HomeQ&AWhat order do you recommend to learn the tenses and subjunctive and why?

What order do you recommend to learn the tenses and subjunctive and why?

2
votes

In what order would you recommend for someone to learn the different tenses, as well as the subjunctive, and why?

And I could have sworn I read somewhere that some tenses of the perfect or subjunctive aren't really used that commonly or are only used in literary contexts. Is that true?

Which ones should I put more time and effort into'

24085 views
updated AGO 13, 2017
posted by trisha2766

23 Answers

3
votes

It is with great fear and trembling that I beg to differ with Lazarus, but I believe the two endings for Imperfect Subjuctive are -ra and -se.

You're, of course, right. I wonder what was I thinking of.

Also, Lazarus (or anyone), I believe I do notice some differences in usage (although not hard and fast) between the two forms. Could you elaborate on that (in this or another thread), or direct me to a reference or a previous thread dealing with the same?

Ok, the -se forms come from the pluperfect subjunctive in Latin, and they have always been used for typical subjunctive uses. Slowly during the first half of the last millennium, the -ra form, derived from the Latin pluperfect indicative, started to be used as subjunctive, along with the proper -se form. By the XVI century, the -ra form was already starting to gain popularity, but it wasn't until the XIX century that the -ra form became completely established as proper imperfect subjunctive. Because of its indicative origins, the -ra form still has some typical indicative uses that the -se one never had and still doesn't, such as the polite usages of the verbs "querer", "poder" and "deber" (i.e. Querría preguntar = Quisiera preguntar). The -ra forms in sentences like "El gato que te diera" were, during the Middle Ages, nothing but indicative past tenses (as in "El gato que te había dado/di"), but during the Romanticism, it became popular to revive in Literary Spanish this extinct usage to give sentences a more "medieval" flavour, and despite the criticism of grammarians, arguing that the verb system is complex enough as it is to mix indicative and subjunctive in the same forms, some writers and journalists seem to like the supposedly "sophisticated" sound of these forms to talk about declarations in the past, so it still survives, but it is rarely used in spoken Spanish. When the imperfect subjunctive is a non-declarative subordinate clause, the forms -ra and -se are perfectly interchangeable.

updated OCT 9, 2017
posted by lazarus1907
3
votes

So, future subjunctive, future perfect subjunctive and preterit perfect are not used regularly?

They were in use several centuries ago. Nowadays they sound more ancient than "thou" in English instead of "you".

And I think I read that future indicative is also not widely used?

The future is used every day, all the time, but this tense in Spanish is not the same as "will + infinitive" in English. Sometimes, it is the same, but there are many ways to talk about the future in Spanish, and the future is used less than 20% for future actions, and it is more used in written Spanish, so foreigners end up overusing it in the wrong contexts. It is also used for other things other than the future, so don't get fooled by its name; it is as deceiving as the names of other tenses. For example, present tense can be used for past, present or future, but it cannot be used for progressive actions happening right now, in the present.

On the conjugation pages on this site, subjunctive 'preterit' and 'preterit 2' are listed. What exactly is 'preterit 2' referring to? I didn't see anyone mention it elsewhere - does it go by a different name also?

I believed that those names were made up by Paralee when she wrote that page. You won't find them in any standard grammar. But I believe that she wrote "Imperfect Subjunctive I & II". They are identical most of the time, but you have two endings to chose from: -re **and -se. There are historical reasons to justify this, but it won't help you learn Spanish. Let's just say that the -ra** are the overall favourite, but everybody understand both.

You are right about perfect tenses: they may not be as useful as present subjunctive, but they are dead easy to learn if you know the past participle.

updated OCT 9, 2017
posted by lazarus1907
3
votes

That's a good reference book... in English. A much better grammar book is "Gramática básica del estudiante español", although it is in Spanish. It doesn't cover as much as 'A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish', but explanations are simpler and more intuitive (and of course, it covers all tenses, including subjunctive).

updated OCT 9, 2017
posted by lazarus1907
3
votes

In what order would you recommend for someone to learn the different tenses, as well as the subjunctive, and why?

For the subjunctive ones:

Present tense - it is used hundred of times a day, every time you express your opinion, desires, intentions... using more than one verb.
Imperfect subjunctive - very used. Used like the present tense in the past, and for hypothetical scenarios (e.g. If I could,...)
Pluperfect and present subjunctive - the perfect equivalent

And I could have sworn I read somewhere that some tenses of the perfect or subjunctive aren't really used that commonly or are only used in literary contexts. Is that true?

