Imperfect Subjunctive in Spanish Grammar

Introduction

The imperfect subjunctive (pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo) is used in certain dependent clauses, after specific verbs and expressions and in polite requests.

Learn about the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish grammar with Lingolia’s grammar rules and verb conjugation charts. In the exercises, you can practise what you have learnt. See indicative tenses for information about imperfect indicative tense and tense comparison for the difference between the indicative and subjunctive mood in Spanish grammar.

Example

Zeichnung

El conductor quisiera tener todo listo para esta tarde. Sin embargo, necesitaríamos algún voluntario que ayudase con esta reparación.

Aunque no sabías que la ayuda fuera necesaria, has trabajado como si fueras el jefe. Creo que el dueño se alegra de que tú colaboraras.

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Usage

We use the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish in the following cases:

  • the verb in a main clause is in a past tense or in the conditional simple,
    action in the subjunctive is taking place at the same time or later than the action in the main clause
    Example:
    Sin embargo, necesitaríamos algún voluntario que ayudase con la reparación.All the same, we would need a volunteer to help us with the repair job.
    Aunque no sabías que la ayuda fuera necesaria...Although you didn’t know that help was needed...
  • action in the main clause is in a present tense,
    action in the dependent clause took place earlier and no longer has any connection to the present
    Example:
    Creo que el dueño se alegra de que tú colaboraras.I think the owner will be glad that you helped.
  • particularly polite or cautious inquiries/statements, using verbs such as querer, poder, deber etc.
    Example:
    El conductor quisiera tener todo listo para esta tarde.The driver would like it if everything were finished by this evening.
  • after the expression como si with the meaning “as if/as … were”
    Example:
    Has trabajado como si fueras el jefe.You worked as if you were the boss.

Verbs and Expression with the subjunctive

The following lists include the verbs and expressions after which we have to use the subjunctive.

Dependent Clauses

The imperfect subjunctive (pretérito imperfecto subjuntivo) can be used in a dependent clause when the verb of the main clause is in one of the following tenses.

tense main clause dependent clause
present Me alegro de…I’m happy that you came. que vinieras
imperfect Siempre me alegraba de…I was always happy when you came.
preterite Me alegré de…I was happy that you came.
perfect Me he alegrado de…I was happy that you had come.
pluperfect Me había alegrado de…I had been happy that you came.
conditional Me alegraría seguro de…I would be really happy if you came.
conditional perfect Me habría alegrado de…I would have been happy if you had come.

Verb Conjugation in Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive

To conjugate verbs in the imperfect subjunctive, we take the 3rd person plural of the imperfect indicative, remove -ron, and add the endings from the table. Note the the ending are the same for all verbs. It is possible to use either the -ra or -se endings – that is simply a matter of personal preference.

person -ar/-er/-ir hablar
(hablaron)
aprender
(aprendieron)

vivir
(vivieron)

yo -ra/-se hablara/
hablase
aprendiera/
aprendiese
viviera/
viviese
-ras/-ses hablaras/
hablases
aprendieras/
aprendieses
vivieras/
vivieses
el/ella/usted -ra/-se hablara/
hablase
aprendiera/
aprendiese
viviera/
viviese
nosotros/-as -ramos/-semos habláramos/
hablásemos
aprendiéramos/
aprendiésemos
viviéramos/
viviésemos
vosotros/-as -rais/-seis hablarais/
hablaseis
aprendierais/
aprendieseis
vivierais/
vivieseis
ellos/ellas/ustedes -ran/-sen hablaran/
hablasen
aprendieran/
aprendiesen
vivieran/
viviesen

Irregular conjugation

If the 3rd person plural is irregular in the preterite indicative, this irregularity remains unchanged in all forms of the imperfect subjunctive.

Example:
traer:bring ellos trajeron → yo trajera/trajese
ir:go ellos fueron → tú fueras/fueses
hacer:do/make ellos hicieron → él hiciera/hiciese
estar:be ellos estuvieron → nosotros estuviéramos/estuviésemos
tener:have ellos tuvieron → vosotros tuvierais/tuvieseis
saber:know (a fact) ellos supieron → ellos supieran/supiesen
andar:walk ellos anduvieron → ellos anduvieran/anduviesen