imperfect subjunctive spanish

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!

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:

  • emotion;
  • 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. 

SpanishEnglish
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.

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!

SpanishEnglish
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 estoIf it were different we wouldn't come to this
Si hiciéramos lasaña para comer, todos podrían venirIf 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.

For more info about chunking,  make sure to request your free Spanish Chunking Starter Pack. It also includes Conversation Based Chunking tutorials, flashcards, recommended resources, and more. In short: everything you need to kickstart your Spanish studies.

With all that being said, let's take a look at the conjugation table for the Imperfect subjunctive Spanish.

Subject-arHablar-er/-irAprenderVivir
Yo-ara, -asehablara/
hablase
-iera, -ieseaprendiera/
aprendiese
viviera/
viviese
-aras, -aseshablaras/
hablases
-ieras, -iesesaprendieras/
aprendieses
vivieras/
vivieses
él, ella, usted-ara, -asehablara/
hablase
-iera, -ieseaprendieras/
aprendieses
viviera/
viviese
nosotros/-as-áramos, -ásemoshabláramos/
hablásemos
-iéramos, -iésemosaprendiéramos/
aprendiésemos
viviéramos/
viviésemos
ellos/-as, ustedes-aran, asenhablaran/
hablasen
-ieran, -iesenaprendieran/
aprendiesen
vivieran/
viviesen

Please note than 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.

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 subjuntive to express emotions, feelings, desire, conditions and wills. Let’s have a look at the following story (written by the people at Lingolia)

Ojalá trabajara desde casa. Me gustaría tener un trabajo que me permitiera vivir en cualquier sitio. No creo que viviera en una ciudad si pudiera teletrabajar. Y dudo que me cansara alguna vez del campo. La tranquilidad del día y las noches estrelladas… 

¡Quién tuviera una casita en medio de la montaña! 

I wish I worked from home. I’d like to have a job that would allow me to live anywhere. I don’t think I would live in a city if I could work remotely. And I doubt I would ever get tired of the countryside. The tranquility during the day, and the starry nights… 

I wish I had a little house in the middle of the mountain!

Source: https://espanol.lingolia.com/es/gramatica/tiempos-subjuntivo/preterito-imperfecto

In the first line, the word “Ojalá” helps the speaker express a wish/desire. So, it means that at that time, he/she wasn’t working from home. In the second sentence, the verb permitiera helps the speaker express a will as we would like to get a job that could allow him/her work from any place. Then, in the third sentence, the verb viviera helps the speaker express a condition since he/she is using “si” as a conjunction. In the fourth sentence, things are different since the speaker is expressing possible emotions/feelings in the future using “dudo que me cansara”. 

Finally, there’s the exclamation sentence “¡Quien tuviera…”. That phrase expresses a desire/wish without using the word Ojalá. 

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. 

Keep learning more popular expressions and make sure to request your free Spanish Chunking Starter Pack at Effortless Conversations to get a head start. You won’t regret using Conversation Based Chunking to replaced old-fashioned learning methods 🙂

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *