Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive – Conjugation and Uses

Welcome to our grammar lesson about the Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive.

The Imperfect Subjunctive (“Pretérito Imperfecto del Subjuntivo”) is a verb tense in Spanish. It belongs to the Subjunctive Mood. We use it in some types of sentences that express either an unlikely possibility, or subjectivity about a past event.

In this lesson we will learn all about the Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive, both the conjugation of verbs, and the types of sentences where we use it, providing examples.

At the end you will find a find a Quiz and an Exercise for practice.

1. Conjugation of verbs in Imperfect Subjunctive

In order to conjugate verbs in Imperfect Subjunctive, we need to have already mastered another tense: the Preterite.

The reason is, the whole conjugation of a verb in Imperfect Subjunctive is based on that verb’s Preterite “ellos” form.

Here’s the formula we need to apply:

Formula to conjugate verbs in Imperfect Subjunctive

  1. Take the “ellos” form in Preterite Tense.
  2. Remove the “-ron” at the end.
  3. Choose freely from the two possible sets of endings.


The following table shows the 2 sets of endings we can choose from:

Subject PronounEndings with "-ra"Endings with "-se"
yo-ra-se
-ras-ses
él-ra-se
nosotros-ramos-semos
vosotros-rais-seis
ellos-ran-sen

Examples of conjugated verbs

Let’s conjugate a couple of verbs applying the formula we just learned:

Verb “amar”:

  1. In Preterite tense, the “ellos” form is “amaron”.
  2. We remove the final “-ron”  → “ama-“
  3. Finally, here is the full conjugation in Imperfect Subjunctive with both sets of possible endings:
 Conjugation of "amar" with -raConjugation of "amar" with -se
yoamaraamase
amarasamases
élamaraamase
nosotrosamáramosamásemos
vosotrosamaraisamaseis
ellosamaranamasen

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 of "ir" with -raConjugation of "ir" with -se
yofuerafuese
fuerasfueses
élfuerafuese
nosotrosfuéramosfuésemos
vosotrosfueraisfueseis
ellosfueranfuesen


Finally, here are some more examples, always applying the formula:

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

About accent marks

In Imperfect Subjunctive, the “nosotros” form always has an accent mark on the vowel immediately before the attached ending.

2.Uses of the Imperfect Subjunctive

We use the Imperfect Subjunctive in certain types of sentences that express an unlikely possibility, or subjectivity about a past action: doubt, emotion…

Unfortunately, that idea is not enough to master its use, because the types of sentences where we use it are very specific. The Spanish student should learn each specific type of sentence where we use the Imperfect Subjunctive.

Most times the Imperfect Subjunctive appears in dependent clauses, usually after a relative pronoun such as “que”.

Here are the most frequent cases:

Sentence types where we use the Imperfect Subjunctive

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 viniese 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 ganásemos 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 dijeras eso.
I wouldn’t like you to say that.

Nos daba miedo que nos atacasen.
We were scared that they would attack us.


4) After these phrases to speculate: “posiblemente, probablemente, tal vez, quizás, puede que, es posible que, es probable que”, the next verb is in Imperfect Subjunctive when the speculation is about the past.

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

Es posible que Juan y Pablo nos llamasen.
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 comprasen 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 supiésemos 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 saliese.
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 expected to happen in the past.

No quería pagar el ordenador hasta que funcionase.
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 fregase.
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 fueses 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 hypothetical impediment that would cause something not to 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 a partial obstacle to something else that would end up happening anyway: “aunque, a pesar de que”.

Aunque no quisieses, 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…” indicating the desired qualities of something, when the verb before “que” is in any past tense or conditional tense.

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

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


15) To express a condition that seems unlikely to happen, in the clause right after the word “si…”:

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

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


16) We can use the verb “querer” in Imperfect Subjunctive to ask for something politely. In this case, it only sounds natural with the endings in -ra.

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

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


17) After “como si…”, which means “as if, like if…”:

Me hablas como si fuera tonto.
You talk to me like if I was stupid.

Este tenista es invencible, juega como si tuviese dos raquetas.
This tennis player is invincible, he plays as if he had two rackets.

3. Practice the Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive

Quiz

Take this Quiz about the Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive!:

Exercise

In the next sentences, fill the gaps in your mind or on a piece of paper using the Imperfect Subjunctive, then check the solutions below.

Because in Imperfect Subjunctive we can choose between two sets of endings, both possible answers are given in the solutions.

1. Me gustaría que ellos _______ (venir) a la fiesta.
2. Ojalá mi jefe _______ (ser) más amable.
3. Si tú _______ (tener) un ordenador moderno, podrías instalar este juego.
4. El anfitrión puso música para que sus invitados _______ (bailar).
5. Os pedí que _______ (traer, vosotros) refrescos.

Solutions: 1 = “vinieran” or “viniesen”, 2 = “fuera” or “fuese”, 3 = “tuvieras” or “tuvieses”, 4 = “bailaran” or “bailasen”, 5 = “trajerais” or “trajeseis”

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