- Distinguish the use of the imperfect for describing ongoing conditions and the preterit for the onset of conditions.
In the beginning of this unit you learned that the imperfect is used for past actions in progress and the preterit is used for past completed actions. The same distinction can be applied to emotions, mental states and similar conditions:
- Verbs that describe a mental or physical state are called non-action verbs. These change meaning when you use them in the preterit or imperfect. For example, the verb estar in the preterit means “became” or “got”, whereas in the imperfect it means “was”.
- The stem-changing verb sentirse means “to feel”, and you can use the imperfect to describe an ongoing feeling, or the preterit to describe the onset or a completed feeling.
- El abuelo se sintió mareado en su fiesta de 90 años y lo llevamos al doctor. (Grandfather felt / got dizzy in his 90th birthday party, and we took him to the doctor.)
- Él se sintió bien mientras duraba la medicina, pero sus síntomas volvieron después. (He felt fine while the medicine lasted, but his symptoms came back after.)
- La chica se sentía cohibida en las fiestas y nunca quiso bailar. (The girl felt shy at parties and never wanted to dance.)
- Reflexive verbs that portray emotions similarly use the imperfect and the preterit to distinguish between *being* in a condition in the past and *becoming* in a condition in the past. Here are a few of the ones you learned in the chapter on reflexive verbs: aburrirse (to become bored); alegrarse (to become happy); enojarse (to become angry); frustrarse (to become frustrated); sorprenderse (to be surprised)
- Another irregular verb that expresses a change of emotion in the preterit is ponerse (to become); in the imperfect it expresses a continuous or habitual emotional state.
- Ella se puso nerviosa antes de invitar al chico guapo a la fiesta. (She got nervous before inviting the handsome young man to the party.)
- El cocinero se ponía nervioso para cada fiesta de Año Nuevo, por la posibilidad de no tener suficientes uvas. (The cook would get nervous for every New Year’s party, about the possibility of not having enough grapes.)
- Also, as you learned in Spanish 1, don’t forget the expressions with “tener” that show physical states and emotions: tener hambre (to be hungry), tener sed (to be thirsty), tener frío (to be cold), tener calor (to be hot), tener suerte (to be lucky).
- Cuando entramos al comedor y vimos la cena de Navidad, de pronto todos tuvimos mucha hambre. (When we walked into the dining room and saw the Christmas dinner, suddenly we were all hungry.)
- Eran las Navidades, pero teníamos calor porque vivíamos en Centroamérica. (It was Christmastime, but we were hot because we were living in Central America.)