Spanish Grammar

How do I use the past imperfect subjunctive?

How do I use the past imperfect subjunctive? iIf you are interested in this topic, it means that you already have notions or understand perfectly how the present of subjunctive works in Spanish and now you want to use the past imperfect subjunctive as well.

Well, all that knowledge you have about the subjunctive in the present, you have to apply it to the past, but of course, we have other uses to discover.

How do I use the past imperfect subjunctive: the form

To begin with, you need to know the form clearly – How do you construct the past imperfect of the subjunctive in Spanish?

You have two options: learn it by heart or use your previous knowledge.

If you learned very well the form of the indefinite pretérito, you only have to think of the third person plural (ELLOS) of any verb and from there make a small change. What is the advantage of this little trick? Well, this way you won’t have to think about which verbs are irregular and which verbs are not.

Find out how to do it with the following infographic

The imperfect subjunctive in Spanish (Pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo)

You must also pay a lot of attention to pronunciation and especially to the accents because if not, some forms of the first conjugation (-AR) can be confused in the regular verbs of the imperfect past of subjunctive with those of the simple future:

Examples:

SEGUNDA PERSONA SINGULAR > TÚ

TÚ HABLARÁS (FUTURO SIMPLE)

Después de la presentación, tú hablarás el primero.

TÚ HABLARAS (IMPERFECTO DE SUBJUNTIVO)

Si hablaras más bajo, no se habría enterado nadie.

TERCERA PERSONA SINGULAR > ÉL, ELLA, USTED

ELLA HABLA (FUTURO SIMPLE)

No hablará si no está su abogado.

ELLA HABLARA (IMPERFECTO DE SUBJUNTIVO)

Ojalá hablara más claro, no entiendo nada.

TERCERA PERSONA PLURAL (ELLOS, ELLAS, USTEDES)

USTEDES HABLARÁN (FUTURO SIMPLE)

Mañana ustedes hablarán con la familia para informarles.

USTEDES HABLARAN

El presidente quería que ustedes hablaran en la reunión.

Once you know how to conjugate the verb correctly, let’s talk about uses.

Past impefect in Spanish: uses

As you already know, the subjunctive mode in the vast majority of cases is selected by a previous verb which demands its use. Those verbs can express desire, opinion (in negative form), assessment, feelings, doubt, probability…

Why do we use the past imperfect subjunctive?

Same uses of Present subjunctive but in the past

Here are some equivalences:

Patricia quiere que le explique el subjuntivo. (PRESENTE)

Patricia quería que le explicara el subjuntivo. (PASADO)

No creo que llegue tan tarde. (PRESENTE)

No creía que llegara tan tarde. (PASADO)

Es una vergüenza que no se pongan de acuerdo. (PRESENTE)

Fue una vergüenza que no se pusieran de acuerdo. (PASADO)

Le alegra que vayas a verla. (PRESENTE)

Le alegró que fueras a verla. (PASADO)

Es más probable que encuentre un trabajo en China. (PRESENTE)

Era más probable que encontrara un trabajo en China. (PASADO)

Busco un piso que tenga tres habitaciones. (PRESENTE)

Estaba buscando un piso que tuviera tres habitaciones. (PASADO)

How do I use the past imperfect subjunctive with “ojalá”

We use the past imperfect subjunctive with OJALÁ, when we believe it is unlikely or impossible that our desire will be fulfilled.

Ojalá tuviera una varita mágica.

Ojalá me llamaran para esa entrevista.

The second conditional clauses with the imperfect subjunctive

Similarly, in the structure of the second conditional sentence, with the subjunctive imperfect, we express that it is a difficult or impossible condition to realize.

Si tuviera más dinero, arreglaría el tejado.

Si volviera a nacer, lo haría de nuevo.

You can review the use of conditional clauses in one of our previous posts: Conditional clauses in Spanish: what if…?

The imperfect subjunctive as an irreal modal clause

COMO SI + IMPERFECTO DE SUBJUNTIVO

Hace como si no lo viera.

Actúa como si te fueras mañana.

Se comporta como si no le importara.

The verb “querer” in the imperfect subjunctive

Less common use for requests and wishes with the verb QUERER.

Quisiera que me enseñara raquetas para nieve. (En una tienda)

Quisiera terminar antes de que ellos lleguen. (Similar a: Ojalá terminara antes de que llegaran).

Well, if you want to continue learning Spanish grammar, vocabulary and culture, don’t hesitate to ask us for a trial lesson.