Now that you’re really starting to get a handle on the Spanish language, it’s time to tackle one of the most difficult subjunctive conjugation: the past subjunctive.
As if the past tenses and the subjunctive mood weren’t difficult enough, today we’re going to be combining the two! This is one of those examples of grammar topics that strike fear in the hearts of learners.
So today we’ll be going over a complete guide on the past subjunctive – what it is and how to use it. We’ll go over it step by step and by the end, you’ll see that this Spanish concept isn’t as difficult as you might think.
What is the Past Subjunctive
The past subjunctive is also known as the imperfect subjunctive. In other words – we’re combining a subjunctive verb with the preterite imperfect tense.
That means that the easiest way to explain the imperfect subjunctive is just a verb in the past tense and the subjunctive mood.
As you probably remember – the subjunctive has NOTHING to do with time, but rather it gives additional meaning to the verb being used.
DID YOU KNOW…?
You’re probably familiar with the present and past subjunctive – but the future subjunctive exists too! Luckily, you’ll probably NEVER use it, unless you decide to become a lawyer in a Spanish-speaking country.
How to conjugate the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish
The imperfect subjunctive can be one of the more difficult parts of the language to conjugate. However, there is an easy way to master the imperfect subjunctive endings.
Let’s take a look at what this set of endings looks like:
|Subject Pronoun||AR verbs||ER verbs||IR verbs|
|Yo||Hablara / Hablase||Corriera / Corriese||Abriera / Abriese|
|Tú / Vos||Hablaras / Hablases||Corrieras / Corrieses||Abriera / Abrieses|
|Él / Ella / Usted||Hablara / Hablase||Corriera / Corriese||Abriera / Abriese|
|Nosotros||Habláramos / Hablásemos||Corriéremos / Corriésemos||Abriéremos / Abriésemos|
|Vosotros||Hablarais / Hablaseis||Corriereis / Corrieses||Abriereis / Abrieses|
|Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes||Hablaran / Hablasen||Corrieran / Corriesen||Abrieran / Abriesen|
As you can see, there are two separate forms you can use for every conjugation in the imperfect subjunctive. Both of them are completely valid and you should at least recognize both of them.
To form the imperfect subjunctive endings, you first start with the third-person plural form of the preterite form of any verb. After that, you’ll keep the stem and change out the ending for the appropriate for the imperfect subjunctive.
Here are a few examples:
- Caminar – Caminaron – Él / Ella Caminara
- Beber – Bebieron – Tú bebieses
- Pedir – Pidieron – Nosotros pidiéramos
There are two quick things to note when you’re forming the imperfect subjunctive. First – any verb that is irregular in the third person plural of the preterite will also be irregular in the imperfect subjunctive.
That’s great news for you! Once you memorize the preterite tense, the imperfect subjunctive will be a piece of cake!
The second tip to pay attention to is the accent mark in the Nosotros form. It’s the only form that will have an accent mark – and always on the a or the e in the third-to-last syllable.
There is no difference at all between the two forms. You can use hablara or hablase – pick your favorite!
How to use the Spanish Past Subjunctive
Let’s move on to the important part – how the imperfect subjunctive is used.
The good news is that for the most part, the past subjunctive is used almost identically to the present subjunctive. So if you’ve already mastered that – this shouldn’t be too difficult for you!
Though it never hurts to go back and review. So let’s look at how to use the imperfect subjunctive so you can really drill this one into your head!
The WEIRDO clauses
The WEIRDO clauses are always here to save us. These six categories of situations include a dependent and an independent clause – with the imperfect subjunctive always happening in the dependent clause.
This means you’ll almost always have two different subjects and two different verbs. For today’s context, one verb (in the independent clause) will be in the indicative imperfect or preterite and the other verb (the dependent clause) will be in the imperfect subjunctive.
Let’s move away from all the grammar talk and look at some real examples. Here are the six categories of WEIRDO clauses:
W – Wishes
- Yo quería que él hiciera la comida hoy. – I wanted him to make lunch today.
- Esperábamos que ganara el Barça. – We hoped that Barça would win.
I – Impersonal expressions
- No hacía falta que llegaras tan pronto. – It wasn’t necessary for you to get here so early.
