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Fuera and other past tense subjunctives

Why does Spanish have a past tense subjunctive — and will you ever need it? Let’s learn how to use fuera, estuviera, and tuviera.

Full Podcast Episode


If this were easy, everybody would be fluent.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

Today we’re going to learn just a few more forms of our verbs, which will allow us to use some of the most advanced sentence templates in Spanish.

First, let’s talk about something really weird that happens in English. See if you can tell what’s going on with the first verb in this sentence:

“If I were taller, I would be a basketball player.”

So here’s the question: What does “I were” mean in this sentence? “If I were taller…”

Normally, we say “I am” or “I was”, not “I were”. So shouldn’t we change this to “I was”? But wait, no, in this situation, it shouldn’t even be in the past tense at all, because we’re actually sort of talking about the present.

But the fact is, in reality, this IS correct. In English, the phrase “If I were…” is used to indicate something that we know isn’t true. When you say “If I were taller…” or “If I were president…”, you’re talking hypothetically about something you know isn’t true.

The word for this in Spanish is fuera, spelled f-u-e-r-a. This is the past tense subjunctive of Ser.

So here’s a sentence example:

If he were your friend, he’d be here.

Si fuera tu amigo, estaría aquí.

In English, we simply use the word “were” for all of these situations. But in Spanish, we use a tense and mood that’s all its own. In fact, this can be conjugated to different people: fuera, fueras, fueran, and fuéramos. But for now we’ll only practice fuera, which can be used for the first person or for the third person singular.

Notice that in this sentence template, we use the past tense subjunctive for the hypothetical part, and then we use a conditional, “ria” conjugation for what would be the case if that were true. Here’s another example, using a formal voice.

If it were you(formal), it would be at home.

Si fuera usted, estaría en casa.

Now, this sentence template isn’t the only way that the past tense subjunctive is used. Remember that subjunctives are most typically used to express intentions. And sometimes those intentions aren’t for the present — they relate to past events.

Here’s why. Consider this sentence:

She wants me to be her friend.

That’s a present-tense situation, “she wants”, and this would be translated as “she wants that I be her friend”, where “I be” is subjunctive since it’s an intention. So here’s how it would be translated:

Ella wants que yo sea su amigo.

Ella quiere que yo sea su amigo.

Now let’s put the whole thing in the past:

She wanted me to be her friend.

Ella wanted que yo fuera su amigo.

Ella quería que yo fuera su amigo.

So both the first half, “she wanted”, and the second half, “that I be”, have to be placed in the past. This is another way you’ll need to use a past-tense subjunctive.

Here’s another example:

I hoped that it was the gentleman.

I hoped que fuera el señor.

Esperaba que fuera el señor.

So there are two sentence templates where we’re likely to use the past tense subjunctive: One for hypothetical things that we know aren’t true, and one for intentions that took place in the past.

Let’s practice using fuera in a few examples.

If he were the man, he would be her friend.

Si él fuera el hombre, sería su amigo.

They told her to be a good friend.

Le they told que fuera una buena amiga.

Le dijeron que fuera una buena amiga.

If I were the doctor(f), I would be there.

Si yo fuera la doctor, estaría ahí.

Si yo fuera la doctora, estaría ahí.

Next let’s learn the past tense subjunctive of Ir. And guess what — it’s fuera! It looks and sounds exactly the same as the past tense subjunctive of Ser. So these two verbs not only share preterite forms, they also share a past tense subjunctive.

So here’s an example of the intention use:

They wanted me to go home.

They wanted que yo fuera a casa.

Querían que yo fuera a casa.

And here’s an example of the hypothetical use:

If I went to the party, I would eat all the food.

Si fuera a the party I would eat all the food.

Si fuera a la fiesta, comería toda la comida.

Let’s practice using fuera as a form of Ir.

I hoped that she would go to the place.

I hoped que ella fuera al lugar.

Esperaba que ella fuera al lugar.

I would be mad if she went to that place.

Estaría mad si ella fuera a ese lugar.

Estaría enojado si ella fuera a ese lugar.

We told him to go home.

Le we told que fuera a casa.

Le dijimos que fuera a casa.

The past tense subjunctives of Estar and Tener are a bit less common, but they’re worth learning. For Estar it’s estuviera, and for Tener it’s tuviera.

Here are some examples:

If I were at home, I wouldn’t be here!

¡Si yo estuviera en casa, no estaría aquí!

I wanted her to have this.

I wanted que ella tuviera esto.

Quería que ella tuviera esto.

Try it yourself with a few examples:

She wanted me to be at home.

Ella wanted que yo estuviera en casa.

Ella quería que yo estuviera en casa.

If I had money, I would be there.

Si tuviera money, estaría ahí.

Si tuviera dinero, estaría ahí.

I went home in order that she be there.

Fui a casa para que ella estuviera ahí.

They wanted me to have their house.

They wanted que tuviera su casa.

Querían que tuviera su casa.

If she was here, this wouldn’t be a problem.

Si ella estuviera aquí, esto no sería a problem.

Si ella estuviera aquí, esto no sería un problema.

If you need more practice internalizing the use of these past tense subjunctives, I recommend spending a little bit of time writing your own sentences using both of these sentence templates. You can go to LCSPodcast.com/58 and copy down the templates from there, then write your own sentences. To make sure you’re getting it right, I recommend showing the sentences to a native speaker for corrective feedback, whether it’s one of our Spanish coaches or a Spanish speaker in your life. These sentence templates are tricky to internalize if Spanish isn’t your first language, but the sooner you get really good at using these sentence templates, the faster you’ll become fluent at expressing whatever you want to say in Spanish.

Now, before we go on to today’s final quiz, there’s one more thing we need to cover. We’re now using the sentence template “If something were the case, something else would happen.” This template always uses a past tense subjunctive in one half and a conditional in the other half. In order to use this flexibly, we need to learn a few more conditional forms, specifically the conditionals for Tener and Ir. Fortunately they’re pretty easy.

For Ir, the basic form is exactly what you would expect it to be: iría. So “I would go”, “he would go”, or “she would go” is iría. The other forms are based on this: irías, irían, and iríamos.

For Tener, you would expect the conditionals to be based on tenería, but they’re actually shortened and modified. So just like you would expect the future to be teneré and tenerá, but it’s instead tendré and tendrá, the conditionals are all based on tendría. So “I would have”, “he would have”, or “she would have” is tendría. The other forms are based on this: tendrías, tendrían, and tendríamos.

Let’s try this out with a couple of examples.

If I were wealthy, I’d have a much better house.

Si yo fuera wealthy, tendría una casa mucho mejor.

Si yo fuera rico, tendría una casa mucho mejor.

If she weren’t here, she would go there.

Si ella no estuviera aquí, iría ahí.

All right, if you feel ready, let’s go on to today’s final quiz.

Leave! Your presence here is extra.

¡Vete! Tu presence aquí está de más.

¡Vete! Tu presencia aquí está de más.

Let’s go again since we have a lot of time!

¡Vamos otra vez ya que tenemos mucho tiempo!

You were my best friend at camp.

Fuiste mi mejor amigo en camp.

Fuiste mi mejor amigo en el campamento.

They wanted me to be what they were that time.

They wanted que yo fuera lo que ellos fueron esa vez.

Querían que yo fuera lo que ellos fueron esa vez.

Have both of them and let’s leave!

¡Ten los dos y vámonos!

If he were here, one wouldn’t have to do it.

Si él estuviera aquí, uno no lo tendría que hacer.

(All of you) Leave! We were friends once, but we aren’t anymore.

¡Váyanse! Fuimos amigos una vez, pero ya no lo somos.

Leave! I don’t want to see you (formal, masculine) at all!

¡Váyase! ¡No lo quiero ver para nada!

I wanted you (formal) to have a good life.

I wanted que usted tuviera una buena vida.

Quería que usted tuviera una buena vida.

She came in order for you (formal) to go.

Ella came para que usted fuera.

Ella vino para que usted fuera.

They wanted me to be at the cinema.

They wanted que yo estuviera en the cinema.

Querían que yo estuviera en el cine.

If I were you, I would go. Go!

Si yo fuera tú, iría. ¡Ve!

I saw another girl instead.

I saw a otra chica en vez.

It couldn’t hurt to have three instead of two.

No está de más tener tres en vez de dos.

If I had time, I would study more.

Si tuviera tiempo, I would study más.

Si tuviera tiempo, estudiaría más.

One has to be in a city that has a bit of everything.

Uno tiene que estar en a city que tiene de todo.

Uno tiene que estar en una ciudad que tiene de todo.

He wanted me to be his friend.

He wanted que fuera su amigo.

Quería que fuera su amigo.

I was the winner that day.

Fui el winner ese día.

Fui el ganador ese día.

If she had more friends, she wouldn’t be so unwell.

Si tuviera más amigos, no estaría tan mal.

They would be happy if she went with them.

Estarían happy si ella fuera con ellos.

Estarían felices si ella fuera con ellos.

They recommended that she be at home.

They recommended que estuviera en casa.

Le sugirieron que estuviera en casa.

For more practice with all of this, go to LCSPodcast.com/58.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach [...]. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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