Imperfect Subjunctive in Spanish Grammar

What is the imperfect subjunctive?

The imperfect subjunctive (el pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo) can refer to the past, present or future depending on the context.

Read on to learn when to use the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish grammar. Master the conjugation, then put your knowledge to the test in the free exercises. If you want to refresh your knowledge of the subjunctive mood in general, check out our page all about the difference between the indicative and the subjunctive.

Example

Zeichnung

Ojalá trabajara desde casa.

Me gustaría tener un trabajo que me permitiera vivir en cualquier sitio.

No creo que viviera en una ciudad si pudiera teletrabajar.

Y dudo que me cansara alguna vez del campo.

La tranquilidad del día y las noches estrelladas...

¡Quién tuviera una casita en medio de la montaña!

The imperfect subjunctive

The imperfect subjunctive can refer to the past, present or future; we know which via the time markers in the sentence.

Examples:
Mi empresa me pidió que probara a trabajar una semana desde casa.My company asked me to try working from home for one week.past
Ojalá trabajara desde casa.I wish I could work from home.present
Dudo que me cansara alguna vez del campo.I doubt that I would ever get tired of the countryside.future

In compound sentences that contain the subjunctive, the main clause can be in:

  • the present or present perfect indicative
    Examples:
    Es una lástima que no pueda trabajar desde casa.It’s a shame that I can’t work from home.
    Me ha molestado que no tomaran nuestra opinión en cuenta.It annoyed me that they didn’t consider our opinion.
  • a past tense: the imperfect, preterite or past perfect
    Examples:
    Me encantaba que mi colega de oficina nos contara sus aventuras en el metro.I used to love it when my colleague would tell us stories about his adventures on the metro.
    Me molestó que mi colega de oficina pusiera la radio durante toda la mañana.I was annoyed that my colleague had the radio on all day.
    Nuestro jefe nos había pedido que creáramos un buen ambiente para trabajar.Our boss had asked us to create a good working environment.
  • the conditional
    Example:
    Me encantaría que mi empresa me dejara trabajar desde casa.I would love it if my company let me work from home.

How to conjugate the imperfect subjunctive

Regular verbs

To conjugate a verb in the imperfect subjunctive, we remove the infinitive endings (-ar, -er, -ir) and add the endings shown in the table below.

Note: in the imperfect subjunctive, there are two possible conjugations for each person. There is no difference in meaning and they are used interchangeably.

Person -ar hablar -er/-ir aprender vivir
yo -ara, -ase hablara/
hablase
-iera, -iese aprendiera/
aprendiese
viviera/
viviese
-aras, -ases hablaras/
hablases
-ieras, -ieses aprendieras/
aprendieses
vivieras/
vivieses
él, ella, usted -ara, -ase hablara/
hablase
-iera, -iese aprendiera/
aprendiese
viviera/
viviese
nosotros/-as -áramos, -ásemos habláramos/
hablásemos
-iéramos, -iésemos aprendiéramos/
aprendiésemos
viviéramos/
viviésemos
vosotros/-as -arais, -aseis hablarais/
hablaseis
-ierais, -ieseis aprendierais/
aprendieseis
vivierais/
vivieseis
ellos/-as, ustedes -aran, asen hablaran/
hablasen
-ieran, -iesen aprendieran/
aprendiesen
vivieran/
viviesen

Irregular verbs in the imperfect subjunctive

The verbs ir and ser

The verbs ir and ser have the same conjugation in the imperfect subjunctive.

Person ir / ser
yo fuera, fuese
fueras, fueses
él, ella, usted fuera, fuese
nosotros/-as fuéramos, fuésemos
vosotros/-as fuerais, fueseis
ellos/-as, ustedes fueran, fuesen

Info

The context of the sentence allows us to determine which verb is being used.

Examples:
No me imaginé que fueras responsable de un equipo de cinco personas.I never imagined that you were responsible for a team of five people.ser
No me imaginé que fueras en bicicleta al trabajo todos los días.I never imagined that you cycled to work every day.ir

Stem-changing verbs

Some verbs change the final vowel in their stem in the imperfect subjunctive: a → i, e → i, a → u, o → u. We then add the same subjunctive endings.

