Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive – Conjugation and Uses

Welcome to our lesson about the Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive Tense (“Pretérito Imperfecto del Subjuntivo”).

The Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive has a very easy Conjugation, especially if the student already has a good grasp of the Spanish Preterite. However, learning when to use it is more challenging.

In this lesson we will learn how to conjugate verbs in Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive, as well as the types of sentences where we use it.

We will go through the following points:

1.Conjugation of verbs in Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive

In order to conjugate verbs in Imperfect Subjunctive, it is crucial to previously master another tense: the Preterite. The reason is, the whole conjugation in Imperfect Subjunctive is based on the Preterite form for the person “ellos”. Click here if you need to review the Spanish Preterite.

We need to apply the following formula:

Formula to conjugate verbs

  1. Take the “ellos” form in Preterite Tense.
  2. Remove the “-ron” at the end of that form.
  3. Add one of the two possible endings.

In Imperfect Subjunctive there are 2 sets of possible endings, and we can pick one or the other with total freedom. For the first set, all endings start with “-ra…”. For the second set, all endings start with “-se…”.

We see the 2 sets of Endings in the following table:

 Endings with "-ra"Endings with "-se"

**Note: The form for the person “nosotros” always has an accent mark on the vowel immediately before the ending, as we will see in the examples.

Examples of verbs conjugated in Imperfect Subjunctive

Verb “amar”:

  1. In Preterite tense, the “ellos” form is “amaron”.
  2. We remove the final “-ron”  → “ama-“
  3. So here is the full conjugation in Imperfect Subjunctive with both sets of possible endings:
 Conjugation with "-ra"Conjugation with "-se"

Verb “ir”:

  1. In Preterite tense, the “ellos” form is “fueron”.
  2. We remove the final “-ron”  → “fue-“
  3. So here is the full conjugation in Imperfect Subjunctive with both sets of possible endings:
 Conjugation with "-ra"Conjugation with "-se"

To conclude this lesson, here are some more examples, always following the process we just learned:

VerbConjugation with "-ra"Conjugation with "-se"
Hacer (hicie-)hiciera, hicieras, hiciera, hiciéramos, hicierais, hicieranhiciese, hicieses, hiciese, hiciésemos, hicieseis, hiciesen
Tener (tuvie-)tuviera, tuvieras, tuviera, tuviéramos, tuvierais, tuvierantuviese, tuvieses, tuviese, tuviésemos, tuvieseis, tuviesen
Hablar (habla-)hablara, hablaras, hablar, habláramos, hablarais, hablaranhablase, hablases, hablase, hablásemos, hablaseis, hablasen
Comer (comie-)comiera, comieras, comiera, comiéramos, comierais, comierancomiese, comieses, comiese, comiésemos, comieseis, comiesen
Poner (pusie-)pusiera, pusieras, pusiera, pusiéramos, pusierais, pusieranpusiese, pusieses, pusiese, pusiésemos, pusieseis, pusiesen
Haber (hubie-)hubiera, hubieras, hubiera, hubiéramos, hubierais, hubieranhubiese, hubieses, hubiese, hubiésemos, hubieseis, hubiesen

2.Uses of the Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive

In general, the Subjunctive mode is used mostly in sentences that express subjectivity. The problem is, it is only in certain types of sentences that we use it, and because of that it is better to learn each individual case.

The most common cases for the Imperfect Subjunctive are:

1) After verbs that express a wish or preference («querer, esperar, necesitar, desear, preferir, tener ganas de…»), when they are in any Past or Conditional tense and followed by the word «que»…, then the NEXT verb in the sentence is in Imperfect Subjunctive.

Queríamos que estudiaras más.
We wanted you to study more.

Esperaba que Ana viniera a mi cumpleaños.
I hoped Ana would come to my birthday.

Ellos preferirían que yo no dijera nada.
They would prefer me not to say anything.

