Imperfect Subjunctive Spanish Uncovered: 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.

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:

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!

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We use the imperfect subjunctive after verbs and expressions that indicate doubt, emotion, desire, possibility, uncertainty or conditionality.

It can refer to past, present or future happenings depending on the context.

1. When Do You Use the Imperfect Subjunctive Spanish?

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. 

Imperfect subjunctive Spanish is an important study material
The imperfect subjunctive can be used to talk emotions, feelings, wills and desires

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

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.


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

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 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.

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.

Conjugation table for imperfect subjunctive Spanish (-AR)

Subject-arHablar
Yo-ara, -asehablara/
hablase
-aras, -aseshablaras/
hablases
él, ella, usted-ara, -asehablara/
hablase
nosotros/-as-áramos, -ásemoshabláramos/
hablásemos
ellos/-as, ustedes-aran, asenhablaran/
hablasen

Conjugation table for imperfect subjunctive Spanish (-ER/-IR)

Subject-er/-irAprenderVivir
Yo-iera, -ieseaprendiera/
aprendiese
viviera/
viviese
-ieras, -iesesaprendieras/
aprendieses
vivieras/
vivieses
él, ella, usted-iera, -ieseaprendieras/
aprendieses
viviera/
viviese
nosotros/-as-iéramos, -iésemosaprendiéramos/
aprendiésemos
viviéramos/
viviésemos
ellos/-as, ustedes-ieran, -iesenaprendieran/
aprendiesen
vivieran/
viviesen

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) +
• add the right ending depending on the subject or pronoun you’re using.


Let’s look at the stem formulas for the three verb types:

For -AR verbs:

  1. Take the third-person plural form of the preterite tense.
  2. Remove the -ron ending.

With the verb hablar (to speak), the preterite form hablaron becomes the stem habla-.

Imperfect subjunctive Spanish conjugation for -AR verbs

PronounConjugation
Yo
hablara
hablaras
Él/Ella/Usted
hablara
Nosotros/as
habláramos
Vosotros/as
hablarais
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes
hablaran

For -ER and -IR verbs:

  1. Take the third-person plural form of the preterite tense.
  2. Remove the -ieron ending.

With the verb comer (to eat), the preterite form comieron becomes the stem comie-.

Imperfect subjunctive Spanish conjugation for -ER verbs

PronounConjugation
Yo
comiera
comieras
Él/Ella/Usted
comiera
Nosotros/as
comiéramos
Vosotros/as
comierais
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes
comieran

With the verb sentir (to feel), the preterite form is sintieron, so the stem becomes sintie-.

Imperfect subjunctive Spanish conjugation for -IR verbs

PronounConjugation
Yo
sintiera
sintieras
Él/Ella/Usted
sintiera
Nosotros/Nosotras
sintiéramos
Vosotros/Vosotras
sintierais
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes
sintieran

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.)
Learn Spanish imperfect subjunctive, beacuse it is a great tool to have in your tool box
Imperfect subjunctive is a great tool you can have in your tool box

Generally speaking, imperfect subjunctive is a great tool you can have in your tool box.


Let’s review how we form the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish:

Imperfect subjunctive stem

InfinitiveThird Person PreteriteImperfect Subjunctive Stem
Hablar
Hablaron
Habla-
Comer
Comieron
Comie-
Vivir
Vivieron
Vivie-
Cantar
Cantaron
Canta-
Beber
Bebieron
Bebie-
Escribir
Escribieron
Escribie-
Bailar
Bailaron
Baila-
Compartir
Compartieron
Compartie-
Recibir
Recibieron
Recibie-
Llegar
Llegaron
Llega-
Aprender
Aprendieron
Aprendie-
Abrir
Abrieron
Abrie-
Salir
Salieron
Salie-
Tener
Tuvieron
Tuvie-
Saber
Supieron
Supie-
Venir
Vinieron
Vinie-
Decir
Dijeron
Dij-
Poder
Pudieron
Pudie-
Dormir
Durmieron
Durmie-

The biggest differences between the present subjunctive and the imperfect subjunctive is not 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. 


4. The Uses of Imperfect Subjunctive Spanish

The Spanish imperfect subjunctive is employed to convey hypothetical or uncertain actions, wishes, doubts, or recommendations from the past.

Here are some common applications of the imperfect subjunctive:

Hypothetical Actions

The Imperfect Subjunctive is used to express hypothetical or unreal actions in the past. It suggests something that didn’t actually happen or that the speaker is uncertain about.

Example:

Si yo tuviera dinero, viajaría por el mundo.
(If I had money, I would travel the world.)

Wishes and Desires

It is used to express wishes, desires, or regrets about past events.

Example:

Ojalá pudiera haber asistido a la fiesta.
(I wish I could have attended the party.)

Doubts and Uncertainty

It is also used to express doubt, uncertainty, or disbelief about past events.

Example:

No creía que él hubiera terminado el proyecto a tiempo.
(I didn’t think he had finished the project on time.)

Polite Recommendations

It can be used to make polite recommendations or suggestions in a polite and indirect manner.

Example:

Sería mejor que estudiaras un poco más para el examen.
(It would be better if you studied a bit more for the exam.)


5. Practice Section – Fill in the Blanks With the Correct Form of the Imperfect Subjunctive in Spanish

I. Complete the following sentences with the correct form of the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish:

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