Wishing about the Past with the Spanish Pluperfect Subjunctive

Spanish uses the pluperfect subjunctive more than English does. If you’ve ever hoped or expected that something had happened, you probably hoped or expected in this verb tense and probably didn’t even realize it. In English, you don’t really use the pluperfect subjunctive, but you use something similar to it in sentences like this one: I wished that I had slept before the party.

The main clause, I wished, is in the past tense, and what I wished for — that I had slept before the party — is in the pluperfect, which also is called the past perfect tense. And because what I wished for didn’t happen, it’s subjunctive.

Like other compound tenses, you form the Spanish pluperfect subjunctive by conjugating the verb haber (to have) in the imperfect subjunctive tense. Then you add the past participle of the main verb.

The chart that follows shows the verb haber conjugated in the imperfect tense.

The Imperfect Tense of Haber
Conjugation Translation
yo hubiera I would have
tú hubieras You (informal) would have
él/ella/ello/uno hubiera He/she/one would have
usted hubiera You (formal) would have
nosotros hubiéramos We would have
vosotros hubierais You all (informal) would have
ellos/ellas hubieran They would have
ustedes hubieran You all (formal) would have

Notice that the first person singular (yo) and the third person singular (él, ella, Ud.) forms of this conjugation are the same.

Take a look at the following examples to see how the pluperfect subjunctive is used.

  • Fue una lástima que ellos no hubieran comprador una casa en nuestro vecindario. It was a pity that they hadn’t bought a house in our neighborhood.

  • Ellos creían que nosotros hubieramos comido antes de llegar. They believed that we had eaten before arriving.

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