2) After «ojalá» or «ojalá que», when they express a wish that seems unlikely to be fulfilled.

Ojalá ganáramos el partido.
I wish we would win the match. (unlikely)

3) After verbs that express a feeling or personal taste («gustar, interesar, sorprender, preocupar, molestar, dar miedo…») when they are in any Past or Conditional Tense and followed by the word «que»…, then the NEXT verb is in Imperfect Subjunctive.

No me gustaría que hablaras así.
I wouldn’t like it if you talked that way.

Nos daba miedo que nos atacaran.
We were scared that they could attack us.

4) After these phrases to hypothesize: «posiblemente, probablemente, tal vez, quizás, puede que, es posible que, es probable que», the next verb is in Imperfect Subjunctive when the hypothesis is about the past.

Quizás tuvieran algún problema.
They might have had a problem.

Es posible que Juan y Pablo nos llamaran.
It’s possible that Juan and Pablo called us.

5) After these expressions that express disbelief or doubt: «No creer que, no pensar que, dudar que», when those doubts are about past events.

El director no cree que eso fuera tan importante.
The director doesn’t think that was so important.

Dudo que compraran el coche.
I doubt they bought the car.

6) After expressions that assess something, using this structure: «ser» + adjective + «que»… when that verb “ser” is in any Past or Conditional tense.

Sería bueno que vosotros dijerais la verdad.
It would be good for you guys to tell the truth.

Era importante que supiéramos la verdad.
It was important for us to know the truth.

7) After verbs in Present Tense that express a plea, an order or an advice («pedir, rogar, ordenar, aconsejar, prohibir…») when they are in any Past or Conditional tense, and followed by the word «que».

Te aconsejé que lo investigaras.
I advised you to investigate it.

Mis padres me prohibieron que saliera.
My parent’s prohibited me to go out.

8) After «para que» and «a fin de que», which express finality, when talking about the past.

Te regalé esta tele para que vieras tu serie favorita.
I gave you this TV so that you could watch your favorite series.

9) After «hasta que…», mainly when talking about an event that was a possibility in the past.

No quería pagar el ordenador hasta que funcionara.
I didn’t want to pay for the computer until it worked.

10) After «antes de que» and «después de que» referring to past actions.

Los niños estudiaron antes de que llegaran sus amigos.
The children studied before their friends came.

Pisó el suelo después de que yo fregara.
Hi stepped on the floor after I mopped.

11) After these expressions that point to a condition which needed to happen or would need to happen in order for something else to happen: «siempre que, a condición de que, siempre y cuando…».

Podías ir a la fiesta siempre que llevaras ropa elegante.
You could go to the party as long as you wore elegant clothes.

Siempre y cuando fueras amable, la gente te trataría bien.
As long as you were nice, people would treat you well.

12) After these expressions that point to an impediment what would make something that in principle would happen, not happen: «salvo que, a no ser que».

Cocinaría carne, a no ser que fueras vegetariano.
I would cook meat, unless you were vegetarian.

13) After these expressions that point to an obstacle to an action that would end up happening anyway: «aunque, a pesar de que».

Aunque no quisieras, iríamos a ver a mi madre.
Even if you didn’t want, we’d go see my mother.

14) After the relative pronouns «que, donde, quien…» when indicating the possible qualities of something that someone was or would be looking for:

Buscaba un piso que tuviera 3 habitaciones.
I was looking for a flat that had 3 rooms.

Querríamos una compañera de piso que no fumara.
We would want a flatmate that didn’t smoke.

15) To express a condition that seems unlikely, after the word “si”:

Si fuera rico, compraría coches de lujo.
If i was rich, I would buy luxury cars.

Si los niños estudiaran más, aprobarían.
If the children studied more, the would pass. 

16) We use the verb “querer” in Imperfect Subjunctive to ask for something politely:

Quisiera un café, por favor.
I would like a coffee, please.

Quisiéramos una habitación doble.
We would like a double room.