Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive

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

We use the Imperfect Subjunctive in some types of sentences that express either a hypothetical situation, or subjectivity about a past event: doubt, emotion…

A couple of sentences with verbs in Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive
A couple of sentences with verbs in Imperfect Subjunctive (the verbs in green)

This lesson will teach you everything about the Imperfect Subjunctive: how to conjugate verbs and how to use it, providing example sentences.

At the end you’ll ll find a Quiz and Exercises for practice.

Conjugation of verbs in Imperfect Subjunctive

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

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

Here’s the formula we need to apply:

Formula to conjugate a verb in Imperfect Subjunctive

  1. Take the “ellos” form in Preterite Tense.
  2. Remove the “-ron” at the end.
  3. Attach the proper ending (choosing freely between 2 sets of endings)


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

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


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 with -raConjugation 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. Finally, here is the full conjugation in Imperfect Subjunctive, with both sets of possible endings:
 Conjugation with -raConjugation with -se
yofuerafuese
fuerasfueses
élfuerafuese
nosotrosfuéramosfuésemos
vosotrosfueraisfueseis
ellosfueranfuesen


More examples

Here are more verbs conjugated in Imperfect Subjunctive:

VerbConjugation with -raConjugation 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, hablara, 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.

Have you noticed that in the tables above? 🙂

Uses of the Imperfect Subjunctive

We use the Imperfect Subjunctive in some sentences that express a hypothetical situation, or subjectivity about a past action: doubt, emotion…

Here are the most frequent types of sentences where we use it:

a) After a verb that expresses a wish or preference, such as:

  • querer
  • esperar
  • necesitar
  • desear
  • preferir
  • tener ganas de

… if that verb is in any Past or Conditional tense, and followed by “que”, then the next verb in the sentence is usually in Imperfect Subjunctive.

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

Esperaba que Ana viniese a mi cumpleaños.
I was hoping Ana would come to my birthday.

Ellos preferirían que yo no dijera nada.
They would prefer me to say nothing.


b) After a verb that expresses a feeling or personal taste, such as:

  • gustar
  • interesar
  • sorprender
  • preocupar
  • molestar
  • dar miedo

… if that verb is in any Past or Conditional tense, and followed by “que”, then the next verb in the sentence is usually in Imperfect Subjunctive.

No me gustaría que hicieras eso.
I wouldn’t want you to do that.

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


c) After a verb that expresses a plea, order or advice, such as:

  • pedir
  • rogar
  • ordenar
  • aconsejar
  • prohibir

… if that verb is in any Past or Conditional tense, and followed by “que”, then the next verb in the sentence is usually in Imperfect Subjunctive:

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

Mis padres me prohibieron que saliese.
My parents forbade me to go out.


d) After these expressions that express disbelief or doubt:

  • no creer que (only when “no” is before “creer”)
  • no pensar que (only when “no” is before “pensar”)
  • dudar que

… when those doubts are about past events.

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

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


e) After “ojalá” or “ojalá que”, when we express a wish that seems unlikely to be fulfilled.

Ojalá ganásemos el partido.
I wish we would win the match.


f) After these phrases that express speculation:

  • posiblemente
  • probablemente
  • tal vez
  • quizás
  • puede que
  • es posible que
  • es probable que

… the next verb in the sentence is usually in Imperfect Subjunctive when the speculation is about the past.

Quizás tuvieran algún problema.
Maybe they had a problem.

Es posible que ellos nos llamasen.
It is possible that they called us.


g) After expressions that assess or value something with this structure: [ser + adjective + que…] when that verb “ser” is in any Past or Conditional tense, then the next verb in the sentence is usually in Imperfect Subjunctive:

Sería bueno que vosotros dijerais la verdad.
It would be good if you guys told the truth.

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


h) After “para que” and “a fin de que”, when they introduce the purpose of a past action.

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


i) After “hasta que…”, meaning “until…”, when it introduces 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.


j) 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 arrived.

Él pisó el suelo después de que yo fregase.
He stepped on the floor after I scrubbed.


k) After these expressions that introduce a condition that “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 were wearing elegant clothes.

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


l) After these expressions that point to a possible impediment that would cause something hypothetical not to happen: “salvo que, a no ser que”.

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


m) After these expressions that introduce a hypothetical obstacle to something else, but that something else would end up happening anyway: “aunque, a pesar de que”.

Aunque no quisieses, visitaríamos a mi madre.
Even if you didn’t want to, we would visit my mother.


n) After “que, donde, quien…”, when they introduce the desired qualities of something, and the verb before “que” is in any Past or Conditional tense.

Buscaba un piso que tuviera 3 habitaciones.
I was looking for an apartment that had 3 bedrooms.

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


o) After “si…”, when it introduces a condition that seems unlikely to happen:

Si yo 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. 


p) We can use the verb “querer” in Imperfect Subjunctive to ask for something politely. For this use, only the endings in -ra sound good:

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

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


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

Me hablas como si fuera tonto.
You talk to me as 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.

Practice

Quiz

Take this Quiz about the Imperfect Subjunctive:


Exercise 1

Conjugate the following verbs in Imperfect Subjunctive for the given person.

There are always 2 possible solutions, depending on the set of endings we choose:

1) yo ___ (trabajar)
2) tú ___ (comprender)
3) él ___ (pensar)
4) nosotros ___ (sentir)
5) vosotros ___ (repetir)
6) ellos ___ (contar)
7) yo ___ (dormir)
8) tú ___ (jugar)
9) él ___ (conocer)
10) nosotros ___ (tener)
11) vosotros ___ (influir)
12) ellos ___ (ser)

Solutions:
1) trabajara / trabajase
2) comprendieras / comprendieses
3) pensara / pensase
4) sintiéramos / sintiésemos
5) repitierais / repitieseis
6) contaran / contasen
7) durmiera / durmiese
8) jugaras / jugases
9) conociera / conociese
10) tuviéramos / tuviésemos
11) influyerais / influyeseis
12) fueran / fuesen


Exercise 2

Fill the gaps using the Imperfect Subjunctive.

There are always 2 possible solutions, depending on the set of endings we choose:

1) Me gustaría que ellos ___ (venir) a la fiesta.
I’d like them to come to the party.

2) Ojalá mi jefe ___ (ser) más amable.
I wish my boss was kinder.

3) Si tú ___ (tener) un ordenador moderno, podrías instalar este juego.
If you had a modern computer, you could install this game.

4) Ella puso música para que sus invitados ___ (bailar).
She put music on for his guests to dance.

5) Yo os pedí que ___ (traer) refrescos.
I asked you guys to bring refreshments.

Solutions:
1) vinieran / viniesen
2) fuera / fuese
3) tuvieras / tuvieses
4) bailaran / bailasen
5) trajerais / trajeseis

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