15.1 Past Perfect (Pluperfect) Subjunctive

The past perfect (pluperfect) subjunctive is formed by the imperfect subjunctive of haber (the –ra or the –se form) + past participle:

escribir traducción
yo hubiera/hubiese escrito (if, that) I had written
hubieras/hubieses escrito (if, that) you (fam. s.) had written
él, Ella, Ud. hubiera/hubiese escrito (if, that) he/she/you had written
Nosotros hubiéramos/hubiésemos escrito (if, that) we had written
Vosotros hubierais/hubieseis escrito (if, that) you (fam. pl.) had written
ellos, ellas, Uds. hubieran/hubiesen escrito (if, that) they/you (form.pl. [fam. pl. L.A.]) had written

The past perfect subjunctive is used when English employs the past perfect tense and when Spanish cues the subjunctive:

Era maravilloso que Josefina hubiera aprendido tantas lenguas tan bien. It was marvelous that Josefina had learned so many languages so well.
Dudábamos que hubieran tenido una coartada legítima. We doubted that they had had a legitimate alibi.

It is also used with “if” clauses in the past and combines with the conditional perfect (or, at times, the conditional) in the main clause:

¿Me lo habrías dicho si lo hubieras sabido? Would you have told me if you had known it?
Si hubieran comprado ese terreno, ahora serían ricos. If you/they had bought that land, now you/they would be rich.

Like the imperfect subjunctive, the past perfect subjunctive also occurs after como si (“as if”):

Habló como si hubiera entendido todo. She spoke as if she had understood everything.

Ojalá and Quién may also be followed by the past perfect subjunctive to express an impossible or improbable situation or a regret (see also section 13.5.):

Ojalá hubiera estado allí. If only (I wish) I had been there.
¡Quién hubiera tenido la suerte de Paco! I wish (If only) I had had Paco’s luck!

When the subject of both clauses is the same, the si + past perfect subjunctive is at times replaced by de haber + past participle:

Si hubiéramos sabido eso, no habríamos venido.

De haber sabido eso, no habríamos venido.

If we had known that, we would not have come.

See the four subjunctive tenses studied, for purposes of contrast:

Subjunctive Tense Spanish Traducción
present subjunctive trabaje (that) I (may) work
imperfect subjunctive trabajara/trabajase (that) I worked, might work
present perfect subjunctive haya trabajado (that) I have worked
past perfect subjunctive hubiera/hubiese trabajado (that) I had worked

Vocabulario básico 

Verbo:

tratar (de)- to deal with (a subject)

Sustantivos:

el anillo- ring
el bienestar- well-being
la coartada- alibi
el embarazo- pregnancy
el enchufe- plug, socket; job connection
Escocia- Scotland
el oro- golf
la plata- silver; money (colloquial, L.A.)

Adjetivos:

embarazada- pregnant (false friend)
oscuro- dark; obscure

Expresión:

en balde- in vain

Last revised on June 28, 2021.

15.2 Imperfect and Past Perfect Subjunctives Used to Replace Conditional Tenses

It is not uncommon to see the –ra form of imperfect subjunctive take the place of the conditional tense in Spanish, nor especially to see the –ra form of the past perfect subjunctive replace the conditional perfect tense:

Me pareciera buena idea. (imperfect subjunctive)
Me parecería buena idea. (conditional tense)
It would seem to me a good idea.

When you see an imperfect subjunctive in a main clause, it is normally translated as the conditional tense. 

Although the two tenses look very similar, try to remember that the one that has endings added on to the infinitive is the conditional tense.

It is also common to see the –ra form of the past perfect subjunctive replace the conditional perfect in a main clause:

Lo hubiera hecho si hubiera tenido más tiempo.
Lo habría hecho si hubiera tenido más tiempo.
would have done it if I’d had more time.

Although in most cases it is necessary to distinguish between these two tenses, remember to translate a past perfect subjunctive in the main clause as a conditional perfect tense. 

Vocabulario básico 

Verbos:

prevalecer- to prevail
resonar(ue)- to resonate, to resound

Sustantivos:

el alfabetismo- literacy
la ciudadela- fortress
la etapa- stage
el nivel- level
la raíz- root
el respaldo- endorsement, backing, support
la tertulia- social gathering, get-together
el vaivén- fluctuation

Adjetivo:

útil- useful

Last revised on June 28, 2021.

