Imperfect Subjunctive

Another tense that makes up part of the conjuntivo is the imperfeito do conjuntivo imperfect subjunctive. You learned about the pretérito imperfeito do indicativo, which references past events that were ongoing. In the conjuntivo, however, the imperfect refers to:

  • past or future wishes and desires;
  • something purely hypothetical in the past or future:
    • i.e. imagining “what could have been” or “what could be” if things were or had been different;
  • something that is or was unlikely to take place.

Examples


Before we get into the patterns and verb conjugations for this tense, let’s see some examples to give us some context:
Se ele estudasse, podia ser um excelente aluno If he studied, he could be an excellent student
Eu gostava que visses este filme I'd like you to watch this movie
Eles comiam sempre sopa, mesmo que não quisessem They always ate soup, even if they didn't want to
Pensei que desse para irmos nadar I thought that we could go swimming
Eu faria um bolo se tivesse tempo I'd make a cake if I had time
Eles queriam que nós fôssemos com eles They wanted us to go with them
Talvez fosse melhor ficarem em casa Maybe you'd better stay home, Maybe it would be better if you pl. stayed home
Eu pedi que fosses embora I asked you to go away, I asked that you go away

How to Use the Imperfeito do Conjuntivo in a Sentence

Main Clause

As you can see from the examples above, the main clause of the sentence usually contains a verb in the imperfeito do indicativo or in the condicional. (Less often, it can also go along with the pretérito perfeito, as in the last example above, or the futuro do conjuntivo.) Here are some examples of what you might hear in the main clause:

  • Eu faria isso se... I would do that if...
  • Gostava que... We would like...
  • Eu esperava que... I expected that..., I was hoping that...
  • Pensei que... I thought that...
  • Seria bom que... It would be nice if...
  • O que fazias se... What would you do if...?

Dependent Clause

The dependent clause is where you would find the imperfeito do conjuntivo verb. One simple way these clauses are connected is by using the conjunction que, among other options. Here are a few examples of the phrasing you may hear when the imperfeito do conjuntivo is about to be used:

  • Se eu, Se tu, Se nós... If I, If you, If we...
  • Mesmo que... Even if...
  • Como se... As if...
  • Talvez... Maybe...
  • E se nós...?, E se tu...? What if we...?, What if you...?

Putting it Together

See how the verbs in each clause work together? Just for clarity, let’s see the some of the same examples again, but with both of the verbs highlighted:

  • Se ele estudasse, podia ser um excelente aluno If he studied, he could be an excellent student
  • Eu gostava que visses este filme I'd like you to see this film
  • Eles comiam sempre sopa, mesmo que não quisessem They always ate soup, even if they didn't want to

If you’re forming a complete sentence, the imperfeito do conjuntivo technically won’t work by itself (i.e. as the only verb in the sentence). However, it’s very common to hear it on its own in replies, such as:

  • Como se isso fosse possível As if that were possible
  • Talvez fosse melhor Maybe you'd better

Verb Conjugation

For both regular and irregular verbs, you can use the pretérito perfeito do indicativo of a verb as a shortcut to get to the imperfeito do conjuntivo. Let’s take the verb chegar arrive as an example: you conjugate it in the third-person plural of the simple past (chegaram) and you replace the -ram with -sse, to get chegasse – this is the first-person singular of imperfeito do conjuntivo. All the other subjects use the same verb stem (in this case, chega-) with the endings -sse, -sses, -sse, -ssemos, and -ssem.
The terminations are basically the same whether the verb ends in -AR, -ER or -IR as you can see in the table below, except for the vowel right before the ending (a, e, or i, respectively). Also take note of the first-person plural (nós): the first vowel of the ending always has an accent. Add «´» if it’s a or i and add «^» if it’s an e. (This is only valid for regular verbs.)

