Imperfect Subjunctive I
- The written lesson is below.
- Links to the quizzes, test, etc are to the left
In unit 7 we introduced the Subjunctive and we gave it a simple approach with the goal of making this topic less troublesome than it usually is made.We explained the difference between tense and mood. We referred to Subjunctive as a mood and we studied the present subjunctive as a tense within the subjunctive mood.
In this unit we will be covering another tense within the subjunctive mood; the Imperfect Subjunctive.
The imperfect tense of the subjunctive mood is used to express the same subjectivity as the present subjunctive, but in the past.
Here are some examples of the uses of imperfect subjunctive in Spanish:
1. To indicate an action in the past in the same situations where the subjunctive would be required in the present:
Era interesante que Jorge me leyera las noticias. (imperfect subjunctive)
It was interesting that Jorge would read to me the news.
Es interesante que Jorge me lea las noticias (present subjunctive)
It is interesting that Jorge reads to me the news.
2. After the expression ojalá (or ojalá que) :
Ojalá que nevara mañana. (imperfect subjunctive)
I hope that it would snow tomorrow.
Ojalá que nieve mañana. (present subjunctive)
I hope that it snows tomorrow.
3. In “if” clauses to indicate contrary-to-fact or unlikely events:
Compraría un coche nuevo si tuviera dinero. (imperfect subjunctive)
I would buy a new car if I had the money.
4. When the verb in the main clause is in one of the past tenses or in the conditional, the imperfect subjunctive is used in the dependent clause:
Quise que (él) me escribiera.
I wanted him to write me.
Quería que mi hijo me escribiera cada día.
I wanted my son to write me every day.
Había querido que mi hijo me escribiera en su ausencia.
I had wanted that my son to write me in his absence.
Querría que mi hijo me escribiera durante su viaje.
I would like my son to write me during his trip.
5. When the verb in the main clause is in the present but it refers to a previous occurrence:
No me gusta que (él) llegara con ella.
It does not seem fine to me that he arrived with her.
Es bueno que Uds. vinieran juntos.
It’s good that you arrived together.
Es obvio que (él) quisiera haber tenido novia.
It’s obvious that he would have wanted to have a girlfriend.
6. To indicate politeness:
Quisiera asistir a la reunión.
I would like to attend the meeting.
¿Pudiera ir con Uds.?
Could I go with you?
Tú debieras ofrecerle ayuda.
You should offer help to him/her.
Master the Imperfect Subjunctive
Call me a grammar geek but I’m always super excited when I need to teach the Imperfect Subjunctive in Spanish. At this moment, my students are always at a level when they can communicate almost everything, they know all the grammar terms and know what I’m talking about, and some of them feel that they have reached a plateau. And then! Bang! The Imperfect Subjunctive comes suddenly and it looks like a totally new thing.
Sometimes they feel overwhelmed but I show them that it’s like reaching Mount Everest, base by base, with an experienced local guide. Before you even realize it, you are at the top putting your flag in.
Let me show you today the same path I follow with my students. I promise that after you finish reading, you will feel proud of yourself and with a sense of great achievement. You don’t believe me? You’ll be able to check it yourself with a multiple-choice quiz. And I promise you’ll ace it!
Download our Free Imperfect Subjunctive PDF!Just type in your name and email and we will immediately send the PDF to your inbox!
What is it?
You already know the present subjunctive. If you somehow missed it, please go back and study it first. Here, you need to build upon previous knowledge about the subjunctive mood and the present subjunctive mood.
The Imperfect Subjunctive is not a tense it’s a mood to express the same subjunctivity as the present subjunctive but in the past. It follows the same rules but refers to previous experience or unlikely events and possibilities.
The Imperfect Subjunctive is more common than you might think at the beginning. The moment you master it, you’ll see and hear it everywhere. And learning it is very rewarding, you cannot imagine how you could live without it for such a long time.
How to Use the Imperfect Subjunctive
Let’s look at this sentence:
Si me diera más dinero, podría comprarme más cosas.
Si me diese más dinero, podría comprarme más cosas.
Before I tell you why you have two different words for the imperfect Subjunctive of the verb dar (to give) let’s take the first step. You need to learn how to find the Imperfect Subjunctive Stem.
How to Find the Imperfect Subjunctive Stem
The Imperfect subjunctive does not use the infinitive for a stem but the third person singular of the preterite, the Spanish past simple tense, the one we use with ellos, ellas (They).
What’s the third person plural preterite form of dar? Dieron.
Now, you just need to take out the -ron ending, and voila! you have the preterite subjunctive stem: die-
So, remember the formula for finding the imperfect subjunctive stem:
3rd pers. Pl. preterite form – the ending -ron = imperfect subjunctive stem
Easy, isn’t it?
Examples of Imperfect Subjunctive Stem
You’ll be delighted to know that this formula works for all the verbs, no matter if they’re regular or irregular. Look at the following most common verbs.
Imperfect Subjunctive Stem Examples Chart
|INFINITIVE (translation)||3rd Pers. Pl. Preterite Form – Imperfect Subjunctive Stem|
|amar (to love)||amaron – ama-|
|comer (to eat)||comieron – comie-|
|dar (to give)||dieron – die-|
|estar (to be)||estuvieron – estuvie-|
|haber (to have, to be)||hubieron – hubie-|
|hablar (to speak)||hablaron – habla-|
|hacer (to do)||hicieron – hicie-|
|ir (to go)||fueron – fue-|
|poder (can)||pudieron – pudie-|
|querer (to want)||quisieron – quisie-|
|ser (to be)||fueron – fue|
|tener (to have)||tuvieron – tuvie-|
|traer (to bring)||trajeron – traje-|
|venir (to come)||vinieron – vinie-|
|vivir (to live)||vivieron – vivie-|
Imperfect Subjunctive Endings
Now that you know how to get the stem the only thing that is left is adding the ending.