15.3 Relative Pronouns

You have already seen many relative pronouns, the most common of which are que (“that,” “which,” “who” [referring to objects or people]) and quien/-es (“who” [referring only to people]). There are, however, dual “long” forms of the relative pronouns that may replace both que and quien/-es, in the masculine singular and plural as well as in the feminine singular and plural, and which may refer either to objects or to people:

Masculine Feminine
Singular el que la que
plural los que las que

 

Masculine Feminine
Singular el cual la cual
plural los cuales las cuales

Rules exist that govern when “long” relative pronouns must be used (e.g., after “long” [two syllables or more] prepositions), but after “short” (usually monosyllabic) prepositions, there can be great flexibility. The “short” relative pronouns (que and quien/-es) are more succinct, while the longer ones may be used for stylistic effect, without altering the meaning:

La choza en que vivían fue destruida.
La choza en la que vivían fue destruida.
La choza en la cual vivían fue destruida.
The hut in which they lived was destroyed.

The long forms of the relative pronouns always agree in number and gender with the noun to which they refer. This is useful to know when there are two conceivable antecedents that are not the same in number and/or gender. In such cases the long form is necessary to specify to which antecedent it refers:

El esposo de la alcaldesa, el que (el cual) está viajando por el estado, regresará para asistir a la apertura. The mayor’s husband, who is traveling through the state, will return to attend the opening.

¡Ojo! Although the forms are identical, do not confuse the meaning of the relative pronoun el que and the forms of el que that mean “he who,” “the ones who,” “she who,” etc. (See section 10.4.) This should pose no problem in context: Ayudaremos a los que podamos (“We’ll help the ones we may be able to”); Los apartamentos en los que viven son muy amplios (“The apartments in which they live are very spacious”).

Be careful not to confuse the preposition hacia (no accent) (“toward”) with hacía.

Remember the neuter relative pronouns, lo que (“what,” “that which,” “which”) and lo cual (“which”).

Vocabulario básico 

Verbos:

agregar- to add (cognate: aggregate)
añadir- to add
comparecer- to appear (in court, by demand)
reanudar- to renew
vincular- to relate, to connect, to link

Sustantivos:

el/la alcalde/-esa- mayor
la denominación- designation, title
el estado libre asociado- commonwealth
la hembra- female
el/la heredero/-a- heir/(heiress)
el lazo- tie
varón- male
el vínculo- bond, tie, link

Preposiciones:

ante- before, in the face of
bajo- below, under

Expresión:

dar a luz- to give birth

Last revised on June 28, 2021.

15.4 Verbs Formed from Adjectives

There are many Spanish verbs, often reflexive, the meaning of which can be deduced from an adjective (or recognizable form thereof) or, occasionally, a noun, contained within it. The adjective is usually formed by the prefix en– or em– and the suffix almost always ends in –ecer. The meaning is “to become (to get, to turn)” + adjective. A few adjectives take different prefixes or suffixes, but this should not generally be an impediment to their recognition.

Look at these verbs and try to deduce their meaning from the adjective or noun (or part thereof) contained within, highlighted in bold. Consult the vocabulary list for new adjectives. All answers are listed at the bottom of this page.
1. emblanquecerse
2. empobrecerse
3. enaltecerse
4. enfriarse
5. ennegrecerse
6. enloquecerse
7. enorgullecerse
8. enriquecerse
9. entristecerse

Try to do the same with these others, which begin with other prefixes:
10. adelgazar
11. amanecer
12. anochecer
13. atardecer
14. engordar
15. esclarecer
16. oscurecer

The general rule with the above verbs is that they are used reflexively when the meaning is “to become + adjective” but when used transitively (taking a direct object), they are not. In other words, by removing the reflexive pronoun, when present, most of the above verbs change meaning, for example, emblanquecer = “to make (something) white,” (versus emblanquecerse, “to become white”), enriquecer = “to make rich,” “to enrich” (versus enriquecerse, “to become/get rich”). Note the differing translations of the verbs in the sentences that follow.

La noticia del desastre me entristeció. The news of the disaster saddened me.
Me entristecí al oír las noticias. became sad upon hearing the news.
Lucio la enloquece. Lucio drives her crazy (nuts/mad).
Tania se enloquece haciendo ese trabajo. Tania is going crazy (nuts/mad) doing that work.