The perfect tenses are constantly used in all countries. The future and future perfect are not used in modern spoken or literary Spanish.

updated OCT 9, 2017
posted by lazarus1907
2
votes

Thanks, Lazarus, for the explanation. That deepens my understanding of the sense of this tense/mood, and helps with deciphering older literature. The only thing that remains a little unclear (at least for me) is your last statement:

When the imperfect subjunctive is a non-declarative subordinate clause, the forms -ra and -se are perfectly interchangeable.

Is that to say that sometimes the imperfect subjunctive is sometimes used in a declarative clause, or in one that is not subordinate? Please give examples.

It seems to me that I hear the -se form used preferentially in the future subjunctive (which I believe should be the -re form, which is mostly obsolete, or at least uncommon in spoken Spanish--see question below) or in what I would consider the conditional or present/future subjunctive in English. For example, I hear things like, 'ÿl nos dará todo lo necesario, si sólo le pidiésemos'. In English we would say, 'He will give us everything necessary, if only we would ask him? (conditional), or, '? if we only ask him? (present/future subjunctive).

And (future subjunctive), 'Si me agradases, te voy a galardonar'. Or (future subjunctive), 'El que aprobase este examen recibirá su diploma'. Again, this is based just on my observation, particularly of native Spanish speakers with whom I converse regularly, and whom I have observed use the -ra form almost exclusively, except when it comes to future uncertainties or conditions.

Could you explain this to me, or tell me if I am making a connection in my observation that is not there?

Also, in regards to the future subjunctive in Spanish, the -re form:

  1. What is its current usage in Spanish? And,

  2. What form(s) do the future subjunctive & future perfect subjunctive take if the -re form is not used? Could you please give sentence examples of these tenses/mood with their corresponding translation?

Thanks for all your help on such in-depth matters.

updated OCT 9, 2017
posted by hhmdirocco
2
votes

But I believe that she wrote "Imperfect Subjunctive I & II". They are identical most of the time, but you have two endings to chose from: -re and -se. There are historical reasons to justify this, but it won't help you learn Spanish. Let's just say that the -re are the overall favourite, but everybody understand both.

It is with great fear and trembling that I beg to differ with Lazarus, but I believe the two endings for Imperfect Subjuctive are -ra and -se. These are added to the infinitive in most of the -ar verbs and to a morphed stem in the -er verbs.

Please correct me if I am wrong.

Also, Lazarus (or anyone), I believe I do notice some differences in usage (although not hard and fast) between the two forms. Could you elaborate on that (in this or another thread), or direct me to a reference or a previous thread dealing with the same'

updated OCT 9, 2017
posted by hhmdirocco
2
votes

My recommendation:

1) Present
2) Imperfect
3) Preterit
4) Conditional
5) Future

I learned these 5 at the same time. Lots and lots of paper and pencils. It will take about 4-6 weeks of hard study and you will have a great foundation. Don't give up -- you will succeed; and all other verb tenses will be real easy.

A good place are the 20 or so verbs at the beginning of the "Conjunction" tab on this site (and don't forget the megaverb "haber"). There are many irregular verbs so the going is tough. I was only able to take 3 or 4 at a time for several days. After a couple of weeks you will be able to recognize patterns to the irregular verbs, and BANG it all falls into place.

updated OCT 9, 2017
posted by Daniel
2
votes

HI Sihara, this book was recommended by Lazarus, who surely knows what he is talking about. wink

They are the co-authors of a comprehensive grammar of the Spanish language (the best so far, in my opinion), called 'A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish'. Check it in Amazon, Abebooks or Google; it is worth having it.

updated OCT 9, 2017
posted by 00494d19
1
vote

I love these books. I haven't finished them yet, but they are, so far, a great help.

Search Amazon for "practice makes perfect spanish"

There are plenty of exercises to help you understand. Que no entiende, preguntes este foro.

updated AGO 13, 2017
posted by jason4
1
vote

From a more cognitive point of view, it is possible to explain all tenses (but preterite) without making specific time references, and justify why tenses have so many different uses. For example, why can we say 'Si tuviera dinero, me compraba una casa? instead of 'compraría'? Traditional grammars do not explain why; they simply say it is colloquial, and they move on. But using a 'timeless? cognitive approach, this use of the imperfect indicative makes perfect sense, like all the others. Another example is a children's conversation: 'Yo era el príncipe y tú eras el dragón, ¿vale''. Here, they are talking about the roles they are going to play now, not in the past. Strange? No, it makes sense with the right approach.