There are two types of Imperfect subjunctive endings. The first type starts with -ra, and the other with -se. The -ra form is more common.
The Imperfect Subjunctive Endings Chart
|Grammar person||The Imperfect Subjunctive ending|
|Yo (I)||-ra / -se|
|Tú (you)||-ras / -ses|
|Él, ella, usted (he, she, fml. you)||-ra / -se|
|Nosotros (we)||-ramos / -semos|
|Ustedes (you)||-ran / -sen|
|Ellos, ellas (they)||-ran / -sen|
Let’s apply these endings to the verb tener (to love).
You already know that the stem is tuvie, now, let’s just add the endings.
The Imperfect Subjunctive Chart for the verb tener
|Grammar person||The Imperfect Subjunctive|
|Yo (I)||tuviera / tuviese|
|Tú (you)||tuvieras / tuvieses|
|Él, ella, usted (he, she, fml. you)||tuviera / tuviese|
|Nosotros (we)||tuviéramos / tuviésemos|
|Ustedes (you)||tuvieran / tuviesen|
|Ellos, ellas (they)||tuvieran / tuviesen|
Watch out for the accents in the nosotros (we) form just before the imperfect subjunctive ending!
When to Use It
As I mentioned before, the Imperfect subjunctive is very commonly used. You can hear it when people speak about past events, give current opinions about something that happened in the past, or about past doubts and wishes. The Imperfect Subjunctive also appears in the if clauses and can substitute the conditional form in polite requests.
1. WEIRDO Verbs in the Past
The Imperfect Subjunctive is triggered with a preterite, imperfect, conditional, or past perfect WEIRDO verbs in the independent clause. (If you need a quick refresher on this topic, check out “An Easy Guide to the WEIRDO Subjunctive”.)
Quería que me hicieras un café.
I wanted you to make me a coffee.
quería – a WEIRDO verb in the imperfect tense
hicieras – the imperfect subjunctive form of the verb hacer (to do)
This sentence would look different if it referred to a present moment.
Quiero que me hagas un café.
I want you to make me a coffee.
quiero – a WEIRDO verb in the present tense
hagas – the present subjunctive form of the verb hacer (to do)
So, the same as the present WEIRDO verbs trigger the present subjunctive forms, the past WEIRDO verbs trigger the imperfect subjunctive form in the dependent clause.
Let’s see some more examples for past occurrences with WEIRDO verbs.
Tenía miedo de que no vinieras.
I was afraid you wouldn’t come.
Me sorprendió que no hubiera dinero para todos en aquel momento.
I was surprised that there was no money for everyone at the time.
Quise que estuvieras conmigo.
I wanted you to be with me.
2. Current Opinions of Past Events
You can also use the Imperfect subjunctive to say how you feel or to express your doubts about past events.
Me encanta que me trajera flores.
I love (the fact) that he brought me flowers.
No me parece que él quisiera hacerte daño.
I don’t think he wanted to hurt you.
3. Doubts and Wishes
Ojalá and Ojalá que are used with the imperfect subjunctive to express hope for something that is unlikely or even impossible.
Ojalá fuera más joven.
I wish I was younger.
Ojalá que todos en el mundo hablasen el mismo idioma.
I wish that everyone in the world spoke the same language.
4. If Clauses
The imperfect Subjunctive helps you to talk about hypothetical situations with the si (if) clauses. They combine with the conditional form in the other clause.
Si pudiese, no dormiría nada.
If I could, I wouldn’t sleep at all.
Si él quisiera, sería el primero en todo.
If he wanted to, he would be the first in everything.
5. Relative Clauses
It also appears in relative clauses when the antecedent in the first clause is non-existent, indefinite, or negated.
Buscaba una amiga que tuviera tiempo para mí.
I was looking for a friend who would have time for me.
No conocía a nadie que tuviese los mismos miedos que yo.
I didn’t know anyone who had the same fears as me.
6. Polite Suggestions and Requests
Do you remember that we use verbs in the conditional form to indicate politeness?
Querría ir contigo.
I would like to go with you.
Could I accompany you?
You should help him.
Now, I’ll show you how you can substitute the conditional forms with the imperfect subjunctive to express polite suggestions and requests.
Quisiera ir contigo.
Multiple-choice Practice Quiz
I promised you that after finishing the article you’ll be the Imperfect subjunctive champ and I’m sure you are. Do you want to check it?
Try yourself in this multiple-choice quiz. Remember, there is only one correct answer for each question.
1. What grammatical form is used to form the imperfect subjunctive stem?
2. What is the ending for the imperfect subjunctive forms?
4. How can you substitute the word “podrías” in the following sentence: ¿Podrías ayudarme?
5. Si ________, viajaría a Perú.
6. Quería que me ________ dos cartones de leche.
7. Me encanta que el presidente ________ a tu boda.
8. Tenía miedo de que me ________ por el camino.
10. Ella me pidió que ________ café.
How does it feel to conquer the imperfect subjunctive? Does it compare to being on the top of Mount Everest? It surely does! You mastered another important part of Spanish grammar and you can enjoy traveling to Spanish-speaking countries without fear of not being able to communicate.