  • Vowel change a → i: hacer.
  • Vowel change e → i: conseguir, elegir, pedir, perseguir, repetir, seguir, sentir, venir.
  • Vowel change a → u: haber.
  • Vowel change o → u: dormir, morir, poder.
Person a → i
hacer
e → i
pedir
a → u
haber*
o → u
dormir
yo hiciera / hiciese pidiera / pidiese hubiera / hubiese durmiera / durmiese
hicieras / hicieses pidieras / pidieses hubieras / hubieses durmieras / durmieses
él, ella, usted hiciera / hiciese pidiera / pidiese hubiera / hubiese durmiera / durmiese
nosotros/-as hiciéramos / hiciésemos pidiéramos / pidiésemos hubiéramos / hubiésemos durmiéramos / durmiésemos
vosotros /-as hicierais / hicieseis pidierais / pidieseis hubierais / hubieseis durmierais / durmieseis
ellos/-as, ustedes hicieran / hiciesen pidieran / pidiesen hubieran / hubiesen durmieran / durmiesen

*In the imperfect, the verb haber can only be used in the 3rd person singular in impersonal sentences.

Verbs with an irregular stem

Some verbs have an irregular stem in the imperfect subjunctive. They take the -er/-ir verb endings.

Person andar → anduv- caber → cup- estar → estuv- poner → pus- querer → quis- saber → sup- tener → tuv-
yo anduviera / anduviese cupiera / cupiese estuviera / estuviese pusiera / pusiese quisiera / quisiese supiera / supiese tuviera / tuviese
anduvieras / anduvieses cupieras / cupieses estuvieras / estuvieses pusieras / pusieses quisieras / quisieses supieras / supieses tuvieras / tuvieses
él, ella, usted anduviera / anduviese cupiera / cupiese estuviera / estuviese pusiera / pusiese quisiera / quisiese supiera / supiese tuviera / tuviese
nosotros/-as anduviéramos / anduviésemos cupiéramos / cupiésemos estuviéramos / estuviésemos pusiéramos / pusieseis quisiéramos / quisiésemos supiéramos / supiésemos tuviéramos / tuviésemos
vosotros/-as anduvierais / anduvieseis cupierais / cupieseis estuvierais / estuvieseis pusierais / pusieseis quisierais / quisieseis supierais / supieseis tuvierais / tuvieseis
ellos/-as, ustedes anduvieran / anduviesen cupieran / cupiesen estuvieran / estuviesen pusieran / pusiesen quisieran / quisiesen supieran / supiesen tuvieran / tuviesen

Verbs that add a j or y

For some verbs, we have to remove the final i and add a j or y before adding the imperfect subjunctive endings: (yo) -era, -ese; (tú) -eras, -eses; (él) -era, -ese; (nosotros) -éramos, -ésemos; (vosotros) -erais, -eseis; (ellos) -eran, -esen.

  • traducir → traduj-
    Example:
    yo tradujera o tradujese
  • traer → traj-
    Example:
    tú trajeras o trajeses
  • decir → dij-
    Example:
    ella dijera o dijese
  • caer → cay-
    Example:
    nosotros cayéramos o cayésemos
  • leer → ley-
    Example:
    vosotros leyerais o leyeseis
  • oír → oy-
    Example:
    ellas oyeran u oyesen
  • huir → huy-
    Example:
    ustedes huyeran o huyesen

When to use the imperfect subjunctive

Subjectivity

The subjunctive allows the speaker to show their subjective attitude towards the information presented. Whether the information is true or false is irrelevant, the speaker’s subjectivity is the focus.

The expression or clause that introduces the subjunctive indicates the speaker’s feelings:

Examples:
Ojalá pudiera teletrabajar.I wish I could work remotely.
subjective statement: subjunctive
En mi actual trabajo no puedo teletrabajar.At my current job, I can’t work remotely.
standard statement of fact: indicative

This subjectivity can take several forms:

Type of Subjectivity Examples
Feelings and emotions Me motivó mucho que mis jefes me dejaran teletrabajar una semana.I was really motivated when my bosses let me work remotely for a week.
Wishes and desires Me gustaría tener un trabajo que me permitiera vivir en cualquier sitio.I would like to have a job that let me live anywhere.
Advice, recommendations, orders and requests Mis jefes me pidieron que trabajara una semana desde casa.My bosses asked me to work from home for a week.
Evaluations and judgements Sería increíble que mis jefes me dejaran teletrabajar siempre.It would be amazing if my bosses let me work remotely forever.
Negated opinions and doubts No creo que echara de menos la ciudad.I don’t think I would miss the city.
Probability and uncertainty Puede que me comprara una casita en el campo.I might buy a little house in the countryside.

