Castilian Spanish: El imperfecto de subjuntivo en -ra

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by merquiades, Oct 1, 2011.

  1. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    Hoy en día las formas del imperfecto de subjuntivo en -ra (hablar, bebiera, viviera) son las más empleadas y las terminaciones en -se caen en desuso: [Fue necesario que vinieras, Si leyeras, cuando leyera...], pero históricamente las terminaciones en -ra ni siquiera correspondían al subjuntivo. De hecho, hasta el siglo XV tenían un valor de pluscuamperfecto de indicativo, es decir lo que hoy en día se construye con el imperfecto del verbo haber más el participio pasado (había hablado, había vivido, había vivido). [Ejemplo: Saqué el libro que guardara (había guardado) en mi bolso] ¿Hay alguien que sepa explicarme el cómo y el porqué de este cambio de modo?

    The Spanish imperfect subjunctive endings in -ra corresponding to those in -se, are now perfectly subjunctive and are the most often used (that I might go, if I were to go..), though historically they were actually the pluperfect indicative tense (I had done). This change slowly occurred after the 1500´s and is now complete. Does anyone have any idea how and why this happened? Any theories?
  2. CapnPrep Senior Member

    See Penny (2002, p. 204–5) and references therein. The key constructions were contrary-to-fact past tense conditionals of the type Si ellos le viessen, non escapara (Mio Cid), which later came to use a -ra form in both clauses (si pudiesse, fiziéralosi pudiera, fiziéralo).
  3. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    Thanks for the link CapnPrep. Too bad one of the pages was blocked for me.
    I guess I'm starting to see how it happened. It happened through the conditional actually. I know in many instances both conditional and imperfect subjunctive -ra forms are equivalent and used in the same sense. Quisiera (I might like), Querría (I would like), also Quería (I was wanting).... Me hubiera gustado ir (I might have liked to go), Me habría gustado ir (I would have liked to go), Me había gustado ir (I had wanted to go). -ra became equal to -ría.
    1) hablara (I had spoken), hablase (I might have spoken), hablaría (I would speak)
    2) After conditional clauses with si (if) the -ra formed was introduced like it was in the previous examples since would have/ might have/ had had are close in meaning
    Si tuviese dinero, compraría... then
    Si tuviese dinero, comprara... then
    Si tuviera dinero, comprara
    De tener dinera, compraba (colloquial)
    Some change in mentality makes past forms, conditionals, subjunctive become equivalents.
    3) After that switch of -se to -ra after si, it formed a precedent and all other -se could then start to alternate with -ra
    Lo hice para que lo supieses/ supieras, Sería importante que lo hicieses / hiciera (might have/ would have/ had had)
    4) This becomes so common -ra loses its original pluperfect indicative value to había + past participle
    5) -Ra continues to gain in use and is replacing -se (original imperfect subjunctive) to become the new preferred imperfect subjunctive
    Plausible.... I can see how this could happen over many centuries
  4. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    En España las terminaciones en -se no caen en desuso, se usan normalmente, sólo con menor frecuencia. En Galicia se usan casi siempre formas en -se (formas en -ra se usan en vez de había visto/comprado/ido...)
    En la América Latina, en la lengua hablada, formas en -se se usan sólo en Puerto Rico, pero en la lengua formal/escrita se usan con mucha frecuencia también en otros sitios.
    A un español, las terminaciones en -se no le suenan formales sino normales.

    Hubiese es la forma más usada en la América Latina porque en Puerto Rico y en Chile son frecuentes en la lengua escrita (e a veces en la lengua hablada) cosas como:
    Me hubiese gustado ir...

    This is almost 20 years old but it's okay:
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2011
  5. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    De acuerdo, entre periodistas, profesores y escritores no, alternan bastante, pero en la calle sí, al menos por Madrid y probablemente en otros tantos lugares céntricos.

    Gracias por el análisis interesante que has encontrado. La verdad es que me va a ser valioso.
    Las formas en -se no son más formales solo poco frecuentes

    Las estadísticas del estudio me parecen acertadas
    RA SE
    MADRID 188 (84%) 36 (16%)

    -RA -SE
    ESTUVIE- 8 (100%) 0 (0%)
    FUE- 23 (79%) 6 (21%)
    HUBIE- 38 (88%) 5 (12%)

    Generally speaking, the present study reveals that the -ra form is by far more commonly used than the -se form in contemporary spoken educated Spanish, both in Spain and in Spanish America. Whether or not the -se form will finally be supplanted entirely by the -ra form remains to be seen, but, consideration —241→ of the process through which an almost exclusive use in earlier centuries of the -se subjunctive form has led to the present-day nearly absolute predominance of the -ra form, indicates strongly that the final outcome of this process might well be elimination of the -se form
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2011
  6. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    I'd say most Spanish people use them interchangeably, just like todavía and aún. Aún is less common than todavía (and I've seen some people from Andalucía and Mexico on this very forum say they never use aún), but does that mean aún will be eliminated in the future? Only time can tell. Will French nous disappear just because most people prefer on?

