Imperfect Subjunctive Spanish: When and How to Use It
Many Spanish students the subjunctive mood isn’t very common, but in reality, it’s way more common than you’d think. The imperfect subjunctive follows the same rules as the present subjunctive, but refers to previous experiences or unlikely events.
No idea what I’m talking about? No worries. In this article you’re going to see the imperfect subjunctive Spanish in action and you’re going to learn phrases (or chunks) that’ll help you use it yourself in conversations right away, even when you're a Spanish beginner!
1. When do you use the imperfect subjunctive Spanish?
First of all, here’s a general video on the subjunctive in Spanish (both present and imperfect) by teacher Mariana at the Spring Spanish YouTube channel, a language learning platform I co-founded:
First, let’s cover when you should use the imperfect subjunctive Spanish. Native speakers use the imperfect subjunctive to express: emotions, feelings, wills and desires.
Making use of time marks, they can be placed in the present, past, or future. Generally, as said, they are placed in the past.
You can differentiate the imperfect subjunctive from the present subjunctive not only by the way verbs are formed and conjugated but by the way you use them.
You can only use the present subjunctive to talk about present or future events depending on the context. Since both help you express your subjective perception, you can express conditions.
Of course, these conditions are different one from another. Let’s see two chunks to help you get a clearer picture.
Present and imperfect subjunctive with chunks
|Ojalá gane en el bingo esta tarde. (present subjunctive)||I hope I win at bingo this afternoon.|
|Ojalá trabajara desde casa. (imperfect subjunctive)||I wish I worked from home.|
The first example above uses the present subjunctive. As you may see, you can use time markers like “esta tarde” to talk about the future. On the other side, the second example uses no time markers but expresses an idea referring to the past. In both cases, you can express a wish using the word Ojalá.
2. Imperfect subjunctive conjugation
While learning Spanish verb conjugations is important, it's not necessary to memorize them fully by heart to start using the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish. Case in point, you can start using the following expressions right away without even looking at a conjugation table!
Imperfect conjugation table
|Mi empresa me pidió ayer que probara a trabajar una semana desde casa.||My company asked me yesterday to try working from home for a week.|
|No creo que vivieras aquí si tuvieras otro trabajo.||I don't think you'd live here if you had another job.|
|Si fuera diferente no llegaríamos a esto.||If it were different we wouldn't come to this|
|Si hiciéramos lasaña para comer, todos podrían venir.||If we made lasagna to eat, everyone could come|
|Me ha molestado que no tomaran nuestra opinión en cuenta.||It bothered me that they did not take our opinion into account.|
Ideally, you learn a lot of phrases with the imperfect subjunctive like this so you imprint the pattern on your brain, and then you memorize the conjugation table. That makes it much easier for you to learn Spanish fast.
The process I just described (learn patterns/chunks first, only then look at grammar) is the main principle behind Conversation Based Chunking.
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With all that being said, let's take a look at the conjugation table for the Imperfect subjunctive Spanish.
Conjugation table for imperfect subjunctive Spanish
|él, ella, usted||-ara, -ase||hablara/|
|ellos/-as, ustedes||-aran, asen||hablaran/|
Please note that learning this table by heart isn’t mandatory but will help you differentiate this mood from any other Spanish tense or mood.
Also, as you may see, there are two different imperfect subjunctive endings for each subject or pronoun in Spanish. There’s no difference between using one or another. You can use the one you like to express the same idea.
To form a verb or sentence using the imperfect subjunctive you only need to remove the infinitive ending (-AR, -ER, -IR) and add the right one depending on the subject or pronoun you’re using.
3. Imperfect subjunctive examples
Now, it’s time to see a monologue to understand how this mood is actually used in a common speech. As we previously mentioned, you can use the imperfect subjunctive to express emotions, feelings, desires, conditions, and wills. Let’s have a look at the following story:
Hay un chico que busca una pareja que lo quiera tal como es. Él espera que su próxima relación sea auténtica y basada en el amor verdadero. Aunque conoce a muchas personas, no ha encontrado a alguien que comparta sus valores y gustos. Desea encontrar a alguien que lo acepte como es y lo haga sentir feliz.
There is a boy who is looking for a partner who loves him just the way he is. He hopes his next relationship will be authentic and based on true love. Although he knows many people, he has not found anyone who shares his values and tastes. He desires to find someone who accepts him as he is and makes him feel happy
In this story, the subjunctive is used to express the boy's desire (and hope) to find someone who meets his expectations and makes him happy.
- Él espera que su próxima relación sea auténtica. (He hopes his next relationship will be authentic.)
- Desea encontrar a alguien que lo acepte como es y lo haga sentir feliz. (He desires to find someone who accepts him as he is and makes him feel happy.)
- No ha encontrado a alguien que comparta sus valores y gustos. (He has not found anyone who shares his values and tastes.)
Generally speaking, imperfect subjunctive is a great tool you can have in your tool box. The biggest differences between the present subjunctive and the imperfect subjunctive is no only the way verbs are formed but when you use them.
Keep in mind that the present subjunctive can only be used to express present or future ideas as well as conditions. Yet, the imperfect subjunctive comes in handy to talk about past, present, future ideas apart from conditions.
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