Past Subjunctive

As we saw in the discussion regarding the Present Subjunctive, under normal circumstances the subjunctive has to do with elements of doubt, tentativeness, uncertainty, and vagueness. Also see the Perfect Subjunctive for additional explanation.

Unlike English, in Persian the past subjunctive is divided into two categories: simple past, and past continuous, depending on the tense of the primary verb.

There are two sets of construction for the past subjunctive:

When the modal verbs باید bāyad ‘must, should’ and شاید šāyad ‘perhaps, maybe,’ and the conjunction اگر agar ‘if’ are used, the verb used is a conjugated past progressive. Compare the following pairs:

باید به آنجا بروم
bāyad be ānjā beravam
“I have to go there.”
باید به آنجا می رفتم
bāyad be ānjā miraftam
“I had to go there.”
شاید به آنجا بروم
šāyad be ānjā beravam
“Maybe I go there, I may go there.”

شاید به آنجا می رفتم
šāyad be ānjā miraftam
“Perhaps I would have gone there.”

Notice the difference between Persian and English in the second sentence, past tense.

In the case of اگر both primary and secondary verbs correspond in tense:

اگر به آنجا بروی، او هم می آید
agar be ānjā beravi, u ham mi āyad
“If you go there, he/she would go too.”

اگر به آنجا می رفتی، او هم می آمد
agar be ānjā mirafti, u ham mi āmad
“If you had gone there, he/she would have gone too.”

Notice the difference between Persian and English in the second sentence, past tense.

Although historically the word بایست bāyest is the past stem as well as the third person singular past tense of the verb بایستن bāyestan ‘to be imperative,’ and باید bāyad is the third person singular in the present tense, in New Persian, باید bāyad , بایست bāyest, می باید mibāyad, می بایست mibāyest, بایستی bāyesti,and می بایستی mibāyestiall mean ‘must, it is mandatory.’ In the construction of any tense in the subjunctive, these words stay constant and always remain in the third person singular:


باید بروم، بایست بروم، می باید بروم، می بایست بروم، بایستی بروم، می بایستی بروم
bāyad beravam, bāyest beravam, mibāyad beravam, mibāyest beravam, mibāyesti beravam
“I must go, have to go, am going to have to go.”


باید می رفتم، بایست می رفتم، می باید می رفتم، می بایست می رفتم، بایستی می رفتم، می بایستی می رفتم
bāyad miraftam, bāyest miraftam, mibāyad miraftam, bāyesti miraftam, mibāyesti miraftam
“I had to go, I was bound to go; I should have gone.”

With all other primary verbs, the subjunctive is invariably in the present tense, while the primary verb sets the tense—simple past, past progressive, past perfect, etc. The difference between the simple and continuous past is in their duration; and, of course, the continuous takes the می prefix. In the following example, compare the present and past tense:

می خواهم به آنجا بروم
mi xāham be ānjā beravam
“I want to go there.”

خواستم به آنجا بروم
mi xāstam be ānjā beravam
“I wanted/wished to go there.”

می خواستم به آنجا بروم
mi xāstam be ānjā beravam
“I wanted (as in “was determined, it was my wish”) to go there.”

همیشه خواسته ام به آنجا بروم
hamiše xāste am be ānjā beravam
“I have always wanted to go there.”

Now do the same in the following example:

می توانی امروز آن را ببینی
mi tavāni emruz ān rā bebini
“You can/may see it today.”

دیروز می توانستی آن را ببینی
diruz mi tavānesti ān rā bebini
“You could see it yesterday.”

دیروز توانستی آن را ببینی؟
diruz tavānesti ān rā bebini?
“Were you able to see it yesterday?”

می توانی فردا آن را ببینی
mi tavāni fardā ān rā bebini
“You can/may see it tomorrow.”

می توانستی دیروز آن را دیده باشی
mi tavānesti diruz ān rā bāši
“You could have seen it yesterday.”

To understand the difference between the simple past and past progressive, or continuous, subjunctive in Persian, compare the English translations of the following sentences:

رفتم (که) او را ببینم
raftam (ke) u rā bebinam
“I went to see him/her.”

می رفتم (که) او را ببینم
mi raftam (ke) u rā bebinam
“I was going to see him/her; I used to go to see him/her.”

خواستم (که) او را ببینم
xāstam (ke) u rā bebinam
“I asked to see him/her.”

می خواستم (که) او را ببینم
mi xāstam (ke) u rā bebinam
“I wanted/was willing to see him/her, it was my (strong) wish to see him/her.”

The English “you could have seen it…” is discussed in the section on Perfect Subjunctive.

Here are some examples to look at. Notice the different tenses of the main verb:

میل داشتم او هم بیاید
meyl dāštam u ham biyāyad
“I really liked him/her to come too.”

فکر می کردم او هم آنجا باشد
fekr mi kardam u ham ānjā bāšad
“I thought he/she would be there too.”

می خواستی این را هم بشنوی؟
mi xāsti in rā ham bešnavi?
“Did you want to hear/listen to this one too?”

خواستند (که) من هم چیزی بگویم
xāstand (ke) man ham cizi beguyam
“They asked me to say something too, they wanted me to say something too.”

دنبال کسی می گشت که فارسی بلد باشد
donbāl-e kasi mi gašt ke fārsi balad bāšad
“She/he was looking for someone who knew English.”

دنبال کسی گشت که فارسی بلد باشد
donbāl-e kasi gašt ke fārsi balad bāšad
“She/he looked for someone who would/might know English.”

آنجا چیزی نداشتند که به کار او بخورد
ānjā cizi nadāštand ke be kār-e u bexorad
“They did not have anything there that would/could be of any use to him.”

سعی کردم صدایش را بشنوم
sa’y kardam sedāyaš rā bešnavam
“I tried to hear his/her voice.”

کوشش کردند که شما را پیدا کنند
kušeš kardan ke šomā rā peydā konand
“They tried to find you.”

آیا) مجبور بودی او را ببینی؟)
(āyā) majbur budi u rā bebini?
“Did you (really) have to see her/him?”

ناچار بود زود تر برود
nācār bud zud tar beravad
“He had to leave soon(er).”

آمده بودم (که) پدرم را ببینم
āmade budam (ke) pedaram rā bebinam
“I was there to see my father.”
مصمّم بود (که) بیاید
mosammam bud (ke) biyāyad
“He was determined to come.”

مصمّم شده بود (که) بیاید
mosammam šode bud (ke) biyāyad
“He had been determined to come.”