At the end of the Michel Thomas Spanish Advanced Course, he talks about the imperfect subjunctive. While it seems there are good examples using si clauses, he says it can also be used to invoke might. I cannot find a reference to this translation anywhere else, so does this have merit?

lo hubiera comprado - I might have bought it
quisiera - I might want
hiciera - I might do
lo hubiera hecho - I might have done it


While the course is far from perfect, it is usually genius in its grammar explanations. However, this is news to me.

Besides quisiera, can these expressions be used like this alone without si or que clauses etc, and would they mean might?

  • 2
    In fact, the actual tense that carries the sense of "might" is the conditional: lo habría comprado, querría, haría, lo habría hecho, but that tense and the imperfect subjunctive have been used indistinctly in Spanish for centuries in these cases.
    – Charlie
    Sep 8, 2020 at 6:59
  • Does the course provide any examples? I am used to seeing conditional perfect ("habría comprado") replaced by pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo ("hubiera comprado") meaning "would have bought". This is correct as explained here. But I cannot think of examples with the meaning "might have bought" that do not include additional words like "podría" or "quizá".
    – wimi
    Sep 8, 2020 at 7:04
  • @wimi The examples are the ones I gave above from the course.
    – Jonathan
    Sep 9, 2020 at 2:06
  • @Charlie lo habría comprado means "I would have bought it" not "I might have bought it"...
    – Jonathan
    Sep 9, 2020 at 2:06
  • @Jonathan I mean example sentences. Does the course not provide example sentences?
    – wimi
    Sep 9, 2020 at 5:38

1 Answer 1


After doing some research, it turns out that Michel Thomas is correct, but only in some cases.

1.) The past subjunctive can only be used in a clause by itself in 3 cases, none which translate as might:


  • quisiera lit I wanted - (I / you / he) would like...
  • pudiera lit I could / I was able to - Could (I / you / he)...
  • debiera lit I would have to / should - (I / you / he) should...


2.) One use of the subjunctive mood in English and in Spanish is to show doubt or uncertainty. The word may shows doubt in the subjunctive present, and the past tense of may is might, hence it is the past subjunctive / imperfect subjunctive tense.


  • no pienso que venga - I don't think that he MAY come
  • no pensé que que viniera - I didn't think that he MIGHT come
  • no pensé que hubiera venido - I didn't think that he MIGHT HAVE come
  • no pensé que hubiera estado venido - I didn't think that he MIGHT HAVE BEEN coming

However, we would most likely say:

  • that he is coming / that he is going to come / that he will come
  • that he was coming / that he was going to come / that he would come
  • that he had come
  • that he had been coming


So, in reality, he really just needed to clarify that it cannot be translated as might by itself, and not in all cases.

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