stick to indicatives!

Woman Thumbs Up Confident

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For each of the following, decide which mood is needed.

 1. Es obvio que mi casa _ más grande que la tuya. (It’s obvious that my house is bigger than yours.)

     a. Indicative (es)

     b. Subjunctive (sea)

     c. Imperative (sé)

Click to reveal the correct answer:

 2. ¡_ tu ropa en la lavadora! (Put your clothes in the washing machine!)

     a. Indicative (Pones)

     b. Subjunctive (Pongas)

     c. Imperative (Pon)

Click to reveal the correct answer:

 3. Sé que _ enamorado. Es obvio. (I know that you’re in love. It’s obvious.)

     a. Indicative (estás)

     b. Subjunctive (estés)

     c. Imperative (está)

Click to reveal the correct answer:

 4. Dudo que ella _ a venir. (I doubt that she’ll come.)

     a. Indicative (va)

     b. Subjunctive (vaya)

     c. Imperative (ve)

Click to reveal the correct answer:

 5. Sin duda, lo _ mañana. (Without a doubt, I’ll do it tomorrow.)

     a. Indicative (haré)

     b. Subjunctive (haga)

     c. Imperative (haz)

Click to reveal the correct answer:


This lesson has looked at what the indicative mood is, and some of the words and phrases that trigger it. Remember to check out our articles on the other moods (subjunctive and imperative), too!

About the author 

Annabel is a language-enthusiast from the UK. She studied Spanish and French at the University of Southampton (with an Erasmus study year in Madrid!) and recently graduated. She has interests across the Spanish-speaking world, and is a fan of language in general.

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