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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)


Translate to Spanish:

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.

Translate to Spanish:

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

Translate to Spanish:

They doubted that we ate the whole cake

Dudaron que comiéramos la torta entera

that we ate (imperfect subjunctive) - que nosotros comiéramos

Translate to Spanish:

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

Translate to Spanish:

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.

Translate to Spanish:

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

Translate to Spanish:

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.

Translate to Spanish:

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

Translate to Spanish:

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

Translate to Spanish:

If they were taller, they would be more handsome

Si fueran más altos, serían más guapos

If they were (imperfect subjunctive) - si ellos fueran

Translate to Spanish:

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).

Translate to Spanish:

Would you like to come with me?

¿Quisiera ir conmigo?

Would you like? (imperfect subjunctive) - ¿Quisiera?

Translate to Spanish:

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.

Translate to Spanish:

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.

Translate to Spanish:

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.

Translate to Spanish:

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.

Translate to Spanish:

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

Translate to Spanish:

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.

Translate to Spanish:

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.