Now, using this approach, it is also possible to explain why present subjunctive and imperfect subjunctive behave the way they do. But it is not something that can be explained in a couple of posts, I'm afraid. It all has to do with how does the brain interpret the world and how it constructs mental images to describe things from different perspectives. It is not just a matter of when, but how do we perceive the action; is it a dynamic one'; are we seeing it as a whole, or as it progresses'; are we focusing on how the action changes thing, or simply at the action itself? All these factors and others are as essential as time (if not more) to decide what tense to use. These factors are what natives unconsciously take into account in order to speak, but they are so difficult to put into words, that no grammar has ever even considered them properly. The best we can do to learn them is either listen to natives with a CLEAR CONTEXT, and slowly let our brains induce the rules without you learning them explicitly (ie. in words), or use pictures and other guided resources to achieve a similar result.In other words: to see the whole picture, one has to learn things in context, and not just through mechanical exercises with short disconnected sentences where only one answer is expected.

Also, I do not understand why one would have to say 'galardonaría? and 'recibiría', since they are not, in my opinion, hypothetical conditions, but rather definite results, if what are actually the hypothetical conditions (which is what calls for the subjunctive, right') are met (the pleasing and the passing the test).

First, let's focus on what we mean by definite. If any tense gets close to what we mean by 'definite', that would be the present tense, with the indicative used for declared definiteness, and subjunctive for non declared one. Imperfect is about mental images, whether they are what we remember from our past experience and our human subjective perception, or imaginary scenarios that never existed. Thus, definite conditions are declared as true objective conditions, and they use present indicative, whereas totally hypothetical ones are entirely in our memory, and we cannot declare them, because we think they can't exist in reality. For real conditions, we can use present or future, depending of the intention, but other tenses don't make much sense. For hypothetical conditions, we need to do a similar thing, but keeping things in our minds. The 'mental? future in Spanish is the conditional; that's why we say 'Si [imperfect subjunctive]? [conditional]

Case in point: "Yo soy la puerta; el que por mí entrare, será salvo; y entrará, y saldrá, y hallará pastos". --Juan 10:9, La Santa Biblia, Versión Reina Valera, 1960

Yes, this is literary, and it is future subjunctive. I have two questions concerning this:

  1. How would this be stated in modern Spanish? Would the future subjunctive be converted to imperfect subjunctive, to present subjunctive, or to present indicative?

  2. The condition is "el que por mí entrare", which is hypothetical and it is future. The result is certain (if the condition is met)--"será salvo; ...". Is this not identical to my two examples above?

  1. Yo soy la puerta; el que por mí entre, se salvará; y entrará y saldrá, hallará pastos.
  2. This future subjunctive is, in MODERN SPANISH, the present subjunctive. See all my comments above.
updated DIC 19, 2011
posted by lazarus1907
1
vote

The future subjunctive belongs to the past, and discussing its usage is historical grammar, not present grammar, so we cannot mix how and why the future was used in the past, when tenses had other values, and how the present tense system of the modern Spanish works. If you want to discuss this, we are going to have to split it into two or more conversations, one for each period in the history of the language, or we will never get anywhere (plus there are limits to my knowledge of historical grammar).

So, I'll refrain from comments about the future subjunctive, and I'll focus on present and preterite. Any question similar to "Why not using the future subjunctive'" has one answer: because that tense does no longer exist; it is not Spanish anymore.

If they are future (in function), then why are they not stated (in Spanish) in the present subjunctive instead of the imperfect subjunctive? They certainly are not in the past (which is what the imperfect tense mainly deals with, outside of the subjunctive). In other words, why wouldn't we say, "Si me agrades, te voy a galadonar" and "El que apruebe el examen mañana, recibirá su diploma", instead of using the imperfect subjunctive? Why is the imperfect subjunctive necessary here? Is that what has replaced the future subjunctive?

This is going to take forever, but there you go... First of all, you are making the mistake of interpreting the value of the tenses according to their names, and these names are just labels, not perfect descriptors of what tenses do. Most of the names of traditional grammars are based on Greek and Latin terminology, and they are not always suitable for modern languages. According to many modern cognitive grammar studies, Spanish tenses are not even about time, since many tenses are capable of describing situations in the present, the past and the future, plus many other things that have nothing to do with time at all. Traditional grammars (the ones everyone use) are founded on the "unmistakeably" premise that tenses are about time, and so they state it. Then, without any justification of any kind, they give a list (that varies from author to author) of what they call "other values" that have nothing to do with time, and for this reason, they call them "deviated" values, because they are not about time, and therefore, they are sort of breaking the rule, right? It must be, because the Greco-Latin grammarians could have never been wrong? about a language that will be developed a millennia and a half later in the future.