If you’re not planning any travel in the near future you can surely find a Spanish speaker in your community. Do you know that according to CNN, there are 41 million native Spanish speakers in the US? You shouldn’t have a problem with finding one!
But, if you prefer to start using the imperfect subjunctive in a semi-controlled environment, sign up for a free class with one of our native, Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala and practice with them.
Ready to learn more Spanish grammar? Check these out!
The imperfect subjunctive in Spanish might be one of the most challenging tenses to understand and put into practice. However, once you learn it, you will be looking for ways to use the Spanish imperfect subjunctive whenever you can.
If you are learning Spanish and have reached your SOS when it comes to using the imperfect subjunctive, then you have come to the right place. We will be giving you the full and complete guide on everything you need to know about what the imperfect subjunctive is and how you can use it.
To start off, we want to help you conceptualize it by connecting the imperfect subjunctive to other tenses you might have learned in your Spanish learning journey.
What is the Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive?
The imperfect subjunctive tense is very often used in Spanish. This tense is also known as the Spanish past subjunctive, but its real name is the preterite imperfect tense of the subjunctive mood.
The word “preterite” means past and the word “subjunctive” denotes mood. The subjunctive does not express time. It reveals the point of view of a speaker. That’s why you’ll notice that the Spanish imperfect subjunctive is often used to express a point of view in the past.
The first step to understanding this past subjunctive tense is understanding the present subjunctive. This is because the imperfect subjunctive is basically used to express the same subjectivity as the present subjunctive, except in the past. Since it is in the past, the main difference is the timing. So learning more about the present subjunctive before you get into the nitty and gritty of how to use the imperfect subjunctive is something you might want to do.
After you understand what the Spanish subjunctive mood is and have a better idea of what it means and when it is used, you can start looking at how you can use the imperfect subjunctive.
If you have no idea what the imperfect subjunctive even looks like, we will start by showing you that first. Then we will explain the different scenarios where you can use the Spanish imperfect subjunctive along with examples of each case.
There are some basic rules used to form the imperfect subjunctive. In an imperfect sentence, what will mainly change is the verb.
Let’s look at an example.
Quisiera dos libros, por favor.
This translates to:
I’d like two books, please.
In this sentence, the verb is querer. Conjugating querer into quisiera is what makes this sentence an imperfect subjunctive example.
So, to use the imperfect subjunctive correctly you need to know how to conjugate Spanish verbs with this tense.
How to Conjugate a Regular Verb into Imperfect Subjunctive in Spanish
FIRST: When you conjugate a regular verb into imperfect subjunctive in Spanish, you will have to use the third plural form of the preterite tense.
Take the verbs hablar and tomar as an example.
The third person form of the preterite for these verbs would be as follows:
hablar → hablaron
tomar → tomaron
When you conjugate hablar into the third person plural form, you think about what you would say after ellos or ellas.
Ellos (hablar) toda la noche.
Ellas (tomar) una cerveza antes de bailar.
Now try conjugating the two verbs given below in the third person plural form of the preterite (simple past) tense yourself.
Remember, if you can’t figure out how to conjugate these, then put an ellos or ellas in front of the verb.
Ellos (tener) mucho dinero.
Ellas (escuchar) la ópera.
Here’s how you should have conjugated it:
tener → tuvieron
escuchar → escucharon
SECOND: The next step after having found the third person plural form of the preterite tense would be to take off the -ron.
After you have conjugated the verb into the third person plural of the preterite tense, you remove the -ron at the end of the verb.
escucharon → escucharon → escrucha_
hablaron → hablaron → habla_
You will be adding different letters to the ending of these verbs in a minute. But first, you should practice.
So I will give you two verbs and you will first conjugate them into the third person plural of the preterite tense and then remove the -ron at the end.
regresar → →
esperar → →
Here are the solutions:
regresar → regresaron → regresa_
Esperar → esperaron → espera_
THIRD: Now, you will add the imperfect subjunctive endings to your verb.
Now that you have your verb with an open ending, you need to use one of the two imperfect endings to conjugate the verb into the imperfect subjunctive.
|yo||-ra or -se|
|tú||-ras or -ses|
|él/ella/usted||-ra or -se|
|nosotros/nosotras||-ramos or -semos|
|vosotros/vosotras||-ráis or -séis|
|ellos/ellas/ustedes||-ran or -sen|
Let me give you some examples so you can get a better visual.
comer → comieron → comie_ → yo comiera o yo comiese
estar → estuvieron → estuvie_ → tú estuvieras o tú estuvieses
Try to do the same with these verbs:
llevar → → → yo
encuentran → → → ellos
Don’t try to rush until the end. Do it step by step and slowly you will get the hang of it.
Here are the solutions:
llevar → llevaron → lleva_ → yo llevara o yo llevase
encuentran → encontraron → encontra_ → ellos encontraran o ellos encontrasen
The two options are good to know. You can use either or interchange them; they are both grammatically correct.
How to Conjugate Irregular Verbs into the Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive
Like with most rules in Spanish, or any language really, there are exceptions. Though the system I have taught you above is the general rule, there are some irregular verbs that stray from this rule.
The best thing to do is to understand and get used to conjugating the verbs into the imperfect subjunctive and once you get the hang of it, start memorizing the irregular verbs that do not follow the general guidelines.
