I'm currently on a quest to master the subjunctive and reading 'The Spanish Subjunctive: The Only Guide You will EVER need' (https://www.amazon.com/Spanish-Subjunctive-Only-Guide-will-ebook/dp/B00F90XNE6).

There, one of the very first and most important rules reads:

If the verb in the main clause is in the present, the verb in the subordinate clause must also be in the present. If the verb in the main clause is in the past, the verb in the subordinate clause must also be in the past.'

(Except that it has examples which use pretérito perfecto in the subordinate clause after a present tense in the main clause, but I guess they classify it as present because it is kind of called Present Perfect in English. E.g.: Espero que hayas hecho todo.)

How about the following:

I find it bad that you are so rude to me.

In Spanish it would be:

Me parece mal que estés tan brusco conmigo.

All good, present main clause, present subordinate clause. But what if I wanted to 'move' the subordinate clause in to the past:

I find it bad that you were so rude to me yesterday.

What would be the correct translation? My take:

Me parece mal que estuvieras tan brusco conmigo ayer.

or this example:

I'm happy you called me.

could be:

Me alegro de que me llamaras.

Are these translations correct? If so, are there any other examples of where the general rule mentioned above doesn't apply?


3 Answers 3


I had the same question!

Imperfect Subjunctive with present tense independent clause?

From the provided links in the answer I was given it certainly seems like you can:


The RAE itself gives a great example: "No creo que Arturo llegara"

That and having heard it used as such by native speakers makes it pretty definitively okay for me. Now, there could be more nuance to it as the others mentioned (verbs of desire don´t allow it while others do) in such case I would love to see some RAE or other additional documentation that explains it, however:

If the verb in the main clause is in the past, the verb in the subordinate clause must also be in the past.

Seems to be just wrong. Well depends how you interpret the word ´must´ I suppose. I find it inaccurate to say the least and coming from a book purporting to be an authoritative text on that very subject matter it gives me a lot of pause. I have the same book btw and I think I gave it up after a few chapters due to other questions about absolutist statements it was making that I wasn´t convinced of. It was not the only guide I ever needed anyway.

  • The connection you made with that previous question was really useful. I have to say that "No creo que Arturo llegara" sounds really strange, even if written by the RAE. Contrary to the explanation they give of Arturo not having arrived, my impression is that the sentence above could be used in a context in which, without denying that Arturo actually arrived, the speaker needs to clarify something, for example: No creo que Arturo llegara para ofrecer nada sino (que llegó) para exigir lo que le correspondía.
    – Gustavson
    Jul 15, 2017 at 17:07
  • I have too learn to search better...
    – wujek
    Jul 15, 2017 at 17:23
  • The link to your question and the answer by @Yay did it for me.
    – wujek
    Dec 24, 2017 at 21:21

The translations sound good to me regarding the agreement of time used however I'd use different translations because of the meaning of the words.

My changes in bold

I find it bad that you are so rude to me.
Me parece mal que seas tan grosero conmigo

I find it bad that you were so rude to me yesterday.
Me parece mal que estuvieras tan grosero conmigo ayer

I'm happy you called me.
Me alegro de que me llamaras (this one is ok, no changes)

Rude could mean brusco but it is generally used to mean "bad manners" or " un-politeness" (offensive in manner or action) that is better translated as grosero, descortés, at least for my region.

The other change I made is regarding the use of estés vs. the use of seas. Estés is fine but I prefer in this case seas and you could find long articles in this and other sites about the differences between ser y estar. In this case estés would be used in the case that the rudeness is only for today (temporary state) and seas will mean that the rudeness is a permanent characteristic of the person being rude towards the person that is talking.

  • I wanted the sentences to mean the short-lived rudeness, but I failed since English is also a foreign language to me ;d the first sentence should have said: I find it bad that you are being so rude to me, etc.
    – wujek
    Jul 17, 2017 at 13:11
  • So yes, that would then be "Me parece mal que estés [siendo] tan grosero conmigo [en este momento]" Oops. I added another complication there. Things in brackets are optional but to translate are being I'd say it is best to use estas siendo. :-) BTW you should complete your profile. What is your native language?
    – DGaleano
    Jul 17, 2017 at 13:19
  • My native language is Polish.
    – wujek
    Jul 17, 2017 at 18:35

I think the best tense to connect a present emotion with a past event is the present perfect (in Spanish, pretérito perfecto compuesto). The auxiliary in this tense is, precisely, the present subjunctive of haber, and the fact that it is grammatically "present" and logically/semantically "past" makes it the best option to serve as a link between both notions.

Sentences like "Me alegro de que me llamaras" or "Me parece mal que estuvieras tan grosero" sound odd to me, but I wouldn't say they are wrong. I very much prefer the following:

  • Me alegro de que me hayas llamado.
  • Me parece mal que hayas estado tan grosero.

If it is essential to use a more definitive form of the past, then we can avoid the present indicative to prevent what I feel to be a clash between the present indicative and the past subjunctive:

  • ¡Qué bueno/alegría que me llamaste ayer!
  • ¡Que mal/pena que estuviste tan grosero!

In "Manual de gramática del español" by Ángela Di Tullio, we can find under item 12.2.2. La concordancia de tiempos, page 225:

La correlación de tiempos en el subjuntivo es obligatoria con algunos verbos (los de deseo, por ejemplo); sin embargo, con otros es posible una alternancia similar a la que permite el indicativo:

(13) a. Quiero que vengas / *vinieras / *hayas venido.

b. Quise que vinieras / *vengas / *hayas venido.

c. No creo que venga / haya venido / viniera.

d. Me pidió que viniera / venga.

(I have to say that "Quise que vengas" is perfectly acceptable in colloquial Spanish.)

The conclusion of this author seems to be that, depending on the semantic classification of the verb in the main clause (volitional, causative, of opinion), tense agreement between the subjunctive in the subordinate and the indicative in the main clause will vary between compulsory and optional usage.

Since "alegrarse" and "parecerle (bien/mal) a alguien" are not verbs of voliton but of opinion, these two cases would allow for the possibility of using both variants (present or past in the subjunctive). If we wanted to reach a final conclusion, we should perhaps list examples of all the possible verbs that can introduce subordinates in the subjunctive and check the grammaticality/acceptability of combining different tenses in each case.

  • 1
    I agree the present perfect sounds much better in this case. The only time that the imperfect sounds more natural to me is when the meaning is, well, imperfect. For example, "me gusta que hayas leído el libro" (perfect action), vs "me gusta que de niño leyeras/leyeses mucho" (imperfect action). But I'm not sure if that holds up cross-dialect. Jul 14, 2017 at 22:17
  • @guifa That is indeed a very good point. I agree with you that the imperfect subjunctive fits better when it refers to a durative action or state. I think it can also work when it refers to an action or state previous to another one (implicit or not), as in: Lamento que tuvieras que pasar por eso (para luego lograr otra cosa). Should I find any literature to support this exchange of ideas, I will be happy to add it to my reply.
    – Gustavson
    Jul 15, 2017 at 0:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.