The Imperfect Subjunctive

Posted on 28th October 2012 in Conjugation

The Imperfect Subjunctive

By Russell Sabo

The imperfect subjunctive mood (el imperfecto de subjuntivo) will be used in all the same situations that you would use the present subjunctive mood, except it will be used in the past tense. For example: Yo quería que la comieras. – I wanted you to eat it.

In the above example, “Yo quería” is the main clause. “I wanted” what? “I wanted that you eat it,” whatever “it” is. “la comieras” is the dependent clause and will be in the imperfect subjunctive mood. That’s just one example; I’ll cover more examples later.

First off, how do we form the imperfect subjunctive?

Click here to learn more about the Imperfect Subjuntive – Learning Spanish Like Crazy Level 3 Nivel 3

  1. The imperfect subjuntive is based off of the third-person plural form using the preterit (past) tense.
  2. Remove the “-ron” ending.
  3. Add the following endings to the verb stem:
    • (yo) Hablar – Habla receives “-ra” becoming “Hablara”. que yo hablara…
    • (tú) Hablar – Habla receives “-ras” becoming “Hablaras”. que tú hablaras…
    • (Usted, él, ella) Hablar – Habla receives “-ra” becoming “Hablara”. que usted habalara. que él hablara. que ella hablara…
    • (nosotros/as) Hablar – Habla receives “-‘ramos” becoming “Habláramos”. que nosotros/as habláramos…
    • (vosotros/as) Hablar – Habla receives “-rais” becoming “Hablarais”. que vosotros/as hablarais…
    • (Ustedes, ellos, ellas) – Hablar – Habla receives “-ran” becoming “Hablaran”. que ustedes, ellos, ellas hablaran…
  4. For verbs that normally end with ER and IR, add the same endings and the AR verbs:
    • (yo) Comer – Comie receives “-ra” becoming “Comiera”. que yo comiera…
    • (tú) Comer – Comie receives “-ras” becoming “Comieras”. que tú comieras…
    • (Usted, él, ella) Comer – Comie receives “-ra” becoming “Comiera”. que usted comiera. que él comiera. que ella comiera…
    • (nosotros/as) Comer – Comie receives “-‘ramos” becoming “Comiéramos”. que nosotros/as comiéramos…
    • (vosotros/as) Comer – Comie receives “-rais” becoming “Comierais”. que vosotros/as comierais…
    • (Ustedes, ellos, ellas) – Comer – Comie receives “-ran” becoming “Comieran”. que ustedes, ellos, ellas comieran…
    • (yo) Vivir – Vivie receives “-ra” becoming “Viviera”. que yo viviera…
    • (tú) Vivir – Vivie receives “-ras” becoming “Vivieras”. que tú vivieras…
    • (Usted, él, ella) Vivir – Vivie receives “-ra” becoming “Viviera”. que usted viviera. que él viviera. que ella viviera…
    • (nosotros/as) Vivir – Vivie receives “-‘ramos” becoming “Viviéramos”. que nosotros/as viviéramos…
    • (vosostros/as) Vivir – Vivie receives “-rais” becoming “Vivierais”. que vosotros/as vivierais…
    • (Ustedes, ellos, ellas) – Vivir – Vivie receives “-ran” becoming “Vivieran”. que ustedes, ellos, ellas vivieran…
  5. Here are the conjugated verbs once again with their meanings.
    • Habla+ra=Hablara (I spoke, I might speak, I was speaking), Comie+ra=Comiera (I ate, I might eat, I was eating), Vivie+ra=Viviera (I lived, I might live, I was living)
    • Habla+ras=Hablaras (you spoke, you might speak, you were speaking), Comie+ras=Comieras (you ate, you might eat, you were eating),

      Vivie+ras=Vivieras (you lived, you might live, you were living)

    • Habla+ra=Hablara (You (formal) spoke, might speak, were speaking. He spoke, might speak, was speaking. She spoke, might speak, was speaking.)
    • Comie+ra=Comiera (You (formal) ate, might eat, were eating. He ate, might eat, was eating. She ate, might eat, was eating.)
    • Vivie+ra=Viviera (You (formal) lived, might live, were living. He lived, might live, was living. She lived, might live, was living.)
    • Habla+´ramos=Habláramos (we spoke, might speak, were speaking), Comie+’ramos=Comiéramos (we ate, might eat, were eating), Vivie+’ramos=Viviéramos (we lived, might live, were living)
    • Habla+rais=Hablarais (you all (informal) spoke, might speak, were speaking), Comie+rais=Comierais (you all (informal) ate, might eat, were eating), Vivie+rais=Vivierais (you all (informal) lived, might live, were living)
    • Habla+ran=Hablaran (You all (formal) spoke, might speak, were speaking. They (males or a mixed group) spoke, might speak, were speaking. They (all females) spoke, might speak, were speaking.)
    • Comie+ran=Comieran (You all (formal) ate, might eat, were eating. They (males or a mixed group) ate, might eat, were eating. They (all females) ate, might eat, were eating.)
    • Vivie+ran=Vivieran (You all (formal) lived, might live, were living. They (males or a mixed group) lived, might live, were living. They (all females) lived, might live, were living.)