Many other adjectives and nouns add an –to make their corresponding verbal form. Again, recognizing the adjective root helps you identify the meaning of the verb:

cierto certain, true
acertar (ie) to be correct, to guess right, to hit upon
grave grave, serious
agravar to aggravate, to make worse
manso tame
amansar to tame
mueble piece of furniture
amueblar to furnish
puñal dagger
apuñalar to stab, to knife

Vocabulario básico

Sustantivos:

granjero/-a- farmer
sequía- drought

Adjetivos:

delgado- thin
duro- hard
flaco- thin, skinny
gordo- fat

Answers to activity above:

  1. to become white
  2. to become poor
  3. to praise/ to exalt [from alto]
  4. to grow/become cold
  5. to become/turn black
  6. to go crazy
  7. to feel proud, to be proud, to pride oneself
  8. to become rich
  9. to become sad
  10. to grow thin, to lose weight
  11. to dawn, to get up early, to wake up [in a certain place]
  12. to get dark, to stay up late
  13. to draw toward evening, to get late
  14. to grow fat
  15. to lighten, to make clear, to clarify
  16. to grow dark
Last revised on June 28, 2021.

15.5 Word Families

In section 15.4, one sees how many adjectives and nouns can be made into verbs. It also stands true that many adjectives can be made into nouns. The common suffixes attached to adjectives are –ura and –ez (or –eza). These suffixes tend to refer to abstract ideas and correspond to English endings such as “-ness,” “-ship,” or “-ity”:

blanco white
blancuzco whitish
blancura whiteness
emblanquecerse to become white

Other adjective-to-noun examples include:

loco crazy
locura craziness
viejo old
vejez old age, oldness

Many of the nouns ending in –ura have masculine variants ending in –or (amargorblancorverdor), which are less common and essentially synonymous, though some parts of the Spanish-speaking world differentiate between the two, using the –ura form for the figurative and the –or form for the literal. Context should make it clear which one is indicated.

Vocabulario básico 

Verbo:

transcurrir- to happen, to take place

Sustantivos:

la amargura- bitterness
la dulzura- sweetness
la flaqueza- thinness, weakness
la gordura- fatness; fat, grease
la niñez- childhood
la pureza- purity
la sencillez- simplicity
la ternura- tenderness
la tristeza- sadness
la verdura- greenness; vegetable

Adjetivos:

amargo- bitter
ameno- pleasant, agreeable
dulce- sweet

Last revised on June 28, 2021.

15.6 The Passive Voice

You have already seen the passive voice in Spanish in this text. It does not present particular comprehension problems as it corresponds well to the English passive voice. As the impersonal se often replaces it, its use is much less frequent, especially when compared to English. Nonetheless, the passive voice in Spanish is becoming more popular, especially in Latin America. Its formation is as follows:

subject + form of ser + past participle + por + agent (of action)

El hotel     fue                dañado             por     el tornado.
The hotel  was               damaged          by      the tornado.

The past participle agrees in number and gender with the noun, as it now functions as an adjective:

Los problemas fueron estudiados por el comité. The problems were studied by the committee.

The passive voice, although it frequently appears in the preterite, may occur in any tense:

La inocente había sido encarcelada por la policía. The innocent woman had been imprisoned by the police.
Esta cuestión ha sido analizada por muchos economistas This issue has been analyzed by many economists.
Serán casados por el rabino mañana. They will be married by the rabbi tomorrow.

Although the use of the passive voice implies the existence of the agent, at times it is not expressed, but rather understood.

Fui despedido de mi trabajo. I was fired from my job. (by someone known, or not important to mention)

There is a tendency with a small number of verbs to replace the preposition por with de in the passive voice. This does not alter the meaning:

La científica era admirada de todos. The scientist was admired by all.
El gerente fue acompañado de dos asistentes. The manager was accompanied by two assistants.

The preposition de is also seen in “resultant state” conditions expressed with estar. Note the differing translations. This should cause little or no comprehension problem; whenever the de does not translate well literally, simply use “by” or the most logical preposition:

Las calles estaban cubiertas de nieve. The streets were covered with snow.
La casa estaba rodeada de árboles altos. The house was surrounded by tall trees.

Occasionally one sees what may be called the “estar passive” (passive voice using estar). An example is: Los dos países están gobernados por presidentes izquierdistas (“Both countries are governed by leftist presidents.”) Such infrequent examples should not present comprehension difficulties.

Vocabulario básico 

Verbo:

someter- to subdue

Sustantivos:

la cumbre- summit, high point
la sor- religious sister (used before name of a nun)

Last revised on June 28, 2021.