The Subjunctive Mode (modo Conjuntivo) in Portuguese – part 3

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Today we will talk about another tense of Subjunctive mode: the Past. If you miss them, we recommend to check the previous articles.

The subjunctive mode (modo Conjuntivo) in Portuguese – part 1

The subjunctive mode (modo Conjuntivo) in Portuguese – part 2


After understand the difference of this mode from the others, and learn when we use the Present tense, now we will learn the Past tense. In Portuguese it is called “Pretérito Imperfeito do Conjuntivo” or just “Impefeito do Conjuntivo”. Part of this one can be learned by analogy with the Present tense.

The Subjunctive Mode (modo Conjuntivo) in Portuguese – part 3

The Past of Subjunctive

As you are probably are thinking, it is used to talk about events in the past. We also use it in other cases, but we will start by the first case and see some examples:

A mãe quis que ele ficasse em casa. (The mother wanted him to stay home)

Eu receava que não fosse possível. (I feared that it would not be possible)

We have again the same structure (verb 1 + “que” + verb 2) and the verbs correspond to different persons. However, now we have the verb 1 in the Past (of Indicative), so the verb 2 should also be in the Past (of Subjunctive).

Impersonal structures

The same principles applie in the follow structures:

Verb “ser” + adjective + que + verb

Let’s see some exemples:

É bom que estudes mais. (It is good if you study more)

Era bom que estudasses mais. (It was good if you studied more)

These sentences sound like advices or desires, both about the present time. However, the interesting fact is that when we use the Past tense we reinforce our doubt about the concretization of the action. We will see more examples about this in the current article.

In both cases, we could use the Personal Infinitive (Infinitivo Pessoal), just by removing the word “que”:

É/era bom estudares mais.

However, when these structures expressing belief (not doubt) or evidence, we should use the Indicative mode:

É óbvio que ele estuda muito. (It is obvious that he studies a lot)

And here we don’t use the Personal Infinitive.

Types of Sentences

Again, we find the same type of sentences (concessive, temporal, final and conditional sentences) in the past:

Embora estivesse doente ele foi trabalhar. (Although he was sick he went to work)

Caso chovesse nós não íamos passear. (If it rained we wouldn’t go for a walk)

Ela escreveu a explicação para que não se esquecesse. (She wrote the explanation so that she would not forget)

Eu visitava-te assim que chegasses. (I would visit you as soon as you arrived)

Specific uses

– Se

We also use this tense in conditional sentences with the word “se” (if). Let’s see examples:

Se ganhasse a lotaria, comprava um iate. (If I won the lottery, I would buy a yacht)

Poderias trabalhar na nossa empresa, se falasses alemão. (You could work at our company if you spoke German)

Firstly, we always have the following structure:

“Se + Imperfeito do conjuntivo” & “Imperfeito do Indicativo/Condicional” (the order can change)

With this structure we express and unreal condition (win the lottery, speak german) and the depending action (buy a yatch, work at our company). These sentences express actions with very low or null probability to happen in the present. These “probabilities” depend on the speaker’s thinking.

– Unreal comparisons

Le’s seem some examples of “unreal comparisons”:

Ela fala comigo como se eu fosse uma criança. (She speaks to me as if I were a child)

Dás-me conselhos como se tivesses experiência. (You give me advice as if you have experience)

Here we also use the word “se”, but with the comparison word “como”, expressing a false analogy, sometimes even overstating.

– Talvez

The word “talvez” (maybe) demands the subjunctive mode. In this case, we can use the Present or the Past of Subjunctive to express doubt:

Talvez seja melhor mudar de emprego.

Talvez fosse melhor mudar de emprego.

Both sentences mean “Maybe it would be better to change jobs”. Although, when we use the past time (fosse) we intensify the idea of doubt.

Instead of “talvez” we can use “se calhar”, which has the same meaning, but demands the indicative mode:

Se calhar é melhor mudar de emprego.

Se calhar era melhor mudar de emprego.

Once again, when we use the Past tense (of Indicative mode) we enhance the idea of doubt.


In general we can say we use “Imperfeito do Conjuntivo” in two cases:

– For structures in the Past tense

– For deeper doubts (usually concerning to the present time)

In addition, we could again “avoid” this mode, by using other structures, which doesn’t demand the Subjunctive mode. Here we saw the expression “se calhar” which demands the Indicative mode.

In the previous article (part 2) we learned how use the Personal Infinitive instead of the Present of Subjunctive. We didn’t do it here because we can do exactly the same for the Past of Subjunctive, with only one exception. This exception is the structures with “se”, because such idea of doubt cannot be expressed by the other structures.

If you liked this article and feel it is useful for you, then wait for the part 4, where we will talk about the Future of Subjunctive and other topics. The Future is more frequently used in daily life than the Past. Nevertheless, we’ve learnt the Past first because we believe it’s much easier this way.

Finally, do not forget you can find us in person in several cities of Portugal or learn with us onl

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