Whatever, whenever, wherever

Shush now. It's time to make friends with the subjunctive

The subjunctive. It’s the stuff of Spanish students’ nightmares. Knowing when to use it, and when to not, is the cause of no end of headaches for language learners.

Here, we’re not going to review the well-trodden ground of grammar rules for the subjunctive, but instead look at one little language trick that draws on this much maligned linguistic ’mood’ to allow you express something in Spanish you otherwise could not.

After reading these few lines, you’ll know how to make the Spanish equivalents for English phrases like “whatever you do”, “whatever you say”, “whatever happens” and “whenever it is”.

The good news is that you can use this trick even if you’re still at the early stages of learning and haven’t yet got the slightest clue what the subjunctive is (we’ve all been there). Just memorise a few of the below and you’re away.

Whatever happens…

We’ll start off with how to transform the English phrase “whatever happens” or “come what may” into Spanish.

First, you’ll need to take the verb for “to happen” (pasar) and apply some of that subjunctive magic to make pase (the third person, present of the subjunctive for the verb pasar, if you like such labels).

This forms the basis of the Spanish expression pase lo que pase — literally meaning something like “occur whatever may occur”, but probably more usefully thought of as: “whatever happens”.

As ever, we’ve found a couple of willing volunteers to show how this’d work in some real life situations. In the first, our assistant is trying to drop a few pounds, but appears to be struggling with motivation. As she settles into another night loafing around watching TV, she promises to herself that:

volume_mutePase lo que pase, mañana sí voy a ir al gimnasio

Which would be: “Tomorrow I will make it to the gym, come what may”.

In our second example, a guy is telling his friend about how he ran into his former girlfriend on the street the other day and that they got on really well again. ‘Just like old times’, he claims.

Fearing his buddy is about to slide back into a relationship that was always heavy on conflict and drama, he advises that:

Pase lo que pase, no puedes volver con tu exvolume_mute

Spanish for: “Whatever happens, you can’t get back with your ex”.

Wherever you are

The sentence construction process is fairly similar if we want to make the Spanish version of “wherever you are”. In other words, we start with the relevant verb “to be” and change it from estar to esté (or estés) and use this as the basis of the full expression estés donde estés.

For instance, you could well see an advert in a Spanish paper, encouraging you to download their news app, that contains the expression: Descarga nuestra app y manténte informado, estés donde estés.

In other words, “download our app and stay up-to-date with the news, wherever you are”).

Wherever you go

A very similar expression to the above is vayas donde vayas, the local version of “wherever you go” (vayas, as you may well already know, is what happens to the verb ir, “to go”, once you’ve put it through the subjunctive generator).

Let’s use a more touching example to illustrate this one. Imagine that you’ve reluctantly decided to carry on with a long-planned South American backpacking trip, after having stopped for six months in Buenos Aires to study some Spanish.

In doing so, you’ve got to leave your recently acquired local boy/girlfriend behind. After a tearful airport goodbye, you get on the plane and, glancing at your phone, see you’ve received the following message:

volume_muteVayas donde vayas, siempre te estaré pensando

That is: “wherever you go, I’ll always be thinking of you”. ¡Tan bonito!

Whatever you say

The translation of “whatever you say” would be digas lo que digas (with digas coming from the verb decir, “to say”).

So, the sentence “whatever you say, they’ll never believe you” would, then, become digas lo que digas, no te van a creer nunca, while “you won’t be able to convince me, whatever you say” would be digas lo que digas, no me vas a convencer.

A few final examples

To make your own expressions of this sort, you need only plug in the third person (he/she/it) of the present subjunctive of any verb into the following format:

1) SUBJUNCTIVE + LO QUE + SUBJUNCTIVE – for “whatever…” expressions
2) SUBJUNCTIVE + DONDE + SUBJUNCTIVE – for “wherever…” expressions

Here’s a few other examples that follow this format which we quite like:

volume_muteHagas lo que hagas

“Whatever you do” (hagas comes from hacer, “to do”);

Pienses lo que piensesvolume_mute

“Whatever you think” (pienses comes from pensar, “to think”); and

volume_muteSea lo que sea

“Whatever it is” / “be that as it may” (sea comes from ser, “to be”).

Don’t feel limited just to these though. Experiment with it a bit yourself and see what expressions you can come up with.

Got any questions about how to use these ‘whatever’, ‘whenever’, ‘wherever’ expressions? Ask us below and our team will reveal all…

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