Feelings and emotions

Verbs that express the speaker’s feelings about an action or situation are always followed by the subjunctive.

  • Typical verbs: lamentar, odiar, sentir, no soportar, temer.
  • Verbs that take personal pronouns as their indirect object (me/te/le/nos/os/les): dar envidia, encantar, emocionar, extrañar, gustar, indignar, molestar, parecer bien/mal, poner nervioso/-a/-os/-as, sorprender, etc.

When followed by que + subjuntivo, these verbs express feelings about a subject that is different to the one in the main clause.

Example:
Me encantó que mis jefes me dejaran teletrabajar una semana.I was delighted that my bosses let me work remotely for a week.
subject 1 (yo) = subject 2 (mis jefes)

When followed by an infinitive, they refer to the same subject as in the main clause.

Example:
Me encantó trabajar desde casa.I loved working from home.
subject 1 (yo) = subject 2 (yo)

Learn more about the subjunctive in sentences with two different subjects.

Desires and wishes

Verbs and structures that express desires, wishes and preferences are followed by the subjunctive.

  • Common verbs and expressions: esperar, desear, preferir, querer, soñar con, tener ganas de, (me, te...) gustaría, (me, te...) encantaría, etc.

When they are followed by que + subjuntivo, these verbs express the speaker’s wish towards another person.

Example:
Me gustaría que mis jefes me dejaran teletrabajar siempre.I would love it if my bosses let me work from home forever.
subject 1 (yo) vs. subject 2 (mis jefes)

When followed by an infinitive, these verbs refer to the same subject as in the main clause.

Example:
Me encantaría trabajar desde casa.I would love to work from home.
subject 1 (yo) = subject 2 (yo)
  • ¡Ojalá…!, ¡Quién…!

The expressions ¡Ojalá...! and ¡Quién...! introduce the subjunctive. They express a wish that the speaker considers unlikely to come true in the future or impossible to fulfil in the present.

Examples:
¡Ojalá pudiera trabajar desde casa!I wish I could work from home!
¡Quién tuviera una casita en medio de la montaña!If only I had a little house in the middle of the mountains.

After the expression ¡Quién...!, we always conjugate the verb in the 3rd person singular, although it refers to the speaker.

Advice, suggestions, orders and requests

Advice, recommendations, suggestions, orders and requests directed at another person are expressed in the subjunctive.

Examples:
Mi médico me desaconsejó que trabajara tantas horas delante del ordenador.My doctor advised me against working on the computer for so many hours.
Mi médico me recomendó que me pusiera gafas con filtros para la pantalla.My doctor recommended that I wear glasses with a filter for the screen.

Typical verbs: (des)aconsejar, exigir, recomendar, sugerir, proponer, ordenar, prohibir, pedir, etc.

If we do not address the advice/recommendation/suggestion etc. to a specific person, we use the infinitive in the subordinate clause. This indicates that the speaker is making a general recommendation.

Example:
Paula me sugirió que le contara a mis jefes la propuesta.Paula suggested that I tell my bosses about the proposal.

Evaluations and judgements

The structure (no) ser/estar... que introduces the subjunctive. These phrases allow the speaker to pass judgement on a situation from a neutral perspective.

Example:
Sería increíble que mis jefes me dejaran teletrabajar siempre.It would be amazing if my bosses let me work remotely forever.

If the subject is general and not mentioned explicitly, we use the infinitive instead of que + subjunctive.

Example:
Sería obligatorio presentar un informe cada semana.Weekly reporting would be mandatory.

Note

In the affirmative form, the following structures take the indicative: ser cierto que, estar claro que, estar comprobado que, ser evidente que, ser obvio que, ser verdad que.

But: in the negated form, the same structures take the subjunctive.

Examples:
Estaba claro que el teletrabajo era más rentable.It was clear that remote working was more cost-effective.
but: No estaba tan claro que el teletrabajo fuera menos rentable.It wasn’t exactly clear whether remote working was less profitable.

Probability and uncertainty

Structures that express a degree of probability or uncertainty can be followed by the subjunctive or the indicative depending on the context.