I am going to give you the three of the most commonly used irregular verbs for the imperfect subjunctive and will show you how to conjugate them. Two of these are actually conjugated identically even though they are not used in the same context.
|yo||fuera o fuese|
|tú||fueras o fueses|
|él/ella/usted||fuera o fuese|
|nosotros/nosotras||fuéramos o fuésemos|
|vosotros/vosotras||fuerais o fueseis|
|ellos/ellas/ustedes||Fueran o fuesen|
|yo||fuera o fuese|
|tú||fueras o fueses|
|él/ella||fuera o fuese|
|nosotros/nosotras||fuéramos o fuésemos|
|vosotros/vosotras||fuerais o fueseis|
|ellos/ellas||Fueran o fuesen|
|yo||viera o viese|
|tú||vieras o vieses|
|él/ella||viera o viese|
|nosotros/nosotras||viéramos o viésemos|
|vosotros/vosotras||vierais o vieseis|
|ellos/ellas||vieran o viesen|
When to use the Imperfect Subjunctive in Spanish
Now that you have a good grasp of how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the imperfect subjunctive tense, you need to learn when the imperfect subjunctive structure is used in Spanish. We’ll go over all of the different times the imperfect subjunctive can be used along with specific examples in each category.
1. Past and Present
The imperfect subjunctive is used when you are indicating an action in the past in the same situation where the subjunctive would be required in the present.
For example, look at this sentence in the present subjunctive:
Es emocionante que Maria me lea el periódico.
This translates to:
It is exciting when Maria reads the newspaper to me.
This is when you can use what you have learned to good use. If you want to say the same thing but in the past, you use the imperfect subjunctive. To change something that is in the present to the imperfect subjunctive you change the verbs.
So you change es and lea
es → era
lea → leyera
The sentence will now look like this:
Era emocionante que Maria me leyera el periódico.
This now translates to:
It was exciting that Maria would read the news to me.
2. Expressions of Desire/Wishes or Doubt
The imperfect subjunctive is commonly when you are trying to express a desire of something you wish to happen, or when you are expressing doubt for something you are unsure of.
In situations where you are hoping for something to happen in Spanish, the phrase ojála que is used often. Ojála que basically means hopefully or I wish.
So, let’s say you want to say “I hope it would rain on Wednesday.”
Then you would take the present sentence in spanish:
Ojalá que llueva el miércoles.
I hope it rains on Wednesday.
And then you change the verb into imperfect subjunctive.
llueva → lloviera
Then you make that change in the sentence:
Ojalá que lloviera el miércoles.
You can also use ojalá without the word que. Let’s see some examples.
¡Ojalá lloviera ahora!
(I wish it rained now!)
(I wish it snowed!)
¡Ojalá pudiera descansar mañana!
(I wish I could rest tomorrow!)
¡Ojala me ganara la lotería!
(I wish I won the lottery!)
Other expressions that usually indicate your desire or wish for something include sentences that start with the following phrases:
- Espero que…
- Deseo que…
- Quiero que…
- Exigo que…
- Prefiero que…
- Pido que…
If you take the same example from above, you could also use imperfect subjunctive when you are expressing doubt about something you are unsure about. So instead of using the imperfect subjunctive before phrases that indicate your desire or wish for something, you can also use it to express doubt for a certain issue.
Expressions that usually indicate your doubt for something include sentences that start with the following phrases:
- Dudo que…
- No creo que…
- No estoy seguro que…
- No pienso que…
- Niego que…
3. Si (If) Events
The imperfect subjunctive is also used when you use an if clause when trying to explain something that is contrary-to-fact or unlikely to happen.
So, for example when you say:
If I worked harder, I would get promoted.
This would translate to:
Si trabajara más duro, me promovieran.
This sentence is using the if clause to explain why the person cannot do something. So contrary to the fact that that person did their job, they were not promoted because they did not work hard enough. But using the if clause simplifies this sentence.
You can see that the two verbs in the Spanish sentence were conjugated according to the trick that I showed you above.
trabajar →yo trabajara
promover → ellos promovieran
Spanish speakers use the Spanish imperfect subjunctive in the “if clause” of these conditional sentences. The English equivalent of these unreal sentences is the second conditional.
In English, second conditional sentences are the ones that have a past verb in the “if clause” and the auxiliary verb “would” in the main clause. Let’s see some examples.
Si tuviera mucho dinero, compraría una casa.
(If I had a lot of money, I would buy a house.)
Si supiera la respuesta, te la diría.
(If I knew the answer, I would give it to you.)
Si ellos me ofrecieran el trabajo, lo aceptaría.
(If they offered me the job, I would accept it.)
Si fuera más alto, entraría al equipo.
(If I were taller, I would enter the team.)
Si no fumaras, no estarías enfermo.
(If you did not smoke, you would not be sick.)
¿Dónde vivirías si pudieras vivir en cualquier parte del mundo?
Where would you live if you could live anywhere in the word?
4. Que → That
When you hear people speak in Spanish, you might hear the word que a lot. The que might actually mean different things depending on where it is placed in a sentence and where the accent mark falls.
For this imperfect subjunctive example, the closest translation we can get to expressing que is with the word “that”.
For instance, if you wanted to say something like “I study so that I can speak better Spanish”, the that would be the replacement of the word que when using the imperfect subjunctive.
The imperfect subjunctive is used in the dependent clause after you use the word que but only when the independent clause is in the past tense.