Alternate Form (-SE Ending)

There is an alternate form of the imperfect subjunctive, but it’s not one that you’re going to come across very often. However, it is used occassionally in some parts of the world and also in some literature. As such, it will be included here also so that you can recognize it also as
being the imperfect subjunctive when you see it.

  1. The alternate form is based off of the third-person plural form using the preterit (past) tense, just as with the -RA ending.
  2. Remove the “-ron” ending.
  3. Add the following endings to the verb stem:
    • (yo) Hablar – Habla receives “-se” becoming “Hablase”. que yo hablase…
    • (tú) Hablar – Habla receives “-ses” becoming “Hablases”. que tú hablases…
    • (Usted, él, ella) Hablar – Habla receives “-se” becoming “Hablase”. que usted habalase. que él hablase. que ella hablase…
    • (nosotros/as) Hablar – Habla receives “-‘semos” becoming “Hablásemos”. que nosotros/as hablásemos…
    • (vosotros/as) Hablar – Habla receives “-seis” becoming “Hablaseis”. que vosotros/as hablaseis…
    • (Ustedes, ellos, ellas) – Hablar – Habla receives “-sen” becoming “Hablasen”. que ustedes, ellos, ellas hablasen…
  4. For verbs that normally end with ER and IR, add the same endings and the AR verbs:
    • (yo) Comer – Comie receives “-se” becoming “Comiese”. que yo comiese…
    • (tú) Comer – Comie receives “-ses” becoming “Comieses”. que tú comieses…
    • (Usted, él, ella) Comer – Comie receives “-se” becoming “Comiese”. que usted comiese. que él comiese. que ella comiese…
    • (nosotros/as) Comer – Comie receives “-‘semos” becoming “Comiésemos”. que nosotros/as comiésemos…
    • (vosotros/as) Comer – Comie receives “-seis” becoming “Comieseis”. que vosotros/as comieseis…
    • (Ustedes, ellos, ellas) – Comer – Comie receives “-sen” becoming “Comiesen”. que ustedes, ellos, ellas comiesen…
    • (yo) Vivir – Vivie receives “-se” becoming “Viviese”. que yo viviese…
    • (tú) Vivir – Vivie receives “-ses” becoming “Vivieses”. que tú vivieses…
    • (Usted, él, ella) Vivir – Vivie receives “-se” becoming “Viviese”. que usted viviese. que él viviese. que ella viviese…
    • (nosotros/as) Vivir – Vivie receives “-‘semos” becoming “Viviésemos”. que nosotros/as viviésemos…
    • (vosostros/as) Vivir – Vivie receives “-seis” becoming “Vivieseis”. que vosotros/as vivieseis…
    • (Ustedes, ellos, ellas) – Vivir – Vivie receives “-sen” becoming “Viviesen”. que ustedes, ellos, ellas viviesen…

Imperfect Subjunctive and Reflexive Verbs

As normal, the reflexive pronoun appears in front of the conjugated verb.

  • levantarse – to get up
  • que me levantara
  • que te levantaras
  • que se levantara
  • que nos levantáramos
  • que os levantarais
  • que se levantaran

When to Use the Imperfect Subjunctive

The imperfect subjunctive is used in the same types of situations as the present subjunctive. However, with the imperfect subjunctive the difference is in the time of the action.

The Main Verb is in the Present Tense and the Dependant Verb is in the Past Tense

When the main verb in the sentence uses the present tense and needs a subjunctive and the dependant verb is in the past, you’ll use the imperfect subjunctive mood. Take note that in the simple tenses (not the compound tenses such as ‘he comido’ or ‘hubiera hablado’) there are two forms of the past tense: the preterit and the imperfect. In the subjunctive mood, there is only one form of the past tense in the simple form: the imperfect subjunctive. This means that any time a sentence requires the use of the simple past tense in the subjunctive, you’ll use the imperfect subjunctive.

