¿Hubiera o hubiese?

I’ve been reading a lot lately on the history of Spanish, so the discussions in the forums on the use of these two versions of the same word really jumped out at me. This is what my reading turned up.

The conjugation is labeled as follows, for your Googling pleasure:

  • Imperfect subjunctive
  • Imperfect preterit subjunctive
  • Preterit subjunctive

2850262339_5a982d74c1_oStructurally speaking, they are basically the same. So how did we end up with two structures that do the same thing?

Well, the first — the “hubiera” version — underwent historical changes that expanded its meaning. The second — the “hubiese” version — underwent different historical changes that shrank it’s meaning. The two versions overlapped and ended up in the same field of meaning.

Latin America is more inclined to use the “hubiera” version in speech, reserving the “hubiese” version for contrast purposes, formal writing or, depending on the context and country, formal speech.

Spain makes use of both forms in speech and writing, with preferences being more a reflection of region than formality.

Even so, there is variation from one country to the next and even within countries. That makes sense to me based on the idea that the overlap may be more complete for some groups and less so for others.

Usage

Used with a subjective past.

Ex: Necesitaba que fueras a la junta por mi.

–> I needed you to go to the meeting for me.

Ex: Necesitaba que fueses a la junta por mi.

–> I needed you to go to the meeting for me.

Used for impersonal statements.

Ex: Que lástima que no se enterara a tiempo.

–> What a shame that s/he didn’t find out in time.

Ex: Que lástima que no se enterase a tiempo.

–> What a shame that s/he didn’t find out in time.

Used in conditional sentence.

Ex: Si mi abuelita tuviera ruedas, sería bicicleta.

–> If my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a bicycle.

Ex: Si mi abuelita tuviese ruedas, sería bicicleta.

–> If my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a bicycle.

Used for polite requests.

Ex: ¿Me pudiera decir dónde queda el Hotel Palmas, por favor?

–>Could you tell me where the Hotel Palmas is located, please?

Ex: ¿Me pudiese decir dónde queda el Hotel Palmas, por favor?

–>Could you tell me where the Hotel Palmas is located, please?

Used to express wishful thinking.

Ex: Ojalá hubiera ganado la lotería de ayer.

–> I wish I would’ve won yesterday’s lottery.

Ex: Ojalá hubiese ganado la lotería de ayer.

–> I wish I would’ve won yesterday’s lottery.

Origin

Hubiera – Pluperfect subjunctive

This form comes from the Latin pluperfect indicative, which also “sprouted” the conditional.

cantā (ve) ramus > cantáramo

Hubiese – Imperfect subjunctive

Comes from the Latin pluperfect subjunctive.

cantā (vi) ssḗmus > cantássemos > cantásemos

Some of this comes from forum surfing and some from The History of the Spanish Language by Ralph Penny (ISBN ISBN 0-521-01184-1). Great book! Warning: this is not beach-side summer reading, unless you’re a language structure junkie.

Which version is most common in your speech? Don’t forget to mention where your Spanish is from!

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Pic by halfeast

One Comment Add yours

  1. Hi,

    an interesting post. I personally haven’t noticed any preference toward any of the forms.
    What I have noticed, though, is that most people use the second form “hubiese” as a conditional. This, of course, produces senseless sentences, as it’s especially painful to hear when it’s a radio or TV host who says it (and, believe me, most people can’t do it right!); so they end up saying something like:

    – Si lo hubiera sabido, no hubiese pasado vergüenza. (YUCKKK!)

    When the correct conjugation is:

    – Si lo hubiera/hubiese sabido, no HABRÍA pasado vergüenza.

    In the north of Spain, on the other hand, they use the conditional instead of the subjunctive; something like this:

    – Ojalá no estaría aquí ahora mismo.

    Regards from Spain,
    Ángel.

    Liked by 1 person

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