Let me give you an example of this:
Yo quería que él tomara un tequila conmigo.
I wanted him to drink a tequila with me.
As you can see, you don’t necessarily need “that” in this sentence. In fact, it sounds better without “that” in English. But in Spanish you need to use it because you are expressing the imperfect subjunctive of what you want or expect to happen.
When you say “I wanted him to drink a tequila with me”, you have to use the imperfect subjunctive because you want someone to do something that is not a concrete moment or thought. It is a desire or expectation that is not substantially real.
Important: Never use the subjunctive mood to express positive opinions in Spanish. As we learned before, you can use it to express doubts or negative opinions.
- Creí que llegaras a tiempo (incorrect)
- Creí que llegarías a tiempo (correct)
- No creí que llegaras a tiempo. (correct)
5. Being Polite
The imperfect subjunctive is also used in some polite expressions that contain Spanish modal verbs. Let’s us see!
I would like to attend the party.
Would translate to:
Quisiera asistir a la fiesta.
How would you say:
Should I go with you?
The word should is the same as the verb deber. So how would you translate this sentence? Keep in mind that you need to use the imperfect subjunctive. Try writing it down and then continue to scroll down for the answer.
Here’s the answer:
¿Debería ir con ustedes?
Let’s see an example with the verb poder.
Could you bring me my purse, please?
Try writing down your answer so that you can compare it with the answer below. Sometimes when you just say your answer, you don’t realize you got something wrong. Trust me, write your answers down.
This should translate to:
¿Pudiera traerme mi cartera, por favor?
Now I’ll share with you some set expressions that are formed with the Spanish imperfect subjunctive. All of these expressions contain one of the following Spanish modal verbs: querer (want), poder (can), deber (should), parecer (seem).
¡No quisiera perderme esa película!
(I would not like to miss that movie!)
Quisiera hacer una pregunta.
(I would like to ask a question.)
(Could you help me?)
Pudiera hacerlo ahora mismo.
(I could do it right now.)
Tú deberias ser humilde.
(You should be humble.)
Pareciera que no sabes de qué hablo.
(It seems to be that you don’t know what I am talking about.)
Pareciera que estás disfrutando tus vacaciones.
(It seems to be that you are enjoying your vacations.)
Click here to read our comprehensive guide to all Spanish tenses!
Mastering the Imperfect Subjunctive in Spanish
The key to mastering the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish, like any other grammatical topic, is lots of practice. Using an app like Clozemaster is perfect since it allows you to see and practice conjugating Spanish verbs in context. You can quiz yourself on the example sentences used in this article right here on the page.
Congratulations on getting through the entire guide on how to use the imperfect subjunctive tense in Spanish. We hope that you now have a better understanding of what the imperfect subjunctive is, how to use it, and most importantly, when to use it! Make sure you keep practicing the imperfect subjunctive so that you can get better at using this tense when it is necessary. If you get confused, you can always use this page as a reference.
Check out Clozemaster to learn and practice the imperfect subjunctive as well as learn thousands of other Spanish words in context!
Imperfect Subjunctive in Spanish
Forming the Spanish imperfect subjunctive
Below you can find the basic rules of forming the present subjunctive. Like any grammatical "rule", there are exceptions and irregularities, but we'll get to those later. In the meantime, get a grasp on the general rules:
- Conjugate the verb into the third person plural form of the preterite tense
- escuchar --> escucharon
- comer --> comieron
- escribir --> escribieron
- Drop the -ron ending
- escucho --> escucha_
- como --> comie_
- escribo --> escribie_
- Add the imperfect subjunctive endings. As you can see, there are two sets of imperfect subjunctive endings. They are completely interchangeable and equally correct.
or yo -ra -se tú -ras -ses él, ella -ra -se nosotros/as -ramos -semos vosotros/as -ráis -séis ellos, ellas -ran -sen
|3rd person plural, preterite||drop the -ron||add the ending|
|add the ending|
Using the Spanish imperfect subjunctive
The imperfect subjunctive follows the same general rules as the present subjunctive in terms of when the subjunctive is necessary. The main difference is timing, as the imperfect subjunctive is used when the main verb is in either the preterite or imperfect past tenses.
1. If the verb in the independent clause expresses wishes, emotions, recommendations, possible non-realities, doubts, denial, etc. and is in the preterite, imperfect or conditional tense then the subjunctive verb in the independent clause will be imperfect subjunctive.
- preterite/imperfect/conditional + imperfect subjunctive
- Dudaba que viniera.
(I doubted that he was coming.)
- Le dije que lavara los platos.
(I told him to wash the dishes.)
- Los niños querían que su padre les comprase un perro.
(The children wanted their father to buy them a dog.)
- Me alegraba de que te casases.
(I was happy that you were getting married.)
2. When the independent clause expresses current emotions, doubts, etc. about something that happened in the past, the verb in the dependent clause will be imperfect subjunctive.
- present + imperfect subjunctive
- Nos sorprende que viajara a Alaska.
(It's surprising that he traveled to Alaska.)
- Es raro que rompiese con su novia.
(It's strange that he broke up with his girlfriend.)
3. When we want to indicate or hope for unlikely or impossible events using the expression "Ojalá" or "Ojalá que" (means roughly "If only..."), the verb following it will be imperfect subjunctive.
- Ojalá (que) + imperfect subjunctive + rest of sentence
- Ojalá que hiciera calor en invierno.
