the Imperfect Subjunctive

the Portuguese Imperfect Subjunctive

Using the Imperfect Subjunctive

Portuguese uses the Subjunctive mood to indicate something is uncertain to happen or to have occurred. There are 3 different degrees of uncertainty: (1) extremely unlikely, (2) plausible, (3) likely.

The Imperfect Subjunctive is used for case (1): actions that are extremely unlikely to happen or to have happened.

If I were to know that you're vegan, I wouldn't have prepared meat. » Se eu soubesse que você é vegan, não teria preparado carne.

Whenever the sentence conveys: were to something, USE THIS TENSE. And it's easy to hear when someone is using it because you'll hear the pleasant esse or asse attached to the verb. This is an easy conjugation to speak as well since you really only need the eu, você, ele, ela forms and they are all the same!

It's all asse or esse!

were to know eu, você, ele, ela, a gente soub esse
were to have eu, você, ele, ela, a gente tiv esse
were to say eu, você, ele, ela, a gente fal asse

The hard part is that you need to remember that these endings get attached to the simple past stem (the first part of the verb). *simple past = preterit indicative

So, for COMER: simple past »: comeu » » comesse

For an irregular verb like SABER it's: simple past »: soube » » soubesse

Forming the Imperfect Subjunctive

-ar imperfect subjunctive regular verbs

I were to say eu fala sse
you were to say você fala sse
we were to say nós falá ssemos
they were to say eles fala ssem

-er imperfect subjunctive regular verbs

I were to lose eu perde sse
you were to lose você perde sse
we were to lose nós perdê ssemos
they were to lose eles perde ssem

-ir imperfect subjunctive regular verbs

I were to go out eu saí sse
you were to go out você saí sse
we were to go out nós saí ssemos
they were to go out eles saí ssem

Examples of the Imperfect Subjunctive

If I were to win the lottery, I would buy a new car. » Se eu ganhasse a loteria, compraría um caro novo.

In this example, it's not clear if it's saying that I didn't win therefore I didn't buy the car or, that if someday I win, I will buy the car. Usually, the context is enough to clarify. But, let's rewrite the sentence it and be crystal clear that we're talking about the past:

If I were to have won the lottery, I would have bought a new car. » Se eu tivesse ganhado a loteria, teria comprado um caro novo.

Amazingly precise!

Can we place the context in the future? Podemos!

If I were to win the lottery, I would buy a new car. » Se eu ganhasse a loteria, vou comprar um caro novo.

By saying vou comprar... it removes all ambiguity. You're speaking about a hypothetical future event. And that's what the Subjunctive Mood is all about. This form, the Imperfect Subjunctive is the most uncertain, most unlikely, most doubtful version of the three forms: the Present Subjunctive, the Future Subjunctive, and this the Imperfect Subjunctive. This one is labled the IMPERFECT subjuntive because it's just that: not very clear if it's talknig about action in the past, presetn or future. Just use it when things are very, very improbable.

You can also use it when telling a story about something in the past that includes something that did not happen. This is pretty confusing! Let's look at an example:

She asked that I speak with the manager. » Ela pediu que eu falasse com o gerente.

In this case, this is something that did not happen. I did not speak with the manager.

Let's stick to some more common examples:

Se ele falasse Português, entenderia o Brasil melhor. » If he were to speak Portuguese, he would understand Brazil better.
Se você estivesse aqui, poderíamos jantar juntos. » If you were (to be) here we could have dinner together.
Se Gisele Bündchen me ligasse hoje, vou atender. » If Gisele Bündchen calls me today, I'll answer the phone.
Ela pediu que eu mudasse pro Jupiter. » She asked me to move to Jupiter.

UNLIKELY EVENTS.

Notice also how in all of these examples, the subjunctive verb is followed up with one in the Conditional tense? That's because this tense is absolutely PERFECT for saying things like, IF such and such were to happen it WOULD BE whatever. This is the classic usage and always triggers this tense!

I remember it like this:
IF SOMETHING WERE, THEN SOMETHING WOULD.

I've posted some good examples of the Imperfect Subjunctive together with the Conditional tense.