The question is in the title; I'd love to know the difference between the two. More specifically, I'm confused about the usage. I've been told that both can mean "were," but then when would it be appropriate to use the subjunctive?

For instance, please consider the following sentence: "He asked if we were cousins." I've been taught that it should be translated as "Él me preguntó si éramos primos," and not "fuéramos primos." Why would that be?

Thank you in advance :)

  • 1
    You might like to read this Q&A spanish.stackexchange.com/questions/1130/… As the answer states a whole book could be written about when and why of the subjunctive but it gives some broad principles.
    – mdewey
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 14:11
  • The subjunctive implies lack of certainty. I say pshaw to the downvoter on my answer.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 16:38
  • To add more trouble, "fuéramos" is imperfect subjunctive of two verbs "ser" and "ir". Si fuéramos ricos... Si fuéramos a China...
    – aerobiomat
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 11:42

3 Answers 3


"Éramos" is imperfect indicative and "fuéramos", imperfect subjunctive.

  • Él me preguntó si éramos primos.

In the sentence above, "si" introduces a reported question, and the verb is used in the indicative because it is merely the backshifted form of the direct question, also in the indicative mood:

  • Él me preguntó: ¿Son primos ustedes? (In Spain: ¿Sois primos vosotros? = Are you cousins?)
  • Él me pregunto si éramos primos. (This "éramos" is equivalent to real past "were": He asked me if we were cousins)

For the subjunctive "fuéramos" to be used, there needs to be some special subordinating conjunction expressing doubt or uncertainty. In this case, "were" expresses unreal or hypothetical past:

  • Si fuéramos primos, nos llevaríamos bien. (If we were cousins -- which is not the case --, we would get along well.)

  • Aunque fuéramos primos, seguiríamos discutiendo. (Even if we were cousins -- which we are not --, we would keep on quarrelling.)

For "fuéramos" to be used after "if" in reported speech, a conditional sentence should be reported, for example:

  • El me preguntó: ¿Qué harían si fueran primos ? (He asked me: What would you do if you were cousins?)

Indirect speech: Él me preguntó qué haríamos si fuéramos primos. (He asked me what we would do if we were cousins.)

  • 1
    Buena respuesta pero el segundo párrafo quizás deberías recolocarlo respecto al ejemplo. En el párrafo mencionas el subjuntivo pero la frase que viene a continuación "anidada" es indicativo.
    – RubioRic
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 12:23
  • @RubioRic Gracias por la sugerencia. Ahí lo arreglé.
    – Gustavson
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 13:45
  • De nada. El +1 ya lo tenías. :-)
    – RubioRic
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 13:50

Those verbal tenses always trouble non natives. "éramos": The tense is called pretérito imperfecto de indicativo, it describes past states, actions that were in progress at a specific moment in the past or a habitual past action.

-- Éramos estudiantes cuando ella falleció (We were students when she died) -- Ella era la jefa (She used to be the chief)

"fuéramos": This tense is the pretérito imperfecto del subjuntivo.It can refer to the past, present or future depending on the context. It expresses a wish, a hypothetical situation or an action that happened at the same time or after another. -- Desearía que fuéramos ricos (I wish we were younger) -- Si fuéramos ricos viviríamos en México (If we were rich, we would live in México.

"Él me preguntó si fuéramos primos." does not exist. You may use it this way: "Si fuéramos primos, uno de nuestros padres serían hermanos."

  • «Seguro que si fuéramos parientes de un pez gordo habría cama, pero como somos unos probes...». lne.es/sociedad/2009/03/24/…
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 14:30
  • She used to be the boss, not the chief.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 14:31

"Él me preguntó si éramos primos."

That means definitively so. He asked me if we were cousins.


"Él me preguntó si fuéramos primos." This shows doubt.
He asked me if we might be cousins. For example.

So, they mean different things.

  • Same in Portuguese: Ele me perguntou se fôssemos/eramos primos.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 16:37
  • 1
    I didn't downvote but "Ojalá fuéramos amigos" Where is the doubt there? Also I find a bit incomplete and not idiomatic the second example. I would use "Me preguntó si pudieramos ser primos" to translate the one with "might be" but I still find it strange, I prefer the indirect speech example in Gustavson's answer.
    – RubioRic
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 14:06
  • @RubioRic Ojala is "would that we": Would that we were friends. In modern English that is said like this: If only we were friends. Call it what you like, ojala introduces a possibility that is not the case, that's doubt in my book. Si somos primos: verbo: ser. Si fuéramos primos: If we might be cousins.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 14:24
  • 1
    This all depends on context. He asked me if we could be [pudieramos] be cousins. «Seguro que si fuéramos parientes de un pez gordo habría cama, pero como somos unos probes...». lne.es/sociedad/2009/03/24/…
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 14:28

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