Past subjunctive

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The past subjunctive tense is one of two tenses in the subjunctive mood. It is most often used in dependent clauses to describe some possible or contrary-to-fact past action or past state that may not have happened or did not happen. It also is used to express the same types of meanings as the present subjunctive when talking about the past rather than about the present or future.

The past subjunctive tense has 2 different sets of endings. Each set has 5 distinct forms that agree with the subect in person and in number. The five forms of each set consist of the past subjunctive verb stem plus one of 5 distinct suffixes.

The past subjunctive endings are:

Past Subjunctive suffixes
NumberPersonSubject PronounsType ITYpe II
SingularFirstyo-ra-se
Secondtú (vos: see Note)-ras-ses
Thirdél, ella, ello, usted-ra-se
PluralFirstnosotros, nosotras-ramos-semos
Secondvosotros, vosotras-rais-seis
Thirdellos, ellas, ustedes-ran-sen

Note: In general, vos verb forms are identical to verb forms in the past subjunctive.

Here are examples of past subjunctive verbs.

Past Subjunctive example verbs
 Verb Class
 -ar-er-ir
 hablarcomervivirverb
NumberPersonSubject Pronounshablá-comié-vivié-stem
SingularFirstyohablara, hablasecomiera, comieseviviera, viviese
Secondtú (vos: see Note)hablaras, hablasescomieras, comiesesvivieras, vivieses
Thirdél, ella, ello, ustedhablara, hablasecomiera, comieseviviera, viviese
pluralFirstnosotros, nosotrashabláramos, hablásemoscomiéramos, comiésemosviviéramos, viviésemos
Secondvosotros, vosotrashablarais, hablaseiscomierais, comieseisvivierais, vivieses
Thirdellos, ellas, ustedeshablaran, hablasencomieran, comiesenvivieran, viviesen

Irregular verbs

Every verb that has an irregular 3rd-person preterit form (singular or plural) also has an irregular past subjunctive verb stem.

However, the past subjunctive verb stem is absolutely predictable, as it is always identical to the third-person plural of the preterit tense with the last three letters -ron removed. The tonic stress is always on the final vowel of the past subjunctive stem. For example: hablaron -> hablá- (hablara, hablase), comieron -> comié- (comiera, comiese), vivieron -> vivié- (viviera, viviese), dijeron -> dijé- (dijera, dijese), fueron -> fué- (fuera, fuese), estuvieron -> estuvié- (estuviera, estuviese).

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