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Spanish Lesson Fifty-Nine: Preterit Vs. Imperfect

Updated on September 16, 2013

Hey Everyone!

Thanks so much for reading! I hope you have all had a great weekend. I'm so excited about the next few lessons as we transition into learning about the Seven Compound Tenses of Spanish. Before we do that, however, we're going to do a little bit of reviewing over some pretty trivial concepts in the Spanish language. Today, I want us to focus on the two past tenses in Spanish, the Preterit and the Imperfect. A lot of the times, we forget when to use which one and how. So today, we're going to review the usage of these two tenses in order to broaden our understanding.

I'm really excited about the next few lessons. This is especially true because we will reach a point to where I will be relearning some things I have actually forgotten. So we can all be on the same pace as we learn these new tenses. So, grab your pen and pad and let's review!


  • To Differentiate between the Imperfect and Preterit
  • To Understand the usage of the Imperfect and Preterit
  • To Be Able to use the Imperfect and Preterit jointly as a device of Spanish language

Do You Know The Difference Between The Preterit and Imperfect?

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The Preterit Vs. The Imperfect

The concept of the Preterit Vs. The Imperfect is one of the more difficult concepts in the Spanish language. Many people struggle with separating the two tenses when speaking of actions that took place in the past. With a little patience, however, it can be understood quite easily. It takes a lot of practice and understanding specifically what happens when each tense is used. So take a look at the rules for each, read the examples as well watch the video provided. I promise, you can get this down packed. It just takes a little time. Also, don't forget your weekly dose of new vocabulary!

To Be: Estar/Ser

To Walk: Caminar/Andar

To Play: Jugar

To Touch/To Play An Instrument: Tocar

To Watch: Mirar

To Read: Leer

To Listen: Escuchar

To Talk: Hablar

To Sing: Cantar

To Dance: Bailar

To Hear: Oír

To Smell: Oler

To Know: Saber/Conocer

To Feel: Sentir

To Eat: Comer

To Drink: Beber

To Have: Tener

Vocabulary Review

Hey Readers

It's been a little while since we've had some non-themed vocabulary lately. I think since we've reviewing in this lesson, let's review some of the words introduced a while ago. I want to go back and look at some simpler verbs that are sometimes easy to forget. Let's think about some verbs that are so simple and so essential to the language. So, to the right, check out some verbs from the beginning lessons and see if you've remembered them and/or reminded of them. So take a look at the list to the right.

Also, it's a good idea to get a friend and practice these words. If you forget them, it may seem difficult to carry on a conversation. I used them often when I speak to my native speaker friends. So check out some of the words and just put them back in your mind or review them if needed. Thanks for reading! Enjoy the lesson.

The Preterit

  • Indicates an action that was completed some time in the past.

The Imperfect

  • Indicates an action that was going on in the past when another action occurred
  • Indicates an action that was going on in the past at the same time as another action
  • Indicates an action that a person did habitually in the past.
  • Indicates a description of a mental, emotional, or physical condition in the past
  • Indicates the time of the day in the past

Using The Preterit and Imperfect Together

As crazy as it sounds, the Preterit and Imperfect are often used together in the same sentence. They help complete a thought, especially when two actions are taking at the same place. This is usual when one action begins and another ends. Two different tenses much be used in order for this sentence to work. I know it seems a bit far fetched, but let's take a look at how these two work together to complete a thought.

First off, let's look over to our right and remind ourselves of the reasons we use each past tense. As you can see, the preterit has one specific usage while the Imperfect is used in many more cases. By noting this, I can say that the preterit is rarely used independently unless the action is short and sweet. In most cases, the imperfect sets up the completion of an action in the preterit. It sounds complicated right? Well let's look at some examples and then maybe you'll understand a bit more. We'll start with just identifying the Imperfect.

Describing Weather,Time, Age, Phyiscal, or Other Conditions

Ayer el tiempo hacía calor. Yesterday the weather (made) was warm.

Action That Occurred Habitually

Cuando era un niño visitaba mi mamá por las fines de semana. When I was a little boy I used to visit my mom on the weekends.

Those are just some examples of how the Imperfect is meant to be used. Now, if you'll notice, I didn't specify the top uses of the Imperfect. These two are Indicating an action that was going on in the past when another action occured and Indicating an action that was going on in the past at the same time as another action. Just like the video below, the word "while" can make a big deal in the structure of your sentences. Let's look at some examples.

Mientras estabas durmiendo, el perro comío tu tarea. While you were sleeping, the dog at your homework. Take note that the action that took place further in the past was imperfect at the action that was completed during that time is in the preterit. Let's look at another one.

Cuando era un niño, tu padre visitó al Cuba. When you were a little boy, your dad visited Cuba. Also look... the action of visited is completed in the past. Being a child is continuous and did not end in this sentence. That is what makes it "imperfect." Remember also that the imperfect is used when telling a story about something in the past. The only time that the preterit intervenes is when an action is being completed in the midst of another action. If they both were occurring in the past, habitually, they are both imperfect.

I know it doesn't seem simple now, but keep looking at sentences and searching for examples. It takes a moment to really get it down packed. My advice: Just remember that the imperfect deals with time, weather, age, conditions, and actions that don't have a definite moment of completion in the past. Remember that when two actions take place in the past, the imperfect is needed. Go back to previous lessons and research online if you need more help. Utilize the links below also. Thanks for reading!!

Oh! Next week we'll discuss the two verbs Saber and Conocer that that both mean "to know". So we'll talk about those next week. Thanks for reading!

© 2013 A.E. Williams


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