This lesson introduces students to the imperfect, or past, subjunctive. Applying the concept to many useful verbs, we will study how to conjugate it in both the more common and less common forms.
How to Form the Imperfect Subjunctive
We will first make sure we fully understand how to form the imperfect subjunctive. We can then start to think about how to put it into use and move on to the lesson in which its full potential is explored. It is likely, especially if you've been working with other lessons in Study.com, that you have gained significant experience with the subjunctive in the present tense. This lesson provides instruction for the past-tense subjunctive, or what we call the imperfect subjunctive, along with a brief introduction to some of its unique applications.
Remember the preterit tense? That pesky past tense with all the irregulars? In the second-person and third-person plural forms (ustedes, ellos/ellas) we had regular forms like hablaron, comieron, and recibieron derived from the verbs hablar, comer, and recibir.
How about all those irregular forms? There are six major groups of preterit irregulars that need to be memorized - verbs like ir, ser, dar. Ellos fueron, ellos fueron - yes, 'ir' and 'ser' are conjugated the same way, remember? And ellos dieron.
Maybe it's starting to ring a bell. There are various groups, including verbs like: dormir - Ellos durmieron; estar - Ellos estuvieron; creer - Ellos creyeron with the 'y.' And then we have: Ellos dijeron, trajeron, pudieron, pusieron, quisieron, supieron and vinieron. Well, this gives us a nice list to start with.
Now, to form the imperfect subjunctive, take off the '-ron' from the end of these preterit conjugations and replace them with 'ra, ras, ra, rais, ramos,' and 'ran.' Let's look at the Yo forms: durmiera, estuviera, creyera, dijera, trajera, pudiera, pusiera, quisiera, supiera and viniera.
When we look at all forms of any verb, such as querer, we must put an accent mark on the nosotros form to maintain the original sound and feel of the verb: quisiera, quisieras, quisiera, quisiéramos, quisierais, quisieran. Note that the Yo form is the same as the third-person singular quisiera, just as it is in the present subjunctive. I know, I know, Cuándo vamos a practicar? The answer is soon, but first, we have one more important consideration.
What About the Alternative Form of the Imperfect Subjunctive?
Have you noticed that there is another form of the imperfect subjunctive out there? It's true, and you may have heard it, especially if you have been to Spain or seen it in works of literature. So how do we decide which one to use?
Instead of ending in 'ra, ras, ra, ramos, rais, ran,' it ends in 'se, ses, se, semos, seis, sen.' Going back to our table, we have: durmiese, estuviese, creyese, dijese, trajese, pudiese, well... etc. And this is one of the more mysterious complexities of the Spanish language; if you ask any native speaker, professor, or even expert linguist, you may get as many different answers as people you speak to, especially if they are from different parts of the Spanish-speaking world. So it's basically a question of regional dialect.
What it boils down to is that the 'ra' form we learned first is much more common and popular, so you should basically stick with that. But calling the 'se' form 'alternative' would not be appropriate. It seems to have come about first, and it's the only form of the imperfect subjunctive in ancient medieval texts. It's also still widely used in literature and is thought of by many as more highly educated or more sophisticated.
One of the most important times when it is not used is when we use the imperfect subjunctive in expressions of courtesy: Quisiera verte pronto = 'I would like to see you soon,' or Quisiera pedir un aumento de sueldo = 'I would like to ask for a raise in salary.' In these cases, we would use quisiera and never quisiese.
Finally, it could actually be used in Latin America and other regions to avoid too much repetition of the 'ra' form. Anyone from any educational background might say, La maestra quería que tú fueras a las tres, trajeras el libro, e hicieses toda la tarea.
We are almost ready to move on to one of the lessons where you can put the imperfect subjunctive to use, whether it is in the traditional subjunctive context, or as a hypothetical 'if' clause, or another common use. But let's review first. If you can put a verb into the ellos form of the preterit, then you can replace the last few letters and form the past subjunctive: escribieron goes to Yo escribiera. The more traditional and literary form is Yo escribiese.
We can then begin to use all the forms of the past/imperfect subjunctive: Yo escribiera; Tú escribieras; Él escribiera; Nosotros escribiéramos; vosotros escribierais; Ellos escribieran. Watch out for that accent on the nosotros form, and remember, all the irregular verbs from the preterit maintain their same unique qualities when we change the endings: Ellos dijeron becomes Yo dijera, Tú dijeras, etc.
Once you've completed this lesson, you should be able to:
- Explain when to use the past/imperfect subjunctive in Spanish
- Describe how to form this tense in Spanish