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Friday, July 19, 2013 (read 804 times)

A bit more Help with Understanding the Spanish Subjunctive

by Lauris

Fluent Spanish

We are always looking for better ways to help you understand the dark world of the subjunctive, so we're going to continue with the same theme that has been driving us crazy the past few weeks. No matter how arduous the task, or how unorthodox our methods may seem, our goal is to help you gain fluidity in Spanish.

We´ve already talked about morphology and its practical uses in the present tense, and how something so complicated for foreigners can be so exciting for us. Now however were going to have a look at the imperfective subjunctive.

Teaching the Imperfective Subjunctive in Spanish

The question is though how do you teach the imperfective subjunctive? The answer is actually quite simple; all you need is a bit of prior knowledge and understanding on how to form certain tenses, as well as a slight sense of humor.

To form the present subjunctive we take the first person singular of the present indicative. However to form the imperfect subjunctive you start with the 3rd person plural of the preterit tense. Remember that a lot of verbs are irregular and so do not follow the normal pattern, and have letter changes in the stem of the verb (E, I, O, U are common).

So once we have the verbs in the 3rd person plural of the preterit tense, eg viajaron; tuvieron; fueron; leyeron; durmieron, etc. we can offer students a little memory aid in the form of a phrase that is so surreal it would even make Dalí proud.  

“Less Alcohol and more Egypt”. You probably think I’ve lost my head a bit at this point, that i should probably be writing mental institution weeklies instead of grammar guides!

You’ll see why I’m not crazy in a minute… take the third person plural of the preterit tense and get rid of the pirate’s favorite part of the verb, RON (Spanish for rum) , and who better to replace RON with than the Egyptian God of the sun, RA. So we end up with viajaronra; tuvieronra; fueronra; leyeronra; durmieronra, etc. Now we have the first person singular of the imperfective subjunctive, the other endings are –RA –RAS –RA –RAMOS –RAIS –RAN. So now we know how to form the imperfect subjunctive.

Let me guess, you’re going to tell me that’s all well and good, but what about the way of forming the imperfect subjunctive? And why on earth are there two ways of forming it anyway!

The answer is a bit of logic. The ending –ra in the third person forms is dangerously easy to confuse with the future tense, as in: viajará, viajarán. The only thing that distinguishes the two tenses here is the accent mark. It is probably this question of ambiguity that has lead Spanish to maintain, in this specific case, a linguistic feature that is not often acceptable, given that languages tend to economize as they evolve –that is the existence and use of a second ending. The alternative –SE ending eliminates the danger of confusion.  

There we have it, the Imperfect Subjunctive sorted! Next week we are going to start having a look at its uses for beginners.

See you then!

Keywords: study spanish,spanish subjunctive,spanish grammar,fluent spanish,spanish subjunctive tenses


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« Next Article: Some insanity for understanding the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish

» Previous Article: More Help for Understanding the Subjunctive in Spanish