Tuesday, December 4, 2012


The Subjunctive Mood in the Past Tense
Things get a little more difficult when we’re using the subjunctive conjugations in the past tense.  So, let’s try to keep the discussion on this topic as simplistic as possible. 

A word of note: many grammar books and Spanish learning tools might present this topic as the “imperfect” subjunctive, which is unfortunately misleading to many students of the Spanish language.  We will continue to refer to this concept as the “past” subjunctive, since it embodies expressions that are either in the preterit or the imperfect tense. 

The main idea to remember is that these types of conjugations are used in the past tense.  If I express an idea in the present tense and I need to use the subjunctive, I use the present tense of the subjunctive, namely:

Necesito que vayas a la tienda.  I need you to go to the store.

Note that BOTH the indicative clause (Necesito….) and the subjunctive clause (vayas…) are conjugated in their respective present tense forms.  All we have to do to utilize the past tense of the subjunctive is to initialize the sentence with a past tense (preterit or imperfect) indicative trigger clause, like this:

Necesité que compraras unas verduras.  I needed you to buy some vegetables.
or
Necesitaba que compraras unas verduras.  I needed you to buy some vegetables.

In the above examples I outlined the past subjunctive verb compraras so you can get an idea on the ending.  I will explain how to conjugate them in the following section. 



Conjugating Past Subjunctive –Ar Verbs
In order to conjugate verbs for them to be used correctly, it is recommended that you are familiar with the 3rd person plural form of the preterit tense.  Recall that –ar verbs usually end in –aron, while the –er/-ir verbs end in either –ieron or, less frequently, -yeron

To change in to the past subjunctive conjugation, simply drop the –ron from the third person plural preterit conjugation of the verb, and add the following suffixes:

yo: -ra
nosotros: -ramos
tú: -ras
vosotros: -rais
él, ella, Ud.: -ra
ellos, ellas, Uds.: -ran


In the nosotros form, the –a that precedes the conjugative suffix has an accent applied ().  Here is the conjugation of the verb mirar (to see, look at) in the past subjunctive (where you will note the nosotros form’s accent):

yo mirara
nosotros miráramos
tú miraras
vosotros mirarais
él, ella, Ud. mirara
ellos, ellas, Uds. miraran

Mi amigo esperaba que yo mirara el partido.  My friend was hoping I watched the game.

Los abuelos dejaban que miráramos la tele.  The grandparents let us watch television.

El maestro prohibió que los estudiantes miraran la películaThe teacher prohibited the students watching the film.

Here is the verb levantar (to lift):

yo levantara
nosotros levantáramos
tú levantaras
vosotros levantarais
él, ella, Ud. levantara
ellos, ellas, Uds. levantaran

El entrenador quería que yo levantara pesos.  The coach wanted me to lift weights.

El niño necesitaba que levantáramos el juguete pesado.  The boy needed us to lift the heavy toy.

Necesitábamos que tú levantaras el sofá.  We needed you to lift the sofa. 

Conjugating Past Subjunctive –Er and –Ir Verbs
Let’s look at some –er/-ir verbs conjugated in the past subjunctive.  Follow the same method of conjugating these as you did for the –ar verbs.  For example, here is the –er verb toser (to cough):

yo tosiera
nosotros tosiéramos
tú tosieras
vosotros tosierais
él, ella, Ud. tosiera
ellos, ellas, Uds. tosieran

El médico esperaba que yo no tosiera.  The doctor hoped that I wasn’t coughing.

Nuestra madre esperaba que no tosiéramosOur mother hoped we weren’t coughing.

Here is the verb reír (to laugh):

yo riera
nosotros riéramos
tú rieras
vosotros rierais
él, ella, Ud. riera
ellos, ellas, Uds. rieran

Mis padres eran alegres que riéramos.  My parents were happy that I was laughing.

El maestro estaba contento que los alumnos rieran.  The teacher was content that the students laughed. 

Estaba sorprendido que tú rierasI was surprised that you were laughing. 

Irregular Verbs in the Past Subjunctive
Remember the preterit tense verbs that were irregular?  Don’t forget that their 3rd person plural conjugations were irregular as well and didn’t resemble their infinitive forms at all.  Here are all of the conjugations that you’ll need to know from all of the irregular preterit tense verbs:

tener (to have):  yo tuviera, tú tuvieras, él tuviera, nosotros tuviéramos, vosotros tuvierais, ellos tuvieran

poner (to put, to place):  yo pusiera, tú pusieras, él pusiera, nosotros pusiéramos, vosotros pusierais, ellos pusieran

saber (to know):  yo supiera, tú supieras, él supiera, nosotros supiéramos, vosotros supierais, ellos supieran

poder (to be able to):  yo pudiera, tú pudieras, él pudiera, nosotros pudiéramos, vosotros pudierais, ellos pudieran

dar (to give):  yo diera, tú dieras, él diera, nosotros diéramos, vosotros dierais, ellos dieran

decir (to say, to tell):  yo dijera, tú dijeras, él dijera, nosotros dijéramos, vosotros dijerais, ellos dijeran

hacer (to do, to make):  yo hiciera, tú hicieras, él hiciera, nosotros hiciéramos, vosotros hicierais, ellos hicieran

andar (to walk):  yo anduviera, tú anduvieras, él anduviera, nosotros anduviéramos, vosotros anduvierais, ellos anduvieran

estar (to be): yo estuviera, tú estuvieras, él estuviera, nosotros estuviéramos, vosotros estuvierais, ellos estuvieran

traer (to bring): yo trajera, tú trajeras, él trajera, nosotros trajéramos, vosotros trajerais, ellos trajeran

querer (to want, to love): yo quisiera, tú quisieras, él quisiera, nosotros quisiéramos, vosotros quisierais, ellos quisieran

conducir (to drive): yo condujera, tú condujeras, él condujera, nosotros condujéramos, vosotros condujerais, ellos condujeran

The verbs ser (to be) and ir (to go), as you recall, are the same conjugation in the preterit tense.  Since we are forming the past subjunctive from the 3rd person plural preterit, then both verbs are conjugated the same in the past subjunctive, as well:

ser (to be) & ir (to go): yo fuera, tú fueras, él fuera, nosotros fuéramos, vosotros fuerais, ellos fueran

Verbs with Spelling Changes in the Past Subjunctive
If you recall, there are some verbs that, when conjugated in the 3rd person preterit tense, exhibit a change in the spelling of their roots.  The verbs include morir (to die):

yo muriera, tú murieras, él muriera, nosotros muriéramos, vosotros murierais, ellos murieran
and verbs like pedir (to ask for)

yo pidiera, tú pidieras, él pidiera, nosotros pidiéramos, vosotros pidierais, ellos pidieran

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