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Sequence of tenses in Spanish

In order to achieve the correct sequence of tenses in Spanish, use the tense of the verb (present or past) in the principal clause as a guide to help select the appropriate tense of the subjunctive that should be used in the subordinate clause.

The table below shows the correct combinations of tenses in Spanish.

Principal clause (indicative verb)
Subordinate clause (subjunctive verb)
Present

Present

or

present perfect

Future
Present perfect
Imperative
Preterite

Imperfect

or

Pluscuamperfecto

Imperfect
Conditional
Pluscuamperfecto
Conditional perfect

Note the following examples of the tense combinations in Spanish.

Principal clause (indicative verb)
Subordinate clause (subjunctive verb)
Espero

que me digas la verdad.

o

que me hayas dicho la verdad.

Esperaré
He esperado
Espere Ud.
Esperé

que me dijeras la verdad.

o

que me hubieras dicho la verdad.

Esperaba
Esperaría
Había esperado
Habría esperado

The verb choice in the subordinate clause can vary depending on the idea the speaker wishes to convey.

Prefiero que vengan temprano. I prefer that they come early.

Prefiero que ya hayan venido. I prefer they have already come.

Prefería que vinieran temprano. I preferred that they came early.

Prefería que ya hubieran venido. I preferred that they had come already.

The present indicative in the principle clause may be used with the imperfect subjunctive in the subordinate clause to express something that has already ended.

Lamento que no pudieras venir a nuestra fiesta. I’m sorry you couldn’t come to our party.

Learn more about the subjunctive mood in Spanish

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