Grammars simply state their rules about tenses and their relationship with time, and they give examples. Any native will read them, and say to themselves: 'well, this makes sense, so it must be right'. But what happens when a foreigner reads the rule? Unlike Spanish natives, their brain don't know how to use verbs at an unconscious level; they only have rules written on paper, and all they can do is to apply them. Give them an exercise designed to be successful if the given rule is applied to the letter, and they'll excel in class, and they'll get A's. Throw them into the real world, where people use the tenses to communicate efficiently and naturally with others, and all sort of mistakes are made all the time. It is a mess! Next thing it happens is that non-Spanish natives begin to ask why, and all that Spanish natives can do is to make guesses that often complicates the whole picture even more. The more rules we try to give them, the more mistakes they make. Why? Maybe the rules are simply wrong, and we don't want to admit it.

Let me give you an illustrative example from one of the grammarians that has influenced me the most (Ruiz Campillo). He gives three extracts from dialogs taken from real conversations to his students, and ask them to write if they think they are referring to the present, the past, or the future.

  1. ... están todos en el bar...
  2. ... van a estar en el bar...
  3. ... estarán en el bar...

After they finish, he gives them the full dialogs, and asks them to try again. This time, they realize the present tense is used for the future, the periphrasis 'van a estar', used in 'theory? for near futures (this is not true, by the way), and the future tense, are both used to make guesses about the present.

But it is not difficult to find examples of how to jump forwards and backwards in time with many tenses, regardless of what they are called. Their names mean very little, and they only cause confusion when applied to the real Spanish, not the textbook.

updated DIC 19, 2011
posted by lazarus1907
1
vote

Thanks again, Lazarus. I am learning so much that I have always wanted to know, but didn't know who to ask. Like you said, most native speakers without advanced education (which is most of the ones with which I have contact) have no clue about these things. Just asking the question is like speaking to them in a foreign language. If I just give examples and don't use technical terms, they can tell me how they say a certain thing, but not tell me why, or give me a principle/rule to go by to know how to use those features of the grammar, and form correct sentences myself.

hhmdirocco - 19 June 2009 12:52 PM

And (future subjunctive), 'Si me agradases, te voy a galardonar'. Or (future subjunctive), 'El que aprobase este examen recibirá su diploma'.

Those two examples are both imperfect subjunctive (like 'agradaras? and 'aprobara'), not future. And you have to say 'galardonaría? and 'recibiría? with the imperfect subjunctive, as they are hypothetical conditions, not real ones.

Right, the form is imperfect subjunctive, but my question is about the function. In English, aren't these statements future subjunctive? ("If you please me, I am going to reward you." "He that passes this test [or, let's change it to, 'He that passes the test tomorrow'] will receive his diploma.")

If they are future (in function), then why are they not stated (in Spanish) in the present subjunctive instead of the imperfect subjunctive? They certainly are not in the past (which is what the imperfect tense mainly deals with, outside of the subjunctive). In other words, why wouldn't we say, "Si me agrades, te voy a galadonar" and "El que apruebe el examen mañana, recibirá su diploma", instead of using the imperfect subjunctive? Why is the imperfect subjunctive necessary here? Is that what has replaced the future subjunctive?

Also, I do not understand why one would have to say 'galardonaría? and 'recibiría', since they are not, in my opinion, hypothetical conditions, but rather definite results, if what are actually the hypothetical conditions (which is what calls for the subjunctive, right') are met (the pleasing and the passing the test). If this is a rule, that the imperfect subjunctive must be followed by the conditional, then these examples should not use the imperfect subjunctive, because the conditional translates to "would reward you" and "would receive his diploma", and would take away the certainty that was intended, as a promised result if the condition was met. (Understand, I am not arguing, just trying to understand.)

Side question: You said that 'galardonaría? and 'recibiría? are necessary with the imperfect subjunctive ... would that also be true if we state the question in the present subjunctive, as above? Or are those correct as they are?

Case in point: "Yo soy la puerta; el que por mí entrare, será salvo; y entrará, y saldrá, y hallará pastos". --Juan 10:9, La Santa Biblia, Versión Reina Valera, 1960

Yes, this is literary, and it is future subjunctive. I have two questions concerning this:
1. How would this be stated in modern Spanish? Would the future subjunctive be converted to imperfect subjunctive, to present subjunctive, or to present indicative?
2. The condition is "el que por mí entrare", which is hypothetical and it is future. The result is certain (if the condition is met)--"será salvo; ...". Is this not identical to my two examples above'

updated DIC 19, 2011
posted by hhmdirocco
1
vote

Is that to say that sometimes the imperfect subjunctive is sometimes used in a declarative clause, or in one that is not subordinate? Please give examples.