Regular Verbs

-AR -ER -IR
Eu chegasse vivesse partisse
Tu chegasses vivesses partisses
Ele/Ela/Você chegasse vivesse partisse
Nós chegássemos vivêssemos partíssemos
Eles/Elas/Vocês chegassem vivessem partissem

Irregular Verbs

Especially for irregular verbs, following the rule above is very useful to make you start with the correct irregular verb stem. You can then conjugate them as you did with regular verbs:

ser
to be (permanent condition)

Conjuntivo

Ser – Conjuntivo – Imperfeito

Se eles fossem atores, seriam famosos.
If they were actors, they would be famous.

  • eu fosse
  • I were
  • tu fosses
  • you were
  • ele / ela fosse
  • he / she were
  • você fosse
  • you formal were
  • nós fôssemos
  • we were
  • eles / elas fossem
  • they masc. / they fem. were
  • vocês fossem
  • you pl. were

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estar
to be (temporary or accidental condition)

Conjuntivo

Estar – Conjuntivo – Imperfeito

Se eu estivesse na fila da frente, veria melhor.
If I were in the front row, I would see better.

  • eu estivesse
  • I were
  • tu estivesses
  • you were
  • ele / ela estivesse
  • he / she were
  • você estivesse
  • you formal were
  • nós estivéssemos
  • we were
  • eles / elas estivessem
  • they masc. / they fem. were
  • vocês estivessem
  • you pl. were

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dar
to give

Conjuntivo

Dar – Conjuntivo – Imperfeito

Se nós lhe déssemos dinheiro, ele gastaria tudo.
If we gave him money, he would spend all of it.

  • eu desse
  • I gave
  • tu desses
  • you gave
  • ele / ela desse
  • he / she gave
  • você desse
  • you formal gave
  • nós déssemos
  • we gave
  • eles / elas dessem
  • they masc. / they fem. gave
  • vocês dessem
  • you pl. gave

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ir
to go

Conjuntivo

Ir – Conjuntivo – Imperfeito

Seria estranho se tu fosses sem elas.
It would be weird if you went without them.

  • eu fosse
  • I went
  • tu fosses
  • you went
  • ele / ela fosse
  • he / she went
  • você fosse
  • you formal went
  • nós fôssemos
  • we went
  • eles / elas fossem
  • they masc. / they fem. went
  • vocês fossem
  • you pl. went

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Comments:

  • hello, bom dia
    I got a problem with the use of the imperfect in place of conditional. I’m trying to translate in French and i get for example: “j’aimerais que tu voies ce film (french conditional)” gostaria que tu visses este filme, i’d like you to see this film or we could also say in French “je souhaitais que tu voies ce film (french imperfect)” like gostava que visses este filme but in French the meaning is not the same, the latter sentence refering to a past wish while the first one refers to a wish we hope for the future. How could these two different meanings be expressed in Portuguese? Is there a subtle difference of meaning between the two sentences in Portuguese or is it strictly the same? Thank you for your answer.

    • Olá 🙂 For present/future wishes, both the conditional and the imperfect would be fine to use. For past wishes, the imperfect sounds better to me, but it would also be grammatically correct to use the conditional (it just seems to me that Brazilians do it much more than the Portuguese). You’ll often need to understand the meaning by looking at the context. To make it clear that you’re talking about the past, you could also use a slightly more complicated compound tense: Gostava que tivesses visto este filme (EN: I wish that you had seen this film).

  • Ola! Para mim e uma problema grande entender quando usar presente de conjuntuvo e quando imperfeito de conjuntivo. Fosse otimo se voces podem fazer uma aula ou video sobre isso… Obrigada)

    • Olá, Nelli. Muitas vezes, depende simplesmente da estrutura da frase e do tempo da ação. Por exemplo:
      – Eu quero que tu sejas feliz. -> O presente do indicativo no início da frase (porque tu queres agora, no presente) obriga a continuar no presente do conjuntivo.
      – Eu queria que tu fosses feliz. -> O imperfeito do indicativo no início da frase (porque tu querias no passado, ou começaste a querer no passado) obriga a continuar no imperfeito do conjuntivo.

      Mas podemos explorar mais as diferenças em conteúdos futuros no site ou mesmo através do nosso fórum, onde há uma secção de dúvidas aberta a todos 🙂

      Entretanto, fica também aqui o link para um artigo sobre o presente do conjuntivo: Present Subjunctive

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