Frequently Asked QuestionsOne of the most satisfactory moments of being a teacher at is when you encourage your students to be curious. Sometimes, teachers play the role of an interviewer, but when the students make questions, then it’s when they actually learn.

Today, we’re bringing you the second article of this series about frequently asked questions about Spanish: a “double double question”.

If you have a doubt, something you always wanted to know about our language but were afraid to ask, this is the moment: write your question below, in the comment box.

1. Why does the imperfect tense have two forms in subjunctive?

It’s funny how kids, at primary school, need to recite this tense and try not to die by suffocation. It has two forms: hablara or hablase, comiera or comiese, viviera or viviese. Is this phenomenon against linguistic economy? Yes, it is, at least, most of times.

How could it happen? The form –ra comes from the pluperfect indicative in Latin (amaveram, había amado in Spanish); on the other hand, the form –se comes from the Latin pluperfect subjunctive (amavissem, hubiera amado in Spanish). This last form, started replacing the original imperfect subjunctive in Latin (amarem, amara or amase in Spanish), due to some uses in modal contexts. Both forms, –ra and –se, shared some uses and finally, they merged.

Are they interchangeable in modern Spanish? Yes, they are, but not always. With the original uses of subjunctive they are perfectly interchangeable:

Si tuviera / tuviese dinero, me compraría un coche.

Necesitaba dinero para que mis hijos comieran / comiesen.

However, only –ra is used when:

  1. It shows a pluperfect indicative meaning, preserving its original sense.

Mi mejor amigo no es la misma persona que yo conociera (había conocido) en la universidad.

  1. With a use of courtesy (quisiera, debiera, pudiera).

Quisiera un vaso de agua, por favor / Debiera usted llamar a este número de teléfono / Su hijo pudiera ser más educado.

2. Why do we write initial question and exclamation marks (“¿, ¡”) in Spanish?

One of the most typical features that makes the Spanish language be unique, is the use of these symbols. They are very useful to know when a question or an exclamation begins. Spanish doesn’t have auxiliary verbs for interrogative sentences, although we have interrogative pronouns (qué, quién, cuánto…) and adverbs (cuándo, cómo, dónde…).

The first uses of these marks are found in the Early Middle Ages, but only the final ones (“?, !”). The initial marks (“¿, ¡”) were introduced in the Ortografía de la Real Academia de la Lengua (Ortography of the Royal Academy of the Language) in 1754. The academics made a historic decision: a symbol was needed to mark the beginning of long questions. On the other hand, short ones, would continue using the final mark only. Since there were no unanimity to delimit which questions were long or short, in 1870 they decided to agree on the obligation of using both symbols for all kind of questions.

Regarding the exclamation marks, they were introduced as a double symbol fourteen years later, in 1884.

As you can see, every question has an answer, the problem is to find it. We insist, if you have a curious question about Spanish, don’t hesitate and share it with us. You can do it with a comment, below, or in person. Just, reserve a free trial lesson here and start learning Spanish via Skype.