What is the imperfect (or past) subjunctive in Spanish?
Just like the indicative mood has an imperfect tense, the subjunctive mood also has an imperfect tense. The imperfect subjunctive is used in hypothetical situations, or in those cases where the subjunctive is required, but the verb of the main clause is in the past tense or conditional.
How do you form the imperfect subjunctive?
To form the imperfect subjunctive, take the third-person plural of the preterite and drop the -ron to get the verb base. The verb base is the same for all verbs, and there are no exceptions. To the verb base add the following endings: -ra (yo) -ras (tú) -ra (él) -ramos (nosotros) -rais (vosotros) -ran (ellos).
What is the alternate form of the imperfect subjunctive?
In old Spanish (and some very formal literature), the imperfect subjunctive could be conjugated with the following endings: -se (yo) -ses (tú) -se (él) -semos (nosotros) -seis (vosotros) -sen (ellos)
He wanted me to speak to his brother
Quería que yo hablara con su hermano
that I spoke, talked (imperfect subjunctive) - que yo hablara. Because the main clause Quería, "He wanted," is in the past and expresses a desire, the subordinate clause que yo hablara... must be in the imperfect or "past" subjunctive.
Your parents wanted you to eat at my house yesterday
Tus padres querían que tú comieras en mi casa ayer
that you ate (imperfect subjunctive) - que tú comieras
They doubted that we ate the whole cake
Dudaron que comiéramos la torta entera
that we ate (imperfect subjunctive) - que nosotros comiéramos
I told them not to come to the party
Les dije que no vinieran a la fiesta
that they came (imperfect subjunctive) - que ellos vinieran. This sentence is expressing an order or demand, which requires the use of the subjunctive
It's good that he got married to her
Es bueno que se casara con ella
that he got married (imperfect subjunctive) - que se casara. The imperfect subjunctive is also used to express current feelings about previous events.
It's impossible that they knew the story before me
Es imposible que supieran el cuento antes que yo
that they knew (imperfect subjunctive) - que supieran
I wish it wouldn't ever rain again
Ojalá que no lloviera jamás
Ojalá along with the imperfect subjunctive is used to express hope for something that is unlikely to happen or is otherwise improbable or impossible.
If I were rich, I would buy a house in Malibu
Si fuera rico, me compraría una casa en Malibú
If I were (imperfect subjunctive) - si yo fuera
If you were my girlfriend, I would be upset
Si tú fueras mi novia, yo andaría molesto
If you were (imperfect subjunctive) - si tú fueras
If they were taller, they would be more handsome
Si fueran más altos, serían más guapos
If they were (imperfect subjunctive) - si ellos fueran
Could you please help me with this, sir?
Señor, ¿me pudiera ayudar con esto?
Could you please? (imperfect subjunctive) - ¿Pudiera? The imperfect subjunctive is also used to make very polite requests or to pose polite questions. Querer can also be used in this way (quisiera).
Would you like to come with me?
¿Quisiera ir conmigo?
Would you like? (imperfect subjunctive) - ¿Quisiera?
I won't swim unless you help me
No voy a nadar a menos que me ayudes
unless - a menos que. The adverbial phrase a menos que triggers the use of the subjunctive in all tenses.
He won't go unless I come too
No irá a menos que venga yo también
unless I come (present subjunctive) - a menos que yo venga. Note that venir is a go stem-changing verb, and in the present subjunctive it retains this spelling peculiarity, venga.
My girlfriend wouldn't leave the house at night unless I came with her
Mi novia no salía de la casa de noche a menos que yo viniera con ella
unless I came (imperfect subjunctive) - a menos que yo viniera. Note that venir does not retain any of its spelling irregularities.
I work hard so that we can have money
Trabajo duro para que podamos tener dinero
so that we can (present subjunctive) - para que podamos. The adverbial phrase para que triggers the use of the subjunctive in all tenses.
My dad worked hard so that we could have everything we wanted
Mi padre trabajó duro para que pudiéramos tener lo que quisiéramos
so that we could (imperfect subjunctive) - para que pudiéramos
I want you to help me before you leave
Quiero que me ayudes antes de que te vayas
before you leave (present subjunctive) - antes (de) que te vayas. The adverbial phrase antes (de) que triggers the use of the subjunctive in all tenses.
I wanted you to help me clean the kitchen before you left
Quería que tú me ayudaras a limpiar la cocina antes de que te fueras
before you left (imperfect subjunctive) - antes (de) que te fueras. The adverbial phrase antes (de) que triggers the use of the subjunctive in all tenses. Note that ser and ir share the same imperfect subjunctive form.