Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive
Language Resources

Forming the Spanish imperfect subjunctive

Below you can find the basic rules of forming the present subjunctive. Like any grammatical "rule", there are exceptions and irregularities, but we'll get to those later. In the meantime, get a grasp on the general rules:

  • Conjugate the verb into the third person plural form of the preterite tense
    • escuchar --> escucharon
    • comer --> comieron
    • escribir --> escribieron
  • Drop the -ron ending
    • escucho --> escucha_
    • como --> comie_
    • escribo --> escribie_
  • Add the imperfect subjunctive endings. As you can see, there are two sets of imperfect subjunctive endings. They are completely interchangeable and equally correct.
      or
      yo-ra-se
      -ras-ses
      él, ella -ra-se
      nosotros/as-ramos-semos
      vosotros/as-ráis-séis
      ellos, ellas -ran-sen

Examples:

3rd person plural, preterite drop the -ronadd the ending
(option 1)
add the ending
(option 2)
hablarhablaronhabla-hablara
hablaras
hablara
habláramos
hablaráis
hablaran

hablase
hablases
hablase
hablásemos
hablaséis
hablasen
comercomieroncomie-comiera
comieras
comiera
comiéramos
comieráis
comieran
comiese
comieses
comiese
comiésemos
comieséis
comiesen
escribirescribieronescribie-escribiera
escribieras
escribiera
escribiéramos
escribieráis
escribieran
escribiese
escribieses
escribiese
escribiésemos
escribieséis
escribiesen

Using the Spanish imperfect subjunctive

The imperfect subjunctive follows the same general rules as the present subjunctive in terms of when the subjunctive is necessary. The main difference is timing, as the imperfect subjunctive is used when the main verb is in either the preterite or imperfect past tenses.

1. If the verb in the independent clause expresses wishes, emotions, recommendations, possible non-realities, doubts, denial, etc. and is in the preterite, imperfect or conditional tense then the subjunctive verb in the independent clause will be imperfect subjunctive.

Construction:
- preterite/imperfect/conditional + imperfect subjunctive

  • Dudaba que viniera.
    (I doubted that he was coming.)
  • Le dije que lavara los platos.
    (I told him to wash the dishes.)
  • Los niños querían que su padre les comprase un perro.
    (The children wanted their father to buy them a dog.)
  • Me alegraba de que te casases.
    (I was happy that you were getting married.)

2. When the independent clause expresses current emotions, doubts, etc. about something that happened in the past, the verb in the dependent clause will be imperfect subjunctive.

Construction:
- present + imperfect subjunctive

  • Nos sorprende que viajara a Alaska.
    (It's surprising that he traveled to Alaska.)
  • Es raro que rompiese con su novia.
    (It's strange that he broke up with his girlfriend.)

3. When we want to indicate or hope for unlikely or impossible events using the expression "Ojalá" or "Ojalá que" (means roughly "If only..."), the verb following it will be imperfect subjunctive.

Construction:
- Ojalá (que) + imperfect subjunctive + rest of sentence

  • Ojalá que hiciera calor en invierno.
    (If only it were hot in winter.)
  • Ojalá pudiese volar.
    (If only I could fly.)
  • Ojalá Sara estudiara más.
    (If only Sara studied more.)

4. "If" Clauses. We use the imperfect subjunctive to form a conditional sentence in the past when it follows the word "si" (if) and is combined with the conditional tense. In English, this construction would translate to something along the lines of "If this, then that".

Construction:
- si + imperfect subjunctive + conditional + rest of sentence
- conditional + rest of sentence + si + imperfect subjunctive

  • Si tuviera más dinero, me compraría un coche.
    (If I had more money, I would buy myself a car.)
  • María tendría un gato si su marido no tuviese alergia.
    (María would have a cat if her husband didn't have allergies.)
  • Si Sara estudiara más, sacaría mejores notas.
    (If Sara were to study more she was get better grades.)