Past Perfect Subjunctive in Spanish Grammar

What is the past perfect subjunctive?

The past perfect subjunctive, or the pluperfect subjunctive (el pretérito pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo), expresses a past action that was completed before the past action in the main clause.

Read on to learn about the past perfect subjunctive in Spanish grammar. Master the conjugation, then put your knowledge to the test in the free exercises. If you want to refresh your memory about the subjunctive mood in general, head over to our page all about the difference between the Spanish indicative and the subjunctive.

Example

Me extrañó mucho que me hubieras mandado una postal de la Cordillera Cantábrica.

Probablemente, me hubiera encantado la visita a la región. ¿Te imaginas que hubiéramos visto lobos ibéricos?

Si me lo hubieras dicho antes, habría ido contigo.

How to conjugate the past perfect subjunctive

Regular verbs

To conjugate regular verbs in the past perfect subjunctive, we take the imperfect subjunctive of the verb haber followed by the participle of the main verb.

Person Auxiliary Participle
yo hubiera/hubiese

hablado

aprendido

vivido

hubieras/hubieses
él, ella, usted hubiera/hubiese
nosotros/-as hubiéramos/hubiésemos
vosotros/-as hubierais/hubieseis
ellos/-as, ustedes hubieran/hubiesen

How to form the Spanish participle

In Spanish, the participle of the verb is formed by removing the infinitive ending (-ar, -er, -ir) and adding -ado to -ar verbs and -ido to -ir/-er verbs.

Examples:
hablar - hablado
aprender - aprendido
vivir - vivido

Reflexive verbs

Reflexive verbs are conjugated with a reflexive pronoun (me, te, se, nos, os, se) that agrees in gender and number with the subject. In the past perfect subjunctive, the reflexive pronoun always comes before the auxiliary haber.

Example:
levantarse → yo me hubiera levantado

Irregular participles

The table below shows the most common irregular participles in Spanish:

Verb Irregular Participle Regular Participle
abrir abierto
decir dicho
escribir escrito
hacer hecho
freír* frito freído
imprimir* impreso imprimido
morir muerto
poner puesto
proveer provisto proveído
suscribir suscrito
ver visto
volver vuelto

*Both participle forms are accepted and can be used interchangeably.

Participles of compound verbs

Compound verbs are formed by adding a prefix to an infinitive. In the participle form, these compound verbs have the same irregularity as the base infinitive.

Examples:
encubrir → encubierto
descubrir → descubierto
componer → compuesto
posponer → pospuesto
proponer → propuesto
revolver → revuelto
devolver → devuelto
deshacer → deshecho
prever → previsto

Participles ending in -ído

For -er verbs whose stem ends in a vowel, we add an accent to the i of the participle ending: -ído.

Examples:
leer – leído
traer - traído
caer - caído

When to use the past perfect subjunctive

The past of the past

The past perfect subjunctive expresses a past action that was completed before a second past action, expressed in the main clause.

Example:
Me extrañó que me hubieras mandado una postal de la Cordillera Cantábrica.I was surprised that you had sent me a postcard of the Cantabrian Mountains.
action 1: the postcard was sent; action 2: the speaker was surprised

The verb in the main clause can be appear in:

  • the past: preterite, imperfect or past perfect indicative;
    Example:
    Me extrañó que me hubieras mandado una postal de la Cordillera Cantábrica.I was surprised that you had sent me a postcard of the Cantabrian Mountains.preterite
  • the conditional or conditional perfect.
    Examples:
    Sería genial que me hubieras avisado.It would be great if you had let me know.conditional
    Habría sido genial que hubiéramos ido juntos.It would have been great if we had gone together.conditional perfect

Unreal or impossible conditionals

The past perfect subjunctive is used in unreal or impossible conditional sentences.

Example:
Si me hubieras avisado, habría ido contigo.If you had let me know, I would have gone with you.

Unreal or impossible conditionals look back at a past situation and imagine it as different. They express a hypothetical scenario or condition and speculate about what would have happened under these different circumstances.

  • The if-clause (si...) is conjugated in the past perfect subjunctive and presents a hypothetical or impossible condition
  • The main clause is conjugated in the conditional perfect and expresses the imagined past result of the condition in the if-clause
    Examples:
    Si me hubieras avisado, habría ido contigo.If you had let me know, I would have gone with you.
    Habría ido contigo si me hubieras avisado.I would have gone with you if you had let me know.
    we can reverse the order of the clauses without a change in meaning. When the if-clause comes first, it is followed by a comma

Subjectivity

The subjunctive allows the speaker to show their feelings and 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 presents the speaker’s feelings.

