Hubiera, pudiera, tuviera

Can one be obsessed with a verb tense?

My particular flame is the imperfect subjunctive. I’ve already written eleven blog posts that at least mention it, mostly because of its grammatical interest.

But the imperfect subjunctive can also be poetic. I practically started jumping up and down when I read the following passage, full of regrets, toward the end of Sofía Segovia’s Huracán. I’ve colored the imperfect subjunctives in red.

Si no le hubiera disparado, si no lo hubiera conocido, si sólo lo hubiera herido, si no hubiera cargado la 30-30, si pudiera seguir con mis amigos. Si hubiera, si pudiera, si tuviera, si hubiera. Si hubiera.

‘If I hadn’t shot him, if I hadn’t met him, if I had only wounded him, if I hadn’t loaded the 30-30, if I could continue with my friends. If I had, if I could, If I kept, if I had. If I had.

Isn’t that a beautiful bit of Spanish? Doesn’t it crush the English version? Doesn’t it sing?

This is definitely one to clip out and keep to impress your friends.

By the way, the beginning of this paragraph is clearly in the third person singular, as seen by the verb forms pudonegó, and reclamó (see screen clip below). So another great aspect of the writing here is the jarring transition from the external description of what the character is doing, to the interior view of his thoughts. We don’t realize this has happened until we get through the first series of imperfect subjunctives (since hubiera and pudiera can be either first or third person) and hit mis amigos in the next-to-last line. Very interesting choice by the author, ¿no?

5 thoughts on “Hubiera, pudiera, tuviera

    1. jhochberg Post author

      Wow. I’ve posted previously about alternation between “le” and “lo” in Jordi Sierra i Fabra’s writing based on the semantic type of the verb — action versus cognition. Leaving aside the HUGE fact that Segovia and Sierra i Fabra are from different parts of the Spanish-speaking world, in this passage disparar is certainly as action-y a verb as herir. Shooting someone does require a bullet, though, so perhaps that pushes the object into the indirect category????? Grasping at straws here…

  1. Michael

    Jill, I’m thinking that there is more regret in having “loaded” the shotgun (hubiera cargado) than having “carried” it.


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