Spanish Imperfect Subjunctive

Quick Answer

The imperfect subjunctive (el imperfecto de subjuntivo ) follows many of the same rules as the present subjunctive. Introduced with a preterite, imperfect, conditional, or past perfect WEIRDO verb in the independent clause, the imperfect subjunctive often refers to a previous experience, but can also refer to unlikely events or possibilities.

Si tuviera más dinero, viajaría por todo el mundo.
If I had more money, I would travel around the whole world.
 
Si yo fuera tú, no lo haría.
If I were you, I wouldn’t do it.
 

Imperfect Subjunctive Forms

Finding the Imperfect Subjunctive Stem

To conjugate a verb in the imperfect subjunctive, you must first remember the 3rd person plural preterite form of the verb you're using. Why? Instead of using the infinitive for a stem, the imperfect subjunctive uses the 3rd person plural of the preterite (without the -ron).

Imperfect Subjunctive Stem Formula

imperfect subjunctive stem = 3rd person plural preterite (minus the -ron)

Imperfect Subjunctive Stem Examples

Imperfect Subjunctive Stem Examples

Infinitive3rd person preteriteimperfect subjunctive stem
caber
 
cupieroncupie-
dar
 
dierondie-
decir
 
dijerondije-
dormir
 
durmierondurmie-
estar
 
estuvieronestuvie-
haber
 
hubieronhubie-
hablar
 
hablaronhabla-
hacer
 
hicieronhicie-
ir
 
fueronfue-
leer
 
leyeronleye-
tener
 
tuvierontuvie-
pedir
 
pidieronpidie-
poder
 
pudieronpudie-
poner
 
pusieronpusie-
preferir
 
prefirieronprefirie-
querer
 
quisieronquisie-
saber
 
supieronsupie-
sentir
 
sintieronsintie-
ser
 
fueronfue-
traducir
 
tradujerontraduje-
traer
 
trajerontraje-
ver
 
vieronvie-

Imperfect Subjunctive Endings

While all conjugations (-AR, -ER, -IR) have the same endings in the imperfect subjunctive, there are two options for endings for the imperfect subjunctive.

  1. The first option is used widely in speech in Spain, Latin America, and South America.
  2. The second option is used more in written language and in Spain.
Subject1st option (more common)2nd option (much less common)
yo-ra-se
-ras-ses
usted, él, ella-ra-se
nosotros-ramos-semos
vosotros-rais-seis
ustedes, ellos, ellas-ran-sen

Careful with nosotros! All nosotros verb forms carry a tilde on the vowel before the ending.

habláramos - hablásemos

escribiéramos - escribiésemos

Let’s take a look at how these two endings are conjugated:

First option endings

Subjecthablar (habla-)hacer (hicie-)traducir (traduje-)
yohablarahicieratradujera
hablarashicierastradujeras
usted, él, ellahablarahicieratradujera
nosotroshabláramoshiciéramostradujéramos
vosotroshablaraishicieraistradujerais
ustedes, ellos, ellashablaranhicierantradujeran

Second option endings

Subjecthablar (habla-)hacer (hicie-)traducir (traduje-)
yohablasehiciesetradujese
hablaseshiciesestradujeses
usted, él, ellahablasehiciesestradujese
nosotroshablásemoshiciésemostradujésemos
vosotroshablaseishicieseistradujeseis
ustedes, ellos, ellashablasenhiciesentradujesen

Irregular Imperfect Subjunctive

All verbs that are irregular in the 3rd person preterite maintain the same irregularity in the imperfect subjunctive

tener --> tuviera, tuviese
poder --> pudiera, pudiese

Imperfect Subjunctive Uses

1. The Independent Clause is in the Past

If the WEIRDO verb (independent clause) is in the preterite or the imperfect, then the subjunctive verb that follows will also be imperfect.

Quise que vinieras/vinieses a mi fiesta.
I wanted you to come to my party.
 
Tenía miedo de que no lloviera/lloviese.
I was scared it wouldn't rain.
 

2. The Independent Clause Refers to a Previous Occurrence

This is used to express current emotions, doubts, etc. about something that happened in the past.

Es bueno que (él) se casara/casase.
It's good that he got married.
 
No me parece que el viaje fuera/fuese largo.
It doesn't seem to me that the journey was long.
 

3. To Indicate Unlikely Events

Use ojalá or ojalá que to express the idea of hoping for something that is unlikely to happen or is impossible.

Ojalá que nevara/nevase en Panamá.
I wish to God it were snowing in Panama.
 
Ojalá mi hermano se casara/casase.
I wish my brother were getting married.
 

4. If Clauses

When introduced with si (if) the imperfect subjunctive can support an independent clause which introduces a dependent conditional clause. These are usually situations that are not very likely.

Si yo fuera/fuese reina, viajaría por todo el mundo.
If I were queen, I would travel all over the world.
 
Pintaría más seguido si tuviera/tuviese más tiempo.
I would paint more often if I had more time.
 

5. Formal Request

Using only the verbs deber, querer, or poder, you can use the imperfect subjunctive to make a very polite suggestion or formal request.

Quisiera dos semanas de vacación.
I would like two weeks of vacation.
 
¿Pudiera ayudarnos?
Could you help us?
 

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