(If only it were hot in winter.)
- Ojalá pudiese volar.
(If only I could fly.)
- Ojalá Sara estudiara más.
(If only Sara studied more.)
4. "If" Clauses. We use the imperfect subjunctive to form a conditional sentence in the past when it follows the word "si" (if) and is combined with the conditional tense. In English, this construction would translate to something along the lines of "If this, then that".
- si + imperfect subjunctive + conditional + rest of sentence
- conditional + rest of sentence + si + imperfect subjunctive
- Si tuviera más dinero, me compraría un coche.
(If I had more money, I would buy myself a car.)
- María tendría un gato si su marido no tuviese alergia.
(María would have a cat if her husband didn't have allergies.)
- Si Sara estudiara más, sacaría mejores notas.
(If Sara were to study more she was get better grades.)
Imperfect subjunctive spanish
Sound More Like A Native Thanks To The Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive
When you learn Spanish, the subjunctive, including the imperfect subjunctive is one of the most important parts of Spanish to master in order to sound like a native speaker.
Not only is the subjunctive a large part of everyday expressions and communication, but it is also a mood that doesn't really exist in English—at least not in the frequency that it does in Spanish.
In this post, you're going to learn how to use the imperfect Spanish subjunctive—in other words, the subjunctive in the past tense.
The imperfect subjunctive is very similar to the present tense subjunctive in Spanish. The trick is knowing when to use the imperfect as opposed to the present, all while following the same subjunctive rules. As you'll see, it's not as tricky as it might first seem.
By the way, if you want to learn Spanish through stories, not rules, my top recommendation for language learners is my Uncovered courses, which teach you through StoryLearning®. Click here to find out more and try out the method for free.
Forming the Imperfect Subjunctive (& A Quick Review)
Remember that sentences that use the Spanish subjunctive have three requirements:
1. The sentence has two different subjects and two verbs.
2. The second subject and verb are separated from the first pair by the word “que“.
3. The sentence conveys emotion or uncertainty.
When these conditions are met, the second verb is conjugated in the subjunctive.
How To Conjugate This Mood
Where the simple present subjunctive uses the present yo tense to form subjunctive stems, the imperfect subjunctive is formed by conjugating the second verb in the third person plural preterite (ellos/ellas/Uds.) and dropping the –ron to get the subjunctive stem:
Conjugating the imperfect subjunctive is even more simple because there are no irregular conjugations specific to the imperfect subjunctive.
Whatever conjugation the verb has in the third person plural preterite, regular or irregular, it keeps the same stem in the imperfect subjunctive.
Take a look at these verbs that are irregular in the present tense subjunctive and pay attention to how the stem is formed from the third person plural preterite—no changes necessary:
Once you have your stem, all you need to the ending. One simple part of the imperfect subjunctive is that the endings are the same for all verbs. There is no need to keep track of different endings for -ar, -er, or -ir verbs!
The Two Ways To Conjugate The Imperfect Subjunctive
There are actually two different ways the imperfect subjunctive can end. Both are correct, but one is more common. Let's start with the ending you are more likely to hear first:
This is probably the imperfect subjunctive that you will hear and see the most when interacting with native Spanish speakers. It's important to learn the second endings as well, however, so that you aren't confused when you hear it in the middle of a conversation:
¡Ojo!: No matter which imperfect subjunctive ending you are using, pay attention to the spelling of verbs conjugated for nosotros. In order to maintain the verb pronunciation, the “e” or “a” at the end of the stem is always accented.
When To Use This Subjunctive Form
As with the simple present subjunctive, the imperfect subjunctive is used when expressing the following moods:
When the second verb in the sentence is in the past, use the imperfect subjunctive. This is true both if the first verb is in the present tense or if it is in the past tense.
For example, here is a sentence that uses the simple present subjunctive:
- Dudo que ellos vayan de vacaciones. (I doubt that they are going on vacation.)
In this sentence, both verbs (dudo and vayan) are in the present tense. But what if you wanted to say “I doubted that they went on vacation?” That's where the imperfect subjunctive comes in:
- Dudaba que ellos fueran de vacaciones.
Remember, the imperfect subjunctive is used any time the second verb takes place in the past, so it would also be correct to say:
- Dudo que ellos fueran de vacaciones. (I doubt that they went on vacation.)
In addition to sentences that meet the three requirements for the subjunctive, there are three other specific situations when the imperfect subjunctive is needed:
1. Polite Requests Or Suggestions
The imperfect subjunctive is used to express deference or politeness, especially when making a request. In these cases, the first verb is the one in the subjunctive and the second is used in its infinitive form.
- Quisiera ir con Uds. (I would like to go with you.)
2. Hypothetical (Especially Unlikely) Situations That Begin With “Si”
When someone starts a sentence with, “If I had a million dollars…”, you know what comes next is next to impossible. In Spanish, those unlikely hypotheticals are expressed with the imperfect subjunctive:
- Si tú estuvieras en mi lugar, harías lo mismo. (If you were in my place, you would do the same.)
- Compraría este coche si tuviera dinero. (I'd buy this car if I had money.)
3. To Express A Desire Or Wish
Whenever you see or hear the word “ojalá” or the phrase “ojalá que“, that's a great indication the imperfect subjunctive is not far behind.
Even though the sentiments below are all current desires, the imperfect subjunctive mood is how Spanish speakers communicate that sense of longing or wishing.
