Decir Imperfect Subjunctive

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

The verb ''decir'' means 'to tell' and 'to say'. Very often you need to use this verb in the imperfect subjunctive, which is the tense this lesson covers, which will include a pronunciation guide and practical examples.

Your Wishes Do Not Come True!

There is a very important project for the office and your stubborn boss has the wrong approach. You decide to talk to him to tell him what the right course of action is and why. Your boss seems to understand and you hope he agrees to change the approach. However, he says 'I still want to go with my proposal'. You leave his office very disappointed and think: 'I was hoping he would say he agrees with me.'

The imperfect subjunctive of decir handles situations when you would expect, hope, wish, etc. The part 'he would say' is exactly what the imperfect subjunctive of decir (deh-SEER, 'to tell' and 'to say') is about.

To learn the imperfect subjunctive of decir, we first need to learn its conjugation in this tense. Then we can have some examples to guide you towards its practical use.

Decir in the Imperfect Subjunctive

Here is a table for you to learn the conjugation very easily:

Subject Pronoun Decir in Imperfect
Pronunciation Translation
yo dijera dee-HEH-rah I would say
dijeras dee-HEH-rahs You (informal, singular) would say
dijera dee-HEH-rah He/She you (formal, singular) would say
dijéramos dee-HEH-rah-mohs We would say
dijerais dee-HEH-rahess You (informal, plural) would say
dijeran dee-HEH-rah They/You (formal, plural) would say

As you can see, the conjugation is not difficult. Now, let's learn to use the table. As we said before, you expect someone to say something but they say otherwise. This means that the imperfect subjunctive requires two conditions:

  1. You were hoping, expecting, wishing, etc. that someone would say something.
  2. Someone says exactly the opposite of what you were hoping, expecting, wishing, etc.

These two conditions are present in the case with your stubborn boss. Let's get back to this situation. We know your boss does not say what you were hoping. There are expressions that go along with the imperfect subjunctive and these expressions are also in the imperfect tense. The most common are:

  • Esperaba que... (I was hoping/hoped or expecting/expected...)
  • Deseaba que... (I was wishing/wished...)
  • No esperaba que... (I was not hoping or expecting/expected...)
  • No deseaba que... (I was not wishing...)
  • Dudaba que... (I was doubting/doubted...)

About your stubborn boss, you say: Esperaba que dijera que está de acuerdo conmigo. (I was hoping he would say he agrees with me).

You are disappointed but you are stubborn as well. So you go to your office mates and you tell them the situation. In principle, they all agree to try to convince your boss about your approach. A meeting is ready but then when your boss asks your office mates, they say they are ready to do as he says since he is the boss. Now you are disappointed in your office mates. You tell them:

Deseaba que dijeran que están de acuerdo conmigo. (I was wishing you would say you agree with me).

Note: use dijeran if you are in Latin America, as office mates would be addressed as ustedes (you, plural/formal).

In Spain, vosotros (you, plural/informal) is the most common way so you would say:

Deseaba que dijerais que estáis de acuerdo conmigo. (I was wishing you would say you agree with me).

This situation is more than frustrating. Not that it makes us feel better, but there are some who have it worse!

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