When I said non-declarative, I was referring to the typical subjunctive use "Quería que vinieras/vinieses" that all books talk about, and similar ones.

It seems to me that I hear the -se form used preferentially in the future subjunctive (which I believe should be the -re form, which is mostly obsolete

The -se form is NOT used for future subjunctive. The -se form is like -ra for typical subjuntive sentences, pretty much alive; future subjunctive is dead.

For example, I hear things like, 'ÿl nos dará todo lo necesario, si sólo le pidiésemos'.

Replace "pidiésemos" for "pidiéramos" and it makes no difference whatsoever. In Spain we alternate between both forms indifferently, and sometimes just to avoid saying -ra -ra -ra or -se -se -se too many times in a short period of time.

And (future subjunctive), 'Si me agradases, te voy a galardonar'. Or (future subjunctive), 'El que aprobase este examen recibirá su diploma'.

Those two examples are both imperfect subjunctive (like "agradaras" and "aprobara"), not future. And you have to say "galardonaría" and "recibiría" with the imperfect subjunctive, as they are hypothetical conditions, not real ones.

Again, this is based just on my observation, particularly of native Spanish speakers with whom I converse regularly, and whom I have observed use the -ra form almost exclusively, except when it comes to future uncertainties or conditions.

As I said before, the -ra form is more used than -se nowadays, and in some countries more than others. In Spain, for example, this preference is not so noticeable, and you hear both forms; in some countries, you rarely hear the -se forms. My guess is that those who are not used to the -se form think that it is reserved for some sort of specific uncertain or literary use. Something similar happens when you ask a native about the future subjunctive: they normally give you all sort of weird explanations based on their subjective inductions on the few sentences they've ever heard, because it is a tense they have never used in their lives. You have to learn it by reading ancient novels and by studying grammar.

Any person from Spain, regardless of their formal education (or lack of) have used several tens of thousands of times the -se form in their lives.

Also, in regards to the future subjunctive in Spanish, the -re form:

  1. What is its current usage in Spanish? And,

  2. What form(s) do the future subjunctive & future perfect subjunctive take if the -re form is not used? Could you please give sentence examples of these tenses/mood with their corresponding translation?

Future subjunctive is used in a few old sayings, and it is kept alive in some legal texts in order to scare non-lawyers with an obscure language that they can't understand (without paying them for interpreting it). Otherwise, it doesn't exist.

If you want to know how to use it, fine, but avoid asking natives who have not studied this tense in grammars (as if it was a foreign language to them) how to use it; they don't have a clue. It is used instead of the present subjunctive in relative clauses, instead of the imperfect subjunctive and present indicative in certain conditionals. In some regions, it has replaced the -ra form, but it is not recognized anywhere else.

updated DIC 19, 2011
posted by lazarus1907
0
votes

I'm bumping this up. There is a lot of great information here from great teachers. I hope you find it useful. smile

updated NOV 12, 2014
posted by rac1
0
votes

*'ÿl nos dará todo lo necesario, si sólo le pidiésemos'.

'Si me agradases, te voy a galardonar'.

'El que aprobase el examen mañana recibirá su diploma'.*

This is the problem with taking the rules as mathematical theorems: it is not always a correct and incorrect dichotomy. None of them are entirely wrong, but the effect of the last two feels too shocking and contradictory for me to accept them as correct. Natives wouldn't normally say that. The first one, however, is possible, but still unusual, because you begin by declaring that this person will give us something, so normally, one would expect that statement to be it, or there could be room for a condition, such as 'if you ask for it'. However, the sentence continues with a mental condition that you refuse to declare as a proper condition, which is something that we do when we believe that this is never going to happen. If it is never going to happen, why start the sentence by saying that this guy will gives us everything we need? The only pragmatic interpretation that my brain can come up with to make sense of this apparent contradiction, is that you begin the sentence trying to be positive and encouraging, but as soon as you realize how extremely unlikely it is that this guy will gives us anything, your tone and hopes suddenly drop dead, and you unconsciously finish the sentence with that hypothetical statement with imperfect subjunctive, because you know it is never going to happen. Try to reduce this to a simple grammatical rule that beginners can understand.

In other words, unless you are perfectly aware of the impression that you can cause by mixing these tenses, the normal sequence is imperfect subjunctive + conditional. Breaking this "rules" can be effectively used to achieve poetical, expressive and even comical effects, if you have perfect control of them. As soon as a learner of Spanish start to break the rules on purpose to achieve an unusual effect, this person is probably as fluent (or more) than any other native.

P.S. I can't believe anyone is interested in listening to my extreme grammatical digressions.

updated JUN 20, 2009
posted by lazarus1907
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