  • Preterit example: Temo que ella lo matara. – I fear that she killed him.
  • Imperfect example: Me alegro que nevara. – I’m glad it was snowing.

When the Main Verb is in the Past Tense

When the verb in the main clause takes place in the past and the subjunctive is needed, the verb in the dependant clause will be in the imperfect subjunctive.

  • Yo no creía que ella lo matara. – I didn’t believe that she killed him.(“…but I do believe now” is left unsaid)
  • No dije que él trabajara en el banco. – I did not say that he worked in the bank.

“Hay” and the Imperfect Subjunctive

Hubiera is the imperfect subjunctive form of the word “Hay,” or “there is, there are.” Hubiera is used in the same manner as hay, except in the past tense. However, since you’ll be using it often, I wanted to make a special note of it.

Also, just as the expression “hay que” or “one must…” is used often in the present tense, “hubiera que” will be the expression that you use in the past tense (only in cases where you would use the imperfect subjunctive.)

  • Yo no creía que hubiera que manejar a Minnesota. – I didn’t think it was necesary to drive to Minnesota.

Using “If” Clauses

If an “If” clause runs contrary-to-fact, is hypothetical, or counterfactual, you will use the imperfect subjunctive. The reason being that the situation being referred to hasn’t occurred yet. This can be a bit tricky because there are “If” statements that don’t use the imperfect subjunctive. If you are not using an “If” statement to state something hypothetically, the clause will remain in the indicative. In other words, you’re saying something that is true. In the following statement, the present indicative will be used without a subjunctive (a true statement):

  • Si como la comida, vomitaré. – If I eat the food, I will vomit.

The next example will run contrary-to-fact, as in the popular wish: If I won the lottery, I would (insert wish here). I haven’t won the lottery, but this is what would happen if I did, therefore, we use the imperfect subjunctive to get that idea across. In many cases you’ll use the conditional tense in an “If” sentence that requires the imperfect subjuntive, as shown in the following example.

  • Si yo ganara la lotería, compraría una casa grande! – If I won the lottery, I would buy a big house!

Making Polite Requests – Deber, Poder and Querer

You can use the imperfect subjunctive form of Deber (debiera), Poder (pudiera) and Querer (quisiera) to make a polite request of someone. “Debiera” is the polite way of saying “you should” or “you ought to”. “Debiera salir de mi casa ahora.” – You ought to leave my house now. In this case, it’s the polite way of saying that somebody isn’t wanted in my house, but it’s much more polite than “¡Vete! Leave! Get out!!!” “Pudiera” is the polite way of saying “Would you be able to pretty please with sugar on top?” Okay, not quite that extreme, but you get the picture. And “Quisiera” is the polite version of “I would very much like…” If you’re in a restaurant and the waiter asks what you want, you can request a hamburger by saying, “Quisiera una hamburguesa.” – I would like a hamburger. Or if you’re watching football, you can say to your wife, “Pudieras traerme una cerveza?” – Could you bring me a beer? Whether or not she gets you the beer depends upon your sincerity and other factors that aren’t covered by the imperfect subjunctive, so we won’t go into that here.

Querer – For Wishing

Another use of “quisiera” is to wish for something. There are all kinds of wishes in this world so chances are that you’re going to use this a lot.

  • Yo quisiera que ella estuviera aquí. – I wish that she were here.
  • Ellos quisieran tener un carro nuevo. – They wish they had a new car.

In the first example above, you’ll notice the change of subject. I wish (one subject) she were here (second subject). In this que the two subjects will be separated by “que” and the second subject will also receive the imperfect subjunctive. In the second example, they’re wishing that they had a new car. There’s no subject change and the infinitive will follow “quisieran.”

Ojalá is another word that is commonly used for wishing and you will use the imperfect subjunctive behind it when you use it (ojalá) in the present tense.

  • Ojalá manejaras con cuido. – I hope you drive with care.

As If – Como Si

When you use the phrase “as if” you will use the imperfect subjunctive.

  • Caminé como si tuviera todo el tiempo en el mundo. – I walked as if I had all the time in the world.
  • Ella corrió como si Jason Voorhees estuviera atras de ella. – She ran as if Jason Voorhees were after her.

Ni que can also be used as “As if” but in a negative way, more like sarcasm. It will also take the imperfect subjunctive.

  • Voy a comprar una casa, un carro y un barco. – I’m going to buy a house, a car, and a boat
  • ¡Ni que tuvieras el dinero! – As if you had the money!

 

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Click here to learn more about the Imperfect Subjuntive – Learning Spanish Like Crazy Level 3 Nivel 3
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