- Ojalá mi hermano viviera aquí. (I wish my brother lived here.)
- Ojalá que estuvieras en Perú conmigo. (I wish you were in Peru with me.)
How To Master The Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive
The basics of the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish are relatively simple, but there are so many specific uses that it can feel overwhelming at first.
But don't let that keep you from trying it out yourself.
The best way you can master the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish is to listen to real Spanishand read authentic, native Spanish as much as possible. You will notice the imperfect subjunctive all over the place!
Then, use it yourself. It may feel clunky at first, but you will get more comfortable with which tense of the subjunctive mood to use the more you notice it and use it yourself.
And if you're still struggling with Spanish grammar, why not try learning through stories, not rules. Grammar Hero will teach you the essentials of Spanish grammar through immersion in a page-turning tale.
Imperfecto de subjuntivo
The imperfect tense of the subjunctive mood is used to express the same subjectivity as the present subjunctive, but in the past.
The imperfect subjunctive has three main uses:
1. Express subjectivity in the past after the same verbs, impersonal expressions, and conjunctions as the present subjunctive. For the imperfect subjunctive to be needed, the verb in the main clause has to be in one of the following tenses/moods: preterite, imperfect, conditional, or pluperfect.
|Quería que lo hicieras.||I wanted you to do it.|
|Fue una lástima que no pudiera venir.||It was too bad that he couldn't come.|
|Yo iría al banco para que tuviéramos dinero.||I would go to the bank so that we'd have money.|
2. Make a very polite request or suggestion (only with the verbs deber, poder, and querer).
|Quisiera dos libros, por favor.||I'd like two books, please.|
|¿Pudiera Ud. ayudarnos?||Could you (possibly) help us?|
3. In conditional sentences (si clauses) and with the conjunction como si.
|Si tuviera dinero, iría contigo.||If I had money, I would go with you.|
|Me escucha como si fuera su profesor.||He listens to me as if I were his teacher.|
Page 2:Imperfect subjunctive conjugations
Imperfect Subjunctive Quiz
Test yourself on the Spanish imperfect subjunctive with these fill-in-the-blanks exercises:
Note: You must be logged into your Progress with Lawless Spanish account to take these tests. If you don’t have one, sign up – it’s free!
Spanish subjunctive tenses
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Imperfect Subjunctive Spanish: Explained In Simple Terms
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The Imperfect Subjunctive Spanish is one of the six subjunctive forms that exist in Spanish, and is used to expresses courtesy, desires, emotions, doubts, expectations or things that have not yet happened.
Ok. That’s probably a lot to take in right away, so we’ll go into more detail on this later.
But it’s worth noting that the imperfect subjunctive can be used to speak about actions connected to the past, or actions that have consequences in the present.
- I wanted you to spend the day with our parents – Quería que pasaras el día con nuestros padres
- If I lived closer, I would visit my parents more often – Si viviera más cerca, visitaría a mis padres con más frecuencia
We frequently combine the imperfect subjunctive with the conditional to build with if + simple past statements (similar to English).
- If I had more money, I would go to the concert this weekend – Si tuviera más dinero, iría al concierto este fin de semana
- If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about the exam results – Si fuera tu, no me preocuparía sobre los resultados del examen
Before continuing, there are two important things that you should know about the imperfect subjunctive.
- This form has an English equivalent, making it easier (for most students) to understand.
- This form can be conjugated using two different endings, both of which result in the same meaning.
Let’s deal with point number 2.
The imperfect subjunctive can be conjugated with two possible endings (e.g. viniera / viniese).
You don’t need to worry about why this is.
All you need to know is that these endings are interchangeable and mean exactly the same.
However, it’s still worth knowing both forms so that you can recognize when either is being used.
How To Conjugate The Imperfect Subjunctive Spanish
Before using the imperfect subjunctive, we need to know how to conjugate it in both forms.
A little trick to more easily remember the conjugation is to take the third plural person conjugation “they / ellos” in the simple past as our basis to understand how to add two different endings (ra / se).
For example, below you’ll see the “they / ellos” conjugation for four verbs in the simple past.
|Personal Pronoun||Simple past||Personal Pronoun||Simple past|
We will use those underlined words as our root for the imperfect subjunctive conjugation.
Now we can see how to build the conjugation using the following formula:
- Personal pronoun + third plural person (they) conjugation of the action verb in simple past + (ra / se) as follows:
To write / Escribir
Yo + “escribie” + “ra” or Yo + “escribie” + “se”
- She was surprised that I wrote her a letter – Ella estaba sorprendida de que le escribiera una carta
To run / Correr
Tú + “corrie” + “ras” or Tú + “corrie” + “ses”
- If you ran faster, you would catch up to me – Si (Tú) corrieras más rápido me alcanzarías
The above formula is a useful hack for remembering how to conjugate verbs in the imperfect subjunctive.
Now let’s go into more detail.
Regular AR verbs
Regular AR verbs can be conjugated by adding one of two endings (ra/se) to the root of the verb.
Remember, both endings result in the exact same meaning.
Over time, you might notice that one ending is used more in some countries than the other.
For example, the first conjugation (hablara, comiera, viviera) is more commonly used in Latin America than the second conjugation (hablase, comiese, viviese).