    I wouldn't say 16% or 20% equals ''not used''.
    16-20% is the percentage of English people who pronounce again with [ein].

    I've seen many Spaniards using ''-se'' forms with me, in an informal conversation.
    Amara and amase are like dreamed and dreamt in American English. Madonna sings ''Last Night I dreamt of San Pedro'' in ''La isla bonita''. ;)
    Every now and then you can see Americans using dreamt, burnt (instead of dreamed, burned) and writing cancelled, snorkelling, theatre (instead of canceled, snorkeling, theater).
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2011
  7. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    No, I don't think -se will fall out because people do learn them and stylistically it's better to interchange them for effect. I know in the northwest people do use them quite a bit. Not so true in Madrid though. I'm confident it's less than 20%.
    "Aún" I feel is a different story. People use it a lot in conversation. French "on" might be a good parallel. It's pretty much overtaken "nous" in common speech at least in verb forms. People spontaneously say, "nous on est d'accord avec vous." "On est partis dans le sud avec nos amis". But people would never write that in a book. That's a different thread to open up.By the way, I'd never say "dreamed" with "i:". Agɜn, Agein, Agɪn are just regional variants
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2011
  8. miguel89

    miguel89 Senior Member

    Where I live, the -se form is not uncommon at all, and it's not restricted to higher socio-economic levels or registers. Admittedly, it is less frequently used than the -ra form, but it is not true that it has fallen out of use in America.
  9. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    In Río de la Plata, do you all still use the form -ra in the sense of pluscuamperfecto de indicativo?

    ej: Como viniera a pasar lo mismo al tercer día, prohibió que la niña saliera a poner los pies en la calle.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2011
  10. miguel89

    miguel89 Senior Member

    Only in a literary or journalistic context. For example, "encontró las cartas que escribiera [había escrito] el año anterior".
  11. Meyer Wolfsheim Senior Member

    East Egg
    If the -ra forms are seemingly more common and the -se forms less common, or rather the more marked form for expressing the past subjunctive, then while the two forms should be interchangeable, from what I learned in Pragmatic theory (Laurence/Grice) true synonyms should not actually exist (A can replace B in all contexts and vice versa). Thus when there are two (or more) competing forms for expressing roughly the same meaning, one takes on the less marked form and the other the more marked contexts for use (for example English "do not!" versus "don't!"), thereby differentiating the two enough that they are no longer truly synonymou. The question to ask, as Spanish speakers, when another speaker chooses an -se conjugation does it imply anything (like social status, education, etc.) or something absent in one but found in the other? If none of that is the case, then the two should still be competing!
  12. ribran

    ribran Senior Member

    Austin, Texas
    English - American
    I have an interesting story about cancelled. A few years ago, I was incredulous upon learning that the standard American spelling was canceled. Fearing that I might be the only one using this "incorrect" spelling, I polled roughly 15 people on their preferred form, and about two-thirds said, without hesitation, that the word should always be written with two l's.

    Theatre is another interesting case. Most of the time, American movie theaters that advertise themselves as theatres are trying to attract a more "upscale" clientele. They are usually located in upper-middle-class suburban areas or gentrified urban ones. They tend to be locally owned and to show independent films rather than mainstream Hollywood-produced ones. I suppose the theater owners think the British spelling is more "glamorous." :rolleyes:
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2011
  13. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    Meyer, when you use -se you generally choose it consciously for some reason or another, except apparently in Puerto Rico, Asturias etc. I believe it's stylistic and people notice it, except in the cases we mentioned where you can only use -ra forms: pluperfect indicative, conditional, if clauses.

    Ribran, totally in agreement with everything you say, double ll and all. So much of what people widely believe is typically American suprises me.
  14. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    Language manuals say one should use both -ra and -se forms, to avoid repetition of similar forms. ;)
    I think -ra and -se in Peninsular Spanish are like I've just/already seen it ~ I just/already saw it in American English.
    There are many Americans who never say I've just/already seen it, only I just/already saw it
    Some may use both forms interchangeably, some may say one form is more formal/literary than the other one.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2011
  15. PABLO DE SOTO Senior Member

    Spain Spanish
    Si sirve de algo, yo desde el sur de España, uso las formas -ra y -se

    de modo totalmente intercambiable. Én ningún momento elijo conscientemente una u otra forma, ni por razones de estilo ni de formalidad ni de nada.
    Tanto es así que no me doy cuenta de cuándo uso una forma u otra

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