Expression Indicative Subjunctive Example
quizá(s)* x x Quizá pudiera teletrabajar dos días a la semana.Maybe I could work remotely for two days a week.
tal vez* x x Tal vez pudiera teletrabajar dos días a la semana.Maybe I could work remotely for two days a week.
puede (ser) que x Puede que propusiera teletrabajar solo dos días a la semana.I might suggest working remotely for two days a week.
ser (im)posible que x Era posible que mis jefes accedieran a mi propuesta.It was possible that my bosses would agree to my proposal.
posiblemente*, probablemente*, seguramente* x x Posiblemente fuera más productiva desde casa.I might be more productive from home.
igual x Igual sería incluso más productiva desde casa.I might even be more productive from home.
a lo mejor x A lo mejor sería más productiva desde casa.Maybe I would be more productive from home.

*The expressions quizá(s), tal vez, posiblemente, probablemente and seguramente are followed by the indicative when they talk about the past (e.g. Seguramente sería incluso más productiva desde casa.I would probably be even more productive from home.).

Negated opinions and doubts

Verbs of opinion and thought are only followed by the subjunctive when they are negated.

Examples:
No creo que me cansara de la vida en el campo.I don’t think I would get tired of life in the countryside.subjunctive
Creo que no me cansaría de la vida en el campo.I think I wouldn’t get tired of life in the countryside.indicative
Creo que me cansaría de la vida en el campo.I think I would get tired of life in the countryside.indicative
  • Verbs of opinion: creer, estar seguro/-a/-os/-as de, parecer, pensar, suponer, etc.

Note

The verb dudar is always followed by the subjunctive.

Examples:
Dudaban que fuera más productiva desde casa.They doubted that I would be more productive from home.
Yo no dudaba que fuera más productiva desde casa.I didn’t doubt that I would be more productive from home.

Sequence of tenses with the imperfect subjunctive

The imperfect subjunctive follows main clauses that contain the present, past or conditional.

  • Main clause in the present or past

If the main clause contains the present or the past (imperfect, preterite or past perfect), the sentence refers to a past situation.

Example:
Fue maravilloso que mis jefes me dejaran teletrabajar unos días.It was great that my bosses let me work remotely for a few days.
  • Main clause in the conditional

If the main clause contains the conditional tense, the sentence refers to a situation in the present or future or to a hypothetical situation.

Examples:
Me gustaría que mis jefes me dejaran teletrabajar siempre.I would love it if my bosses let me work remotely forever.
  • Main clause in the present perfect

If the main clause contains the present perfect tense, it is unclear whether the action in the subjunctive has already happened or not.

Example:
Mis jefes han sugerido que trabajáramos desde casa unos días como prueba.My bosses have suggested that we work from home for a few days as a trial.
it is unclear whether the trial has already taken place or not

The unreal conditional

The imperfect subjunctive is used in unreal conditional sentences. These sentences imagine a present or future scenario that can only happen once a certain condition has been fulfilled.

Example:
Si trabajara desde casa, viviría en una casita en el campo.If I worked from home, I would live in a little house in the countryside.
  • The verb in the if-clause (si…) is conjugated in the imperfect subjunctive and presents the imaginary or hypothetical condition that must be fulfilled in order for the action in the main clause to happen.
  • The verb in the main clause contains the conditional.

Commas in conditional sentences

In conditional sentences, we can reverse the order of the clauses without a change in meaning. If the subordinate clause comes first, it is followed by a comma.

Examples:
Si trabajara desde casa, viviría en una casita en el campo.If I worked from home, I would live in a little house in the countryside.comma after the if-clause
Viviría en una casita en el campo si trabajara desde casa.I would live in a little house in the countrside if I worked from home. no comma

Conjunctions that take the subjunctive

The imperfect subjunctive is also used after certain conjunctions. These are linking words that connect a main clause to a subordinate clause. Learn more about the Spanish conjunctions that take the subjunctive.

Example:
Les enviaría un informe de mi trabajo en cuanto terminara mi jornada laboral.I would send them a report on my work as soon as I finished my working day.

The subjunctive in sentences with two subjects

Another feature of subjunctive sentences is that there is usually a change of subject (el cambio de sujeto) between the main clause and the subordinate clause. When the subject is the same in both clauses, we use the infinitive rather than the subjunctive.

Examples:
Mis jefes quisieron que trabajara desde casa una semana como prueba.My bosses wanted me to work from home for a week as a trial.
change of subject: subject 1 (mis jefes) vs. subject 2 (yo)
Querría trabajar desde casa al menos dos días a la semana.I would like to work from home at least two days a week.
no change of subject: subject 1 (yo) = subject 2 (yo)

Learn more about the subjunctive in sentences with two different subjects.

Verbs and expressions that take the subjunctive

Check out the following lists to see which Spanish verbs and expressions take the subjunctive: