In general terms the imperfect is a tense used to describe what was going on in the past. In more specific terms:
The imperfect is used to express the idea that the action or state of being in the past was habitual or that it continued over a period of time. In such instances the translation may be “used to,” “would,” or the simple past tense of the verb.
Quando eu era pequeno, íamos à praia todos os domingos.
[When I was little, we used to go (or would go, or went) to the beach every Sunday.]
Quando os meus pais ainda viviam, sempre jantávamos juntos.
[When my parents were still living. we always used to have (would have or had) dinner together.]
The imperfect is used to describe actions that were going on in the past and not completed at any definite time.
Ele lia enquanto eu ouvia o rádio.
[He was reading while I was listening to the radio. (or: He read while I listened to the radio.)]
The imperfect is used to describe an action which was going on in the past when another event occurred.
Chovia quando ela saiu.
[It was raining when she went out.]
Íamos jantar quando eles chegaram.
[We were going to dine when they arrived.]
It is often difficult to decide whether to use the imperfect or the preterite tense in your translation into Portuguese when the English sentence uses the simple past tense.
If the action is definitely completed, use the preterite.
Saltaram para dentro da água.
[They jumped into the lake.]
Fomos ao cinema ontem.
[We went to the movies yesterday.]
If a verb is describing a past situation, use the imperfect.
O mar estava calmo.
[The sea was calm.]
Fazia muito calor naquela tarde.
[It was very hot that afternoon.]
A number of verbs and expressions are generally used in the imperfect tense because it is difficult to tell exactly when the action began and ended. Among these are poder, saber, querer, sentir, ter/estar com vontade de, etc.
Note the following examples and translations:
Ele sabia que não podia fazê-lo e por isso desistiu.
[He knew he couldn’t do it, so he gave up.]
Sabia and podia are not limited by a definite time, so they are expressed in the imperfect; desistiu is a completed action, and therefore is expressed in the preterite.
Eu queria falar com ele porque ele parecia ter tanto medo.
[I wanted to speak with him because he seemed to be so afraid.]
No definite time limit is expressed, but a description in past time is being made so the imperfect tense is used.
Always use the imperfect when telling time or age in a past context.
Era uma hora quando saímos da farmácia.
[It was one o’clock when we left the drugstore.]
Quando começou a chover eram nove e meia.
[When it began to rain it was 9:30.]
João tinha só 9 anos quando seu pai morreu.
[John was only 9 years old when his father died.]
6.2 Practice – Prática
6.2 A. Answer these questions:
1. Que horas eram quando você se deitou ontem à noite? 2. Fazia muito calor no seu quarto enquanto vocês estavam dormindo? 3. O Fábio tinha medo da água quando era pequeno? 4. O que a Sônia fazia quando a Teresa chegou? 5. Fazia muito calor quando eles resolveram pular na água? 6. Quantos anos você tinha quando viajou de avião pela primeira vez? 7. Onde os seus pais moravam quando eles se casaram?
These tenses are used to describe more emphatically and vividly an action that is or wasin progress at a given moment. They are formed by using the correct tense of the auxiliary verb estar followed by the present participle/gerund of the main verb.
The present progressive – O presente do progressivo
Eu estou estudando
Nós estamos estudando
Você, ele, ela está estudando
Vocês, eles, elas estão estudando
(1) O que vocês estudam na universidade?
(1) [What are you studying at the university?]
–Estudamos francês e português.
[- We are studying French and Portuguese.]
(2) O que vocês estão fazendo agora?
(2) [What are you doing now?]
–Estamos ouvindo música.
[ – We are listening to music.]
*Notice that the verbs in the examples given above can be translated into English by using the same tense. However, in example (1) we have a general statement; whereas the use of the progressive tense in example (2) emphasizes and more vividly describes the action that is taking place.
The past progressive – O passado do progressivo
Eu estava estudando
Nós estávamos estudando
Você, ele, ela estava estudando
Vocês, eles, elas estavam estudando
(1) Eu preparava o jantar quando me chamaram.
(1) [I was preparing dinner when they called me.]
(2) Eu estava preparando o jantar quando me chamaram.
An Alternate Construction for the Progressive Tenses – Uma construção alternativa para os tempos progressivos
An alternate construction that substitutes for the present participle is formed by using the preposition a + infinitive. This form is used almost exclusively in continental Portuguese in the progressive tenses.
falando = a falar
ouvindo = a ouvir
Ela estava a falar comigo.
[She was speaking with me.]
Você está a ouvir?
[Are you listening?]
Expressing weather – Para expressar o tempo
To express certain weather phenomena in Portuguese the verbs fazer and estar are used. Fazer is followed by a noun and estar by an adjective.
1. Paul was thirsty and we were hungry. 2. It was a beautiful day. The weather was fine. 3. I am freezing! Let’s go home. 4. He used to know how to do that. 5. They forgot to make the sandwiches. 6. Where did your brother go? 7. It was only 6:00 PM and already they were sleepy. 8. John got hungry while he was swimming. 9. We used to go for a bike ride every Sunday. 10. I was watching TV when you called. 11. Peter was running in the park when he saw Lúcia. 12. It was very hot and suddenly I felt like going to the beach.
6.5 B. Answer the following questions:
1. Você pretende fazer um piquenique com os seus amigos no sábado? 2. O que você faz quando quer beber cerveja e não tem copo? 3. Que tempo fez ontem? 4. O que você fazia hoje quando o professor entrou na sala? 5. O café que você tomou hoje de manhã estava frio? 6. Vocês estão com calor agora?