- Era importante que prestásemos atención. – It was important that we paid attention.
E – Emotions
- Me avergonzaba que gritara así. – It embarassed me that he yelled like that.
- Le encantó que fuésemos a visitarlo. – He loved that we went to visit him.
R – Recommendations / Requests
- Me aconsejó que tuviera cuidado. – She advised me to be careful.
- Nos pidió que sacáramos la basura. – He asked us to take out the trash.
D – Doubt / Denial
- No pensaban que la gente fuera tan simpática allí. – They didn’t think the people were so nice there.
- No creíamos que abriesen a esa hora. – We didn’t think they opened at that time.
O – Ojalá
- Ojalá que hubiera paz en el mundo. – I wish there was peace in the world.
- Ojalá que fuese todo más fácil. – I wish it was all easier.
Ojalá is absolutely one of the best ways the imperfect subjunctive is used! So definitely make sure that you practice this one! Ojalá que almost always translates to “I wish”, making it a great way to express your opinion.
Be careful here! Ojalá + present subjunctive means “Hopefully”. So make sure to remember the difference!
Another common way to use the imperfect tense in the subjunctive mood iswith si clauses. It’s an easy construction and shouldn’t give you too much trouble to start to master.
Basically, we use the imperfect subjunctive like this to express a hypothetical situation. Usually, it’s followed by the conditional tense. In general, it follows the “If I could X, then I would Y” formula.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of the imperfect subjunctive like this:
- Si quisiera, me haría el favor. – If he wanted to, he would do it for me.
- Si pudiera, te ayudaría. – If I could, I would help you.
- Si estuviese más cerca, iríamos más a menudo. – If it were closer, we would go more often.
As you can see – it doesn’t EXACTLY follow the above formula as a translation, but it always expresses the same idea. If you’re just starting out getting used to the imperfect subjunctive, this is a great place to start practicing it naturally in speech.
Having trouble with the second clause in the sentence? Make sure to check out our full guide on the Spanish conditional tense.
El pretérito perfecto
Finally, we’re going to move away from the imperfect subjunctive and practice a different way to use the subjunctive in the past tense.
Because the term “past subjunctive” is a bit too generic. Although the imperfect subjunctive is used to talk about the past in the subjunctive mood – it’s not the only grammar construction that can do that.
We can also use the pretérito perfecto to do something similar. Let’s look at how to form this grammar structure briefly:
|Subject Pronoun||AR verbs||ER verbs||IR verbs|
|Yo||Haya hablado||Haya corrido||Haya pedido|
|Tú / Vos||Hayas hablado||Hayas corrido||Hayas pedido|
|Él / Ella / Usted||Haya hablado||Haya corrido||Haya pedido|
|Nosotros||Háyamos hablado||Háyamos corrido||Háyamos pedido|
|Vosotros||Hayais hablado||Hayais corrido||Hayais pedido|
|Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes||Hayan hablado||Hayan corrido||Hayan pedido|
As you can see, all you need to do is conjugate Haber in the present subjunctive, then add the participle form.
Actually forming this way to express the subjunctive in the past is pretty simple, so let’s move on to how to actually use it.
Want to review some other ways to use participles in the past? Check out our guide on the past perfect Spanish tense.
The major difference between the pretérito perfecto and imperfect subjunctive is that with imperfect subjunctive – both the independent clause and the dependent clause are in the past.
But with the pretérito perfecto, you’re expressing something about the past in the PRESENT. For example:
- No creo que haya acabado la tarea todavía. – I don’t think she finished her homework yet.
- No piensan que hayas sido tú. – They don’t think it was you.
So the first part of the sentence uses the present tense, followed by the pretérito perfecto.
But with the imperfect subjunctive, the independent clause is ALSO in the past tense.
No puedo creer que haya sido tan fácil
You’re now officially a pro at using the imperfect subjunctive! And as a bonus – other forms of the past subjunctive in Spanish!
Of course, there are many ways to use the subjunctive in Spanish, so you’ll just have to take it one step at a time.
In the meantime, don’t forget to practice so you can really get that ah-ha! moment. So go ahead and sign up for a free private class or a 7-day free trial of our group classes to practice what you learned!
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