Examples:
Ojalá me hubieras avisado con tiempo.I wish you had let me know in time.subjective statement, subjunctive
No me avisaste con tiempo.You didn’t let me know in time.standard statement, indicative

This subjectivity can take several forms:

Type of Subjectivity Examples
Emotions and feelings Me habría gustado que hubieras contado conmigo.I would have liked it if you had taken me into account.
Wishes and desires Habría preferido que me hubieras preguntado.I would have preferred it if you had asked me.
¡Ojalá…!, ¡Que…! ¡Ojalá hubiéramos ido juntos!I wish we had gone together.
Evaluations and judgements Habría sido necesario que hubiéramos reservado un albergue por la zona.We should have booked a hostel in the area.
Negated opinions and doubts Honestamente, no creo que hubieras venido.Honestly, I don’t think you would have come.
Probability and uncertainty ¡Quizá hubiéramos visto lobos!We might have seen wolves!

Emotions and feelings

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

  • Typical verbs: lamentar, odiar, sentir, no soportar, temer, etc.
  • Verbs that take a personal pronoun 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.

If the main clause is conjugated in the past, (preterite, imperfect or past perfect), the emotion was formed in the past about something that had happened earlier.

Example:
Me sorprendió que me hubieras mandado una postal de la Cordillera Cantábrica.I was surprised that you had sent me a postcard of the Cantabrian Mountains.
action 1: the speaker received the postcard; action 2: the speaker was surprised

If the verb in the main clause is conjugated in the conditional or the conditional perfect, the speaker is talking about an imagined situation.

Example:
Me habría gustado que me hubieras avisado.I wish you had informed me.
reality: the speaker was not informed, this is an imagined situation

Wishes and desires

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

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

If the verb is in the past perfect subjunctive, the speaker’s wish refers to a completed past action that does not affect the present.

Example:
Habría preferido que me hubieras avisado para ir contigo.I would have preferred it if you had told me to go with you.

¡Ojalá…!, ¡Que…!

The expressions ¡Ojalá...! y ¡Quién...! introduce the subjunctive and express a wish about the past that can no longer be fulfilled.

Examples:
¡Ojalá hubiéramos ido juntos!I wish we had gone together!
¡Quién hubiera visto lobos!If only I had seen the wolves!
the verb that follows quién is always conjugated in the 3rd person singular although it refers to the speaker

Evaluations and judgements

The structure (no) ser/estar... que introduces the subjunctive. Such phrases allow the speaker to evaluate a situation from a neutral perspective.

Example:
Era necesario que los excursionistas hubieran registrado sus datos antes de acceder al Parque Natural.The hikers had to register their details before entering the National Park.

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

Example:
Era necesario haberse registrado para acceder al Parque Natural.You had to register to enter the National Park.

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 los excursionistas se habían perdido.It was clear that the hikers had got lost.
No estaba claro que los excursionistas se hubieran perdido.It wasn’t clear whether the hikers had got lost.

Probability and uncertainty

Expressions that express a degree of probability or uncertainty can take the subjunctive or the indicative depending on the context.

Expression Indicative Subjunctive Examples
quizá(s)* x x Quizá hubieran interpretado mal el mapa.Maybe they had misread the map.
tal vez* x x Tal vez hubieran interpretado mal el mapa.Maybe they had misread the map.
puede (ser) que x Puede que hubieran interpretado mal el mapa.Maybe they had misread the map.
es (im)posible que x Es posible que hubieran interpretado mal el mapa.It’s possible that they had misread the map.
posiblemente*, probablemente*, seguramente* x x Posiblemente hubieran interpretado mal el mapa.It’s possible that they had misread the map.
igual x Igual habían interpretado mal el mapa.Maybe they had misread the map.
a lo mejor x A lo mejor habían interpretado mal el mapa.Maybe they had misread the map.

*When the expressions quizá(s), tal vez, posiblemente, probablemente and seguramente are followed by the indicative, they are talking about the past. E.g. Posiblemente, habían interpretado mal el mapa.Maybe they had misread the map.

Negated opinions and doubts

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

Examples:
No creo que hubieras venido.I don’t think that you would have come.subjunctive
Creo que no habrías venido.I think that you wouldn’t have come.indicative
  • Verbs of opinion: creer, estar seguro/-a/-os/-as de, parecer, pensar, suponer, etc.

Note

The verb dudar always takes the subjunctive.

Examples:
Dudo que hubieras venido.I doubt that you would have come.
No dudo que la región te hubiera gustado.I don’t doubt that you would have loved the region.

Conjunctions that take the subjunctive

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

Example:
No habrías venido a la ruta aunque te hubiéramos avisado.You wouldn’t have come on the trail even if we had asked you.

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:
No pensaba que te hubieras querido venir.I didn’t think that you had wanted to come.
change of subject: subject 1 (yo) vs. subject 2 (tú)
No pensaba decirte nada.I wasn’t going to tell you anything.
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 lists below to see which Spanish verbs and expressions take the subjunctive.