Below is an example of all conjugations for regular AR verbs:
|Personal Pronoun||Ending||Hablar (To talk)|
|Yo||ra / se||Hablara / Hablase|
|Tú||ras / ses||Hablaras / Hablases|
|Él / Ella||ra / se||Hablara / Hablase|
|Usted||ra / se||Hablara / Hablase|
|Nosotros||ramos / semos||Habláramos / Hablásemos|
|Ustedes||ran / sen||Hablaran / Hablasen|
|Ellos / Ellos||ran / sen||Hablaran / Hablasen|
Regular ER and IR Verbs
For ER and IR verbs, simply add an ” i ” in between the root and the endings we already know (ra / se)
This means, a verb like Comer (to eat), will be become: Comiera.
And with a verb like Salir (to go out), will be become: Saliera.
Now let’s take a look at some common regular verbs:
|Él / ella||Comprara /|
|Ellos / Ellas||Compraran /|
Conjugating irregular verbs requires you to change the root of the verb, and then add the endings we just covered.
Below are some of the most common irregular verbs:
|Personal Pronoun||Ser / Ir|
(To be / To go)
|Yo||fuera / fuese||estuviera /|
|Tú||fueras / fueses||estuvieras /|
|Él / ella||fuera / fuese||estuviera /|
|Usted||fuera / fuese||estuviera /|
|Nosotros||fuéramos / fuésemos||estuviéramos /|
|Ustedes||fueran / fuesen||estuvieran /|
|Ellos / Ellas||fueran / fuesen||estuvieran /|
Now that we know how to conjugate in the imperfect subjunctive, let’s further examine how to build sentences.
When Is Imperfect Subjunctive Spanish Used?
There are a couple of common situations or scenarios when the imperfect subjunctive is used.
We can categorize them into three main groups:
1. Subordinate clauses involving past actions:
- I didn’t expect that you would arrive today – No esperaba que llegaras/llegases hoy
- It was good that the students did the homework – Fue bueno que los estudiantes hicieran/hiciesen la tarea
- The doctor recommended that you ate fewer fats. – El médico recomendó que comieras/comieses menos grasas
In all of these examples, the past action is described in the indicative mood, and the relative clause action is in the subjunctive, because these latter actions are not facts, they’re just possibilities related to the main clause.
For instance, the first statement indicates that your arrival today was not expected, therefore, it belongs in the realm of possible or imaginary situations, hence the use of the subjunctive.
2. To express courtesy or politeness:
This form is also used to sound more polite when expressing a wish and/or desires, and normally includes verbs like querer, poder, and deber:
- The policeman would like to see your identification – El policía quisiera / quisiese ver su identificación
- Today could be a good day – Hoy pudiera / pudiese ser un buen día
3. With conditional “if” clauses:
In Spanish, we use the conditional tense in a similar way to the English “if”.
To do so you use the word “si”, similar to the affirmative “sí” (yes), but without an accent, which is how you distinguish them as different words.
In fact, subordinate clauses that start with “if” in English can be translated directly into the Imperfect Subjunctive tense.
You can think about this as a simple formula:
- Si + imperfect subjunctive + conditional
This structure establishes what condition has to be accomplished in order to obtain the results expressed by the independent clause.
The consequence or result is expressed using the conditional tense.
Let’s take a look:
- If I ate more healthy, I wouldn’t have health problems – Si comiera más saludable, no tendría problemas de salud
- If we went to Europe, we would visit the Eiffel Tower – Si fuéramos a Europa, visitaríamos la torre Eiffel
We also use this form to express imaginary ideas or assumptions, similar to the English expression “as if ”.
All you need to do is add “como” before “si”
As if – Como si
- You look as if you were sick – Te ves como si estuvieras enfermo
- Live your life as if it were the last day -Vive tu vida como si fuera el último día
Let’s take a look at more examples:
- If I did the homework on time, I would have good grades – Si hiciera la tarea a tiempo, tendría buenas notas.
- We would be very happy if we had a dog – Seríamos muy felices si tuviéramos un perro
- If I spoke 5 languages, I would be a polyglot – Si hablara 5 idiomas, sería políglota
Practice: Imperfect Subjunctive Spanish
_____ irme de viaje el próximo mes (I would like to go on a trip next month)
Si _____ superpoderes, controlaría el clim (If I had superpowers, I would control the weather)
Me gustaría que _____ a la fiesta (I would like you to come to the party)
Si no _____ ocupada, te ayudaría con tu tarea de español (If I wasn’t busy, I would help you with your Spanish homework)
El jefe no está feliz de que _____ tarde ( The boss is not happy that we were late)
Mi mamá está feliz de que _____ ese trabajo (My mom is happy that you found that job)
_____ ver ese vestido por favor (I would like to see that dress, please)
Si yo _____ con los animales, sería muy feliz (If I talked to animals, I would be very happy)
El duerme como si _____ un bebé (He sleeps like if he were a baby)
¡Ojalá _____ navidad! (I wish it were Christmas!)
1. Quisiera/quisiese irme de viaje el próximo mes
2. Si tuviera/tuviese superpoderes, controlaría el clima
3. Me gustaría que vinieran/viniese a la fiesta
4. Si no estuviera/estuviese ocupada, te ayudaría con tu tarea de español
5. El jefe no está feliz de que llegáramos/llegásemos tarde
6. Mi mamá está feliz de que encontraras/encontrases ese trabajo
7. Quisiera/quisiese ver ese vestido por favor
8. Si yo hablara/hablase con los animales, sería muy feliz
9. El duerme como si fuera/fuese un bebé
10. ¡Ojalá fuera/fuese navidad!