Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive – Learn and Practice

Welcome 😊 to our grammar lesson on the Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive («Pretérito Imperfecto del Subjuntivo»).

We use the Imperfect Subjunctive in certain types of sentences that express either a hypothetical situation, or subjectivity about a past event.

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

By the end of this lesson, you will be able to conjugate verbs in Imperfect Subjunctive and use them in sentences.

You will also find a Quiz and Exercises to practice.

Conjugation of verbs

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

Because the whole conjugation of a verb in Imperfect Subjunctive is based on that same verb’s «ellos» form in Preterite.

Here’s the formula we need to apply:

Formula for the Imperfect Subjunctive

  1. Take the verb’s «ellos» form in Preterite Tense.
  2. Remove the «-ron» at the end.
  3. Attach the proper ending (choosing freely between the 2 sets of endings in the table below)

 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 see a couple of examples. We are going to conjugate the verbs «amar» and «ir» using 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 are the 2 possible conjugations in Imperfect Subjunctive, depending on the set of endings we choose:
 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 are the 2 possible conjugations in Imperfect Subjunctive, depending on the set of endings we choose:
 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 ending.

Have you noticed that in the tables above? 🙂

Uses of the Imperfect Subjunctive

We use the Imperfect Subjunctive in certain types of 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) When a verb that expresses subjectivity (querer, esperar, necesitar, desear, gustar, preferir, interesar, preocupar, molestar…) is in a past or conditional tense and followed by «que», then the next verb 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.

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


b) When a verb that expresses a plea, order or advice (pedir, rogar, ordenar, aconsejar, prohibir…) is in a past or conditional tense and followed by «que», then the next verb is usually in Imperfect subjunctive:

Te aconsejé que lo investigaras.
I advised you to look into it.

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


c) 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.


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

Ojalá ganásemos el partido.
I wish we’d win the match.


e) After these phrases that express a degree of probability, the next verb is usually in Imperfect Subjunctive when the speculation is about the past:

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

Quizás tuvieran algún problema.
Maybe they had a problem.

Es posible que ellos llamasen.
It’s possible that they called.


f) After expressions with this structure: [ser + adjective + que…] when “ser” is in any Past or Conditional tense:

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.


g) 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 show.


h) After «hasta que…», meaning «until…», when it introduces an event that was expected to happen in the past.

Yo no quería pagar hasta que el ordenador funcionase.
I didn’t want to pay until the computer worked.


i) 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.


j) 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 wore elegant clothes.

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


k) After these expressions that introduce 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.


l) After these expressions that introduce a hypothetical partial obstacle to something that 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.


m) For the desired qualities of something or someone, introduced by the words «que, donde, quien…», but only when the verb before those words 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.


n) For a condition that is unlikely to happen, introduced by «si…»:

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, they would pass. 


o) We can use the verb “querer” in Imperfect Subjunctive to order 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.


p) After «como si…», which means «as if…»:

Hablas como si fuera tonto.
You talk as if I were 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 short 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. Click on the gray spaces to see the solutions:

1) yo trabajara/trabajase (trabajar)
2) tú comprendieras/comprendieses (comprender)
3) él pensara/pensase (pensar)
4) nosotros sintiéramos/sintiésemos (sentir)
5) vosotros repitierais/repitieseis (repetir)
6) ellos contaran/contasen (contar)
7) yo durmiera/durmiese (dormir)
8) tú jugaras/jugases (jugar)
9) él conociera/conociese (conocer)
10) nosotros tuviéramos/tuviésemos (tener)
11) vosotros influyerais/influyeseis (influir)
12) ellos fueran/fuesen (ser)

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 vinieran/viniesen (venir) a la fiesta.
I wish they would come to the party.

2) Ojalá mi jefe fuera/fuese (ser) más amable.
I wish my boss was nicer.

3) Si tú tuvieras/tuvieses (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 bailaran/bailasen (bailar).
She put music on for her guests to dance to.

5) Yo os pedí que vosotros trajerais/trajeseis (traer) refrescos.
I asked you guys to bring refreshments.