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Formation: Imperfect Subjunctive

There are two forms of the imperfect subjunctive: the -ra forms and the -se forms. There are more or less interchangeable so you really only need to learn to generate the -ra forms and recognize the -se forms. Native speakers seem to use both according to what sounds best to their ear in the sentence in question.

There are no irregular forms of the imperfect subjunctive—as long as you know the 3rd person plural of the preterite indicative of the verb you want to use, the formation is perfectly regular. Just follow these steps:

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2017-01-02 – © Baldo Partners: Hector Cantú & Carlos Castellanos; Universal UClick
  1. Begin with the 3rd person plural preterite form of the verb:

    hablaron — comieron — tuvieron

  2. Remove the -ron:

    habla — comie — tuvie

  3. Append these endings:

-ra formsSingularPlural
1st-ra-(é/á)ramos
2nd-ras-rais
3rd-ra-ran
-se formsSingularPlural
1st-se-(é/á)semos
2nd-ses-seis
3rd-se-sen

Note that in the nosotros form, you will have to accent the final vowel of the stem (either ‘a’ or ‘e’) before adding the suffix.

Thus:

hablarSingularPlural
1sthablarahabláramos
2ndhablarashablarais
3rdhablarahablaran
comerSingularPlural
1stcomieracomiéramos
2ndcomierascomierais
3rdcomieracomieran
tenerSingularPlural
1sttuvieratuviéramos
2ndtuvierastuvierais
3rdtuvieratuvieran

The pronunciation of the third person plural forms is critical. In English we don’t often distinguish between an unstressed ‘o’ or an unstressed ‘a’ in our pronunciation–both are pronounced as a schwa (the ‘uh’ sound so common in English words). In the third person plural of the preterite indicative or the imperfect subjunctive, the distinction between that unstressed ‘o’ an ‘a’ makes an enormous difference in the meaning. Make sure your ‘o’s are round and your ‘a’s are “ah”!