Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

2.7: Cambios de significado con el pretérito y el imperfecto

  • Page ID
    164027
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    The use of the preterit or imperfect in a sentence always implies different shades of meaning, but with some verbs, the difference in meaning can be quite distinct. Remember that the idea of the preterit is that it describes completed actions while the imperfect describes the incomplete.

    Verbo Pretérito Imperfecto
    poder to manage to (action is completed) to be able to (no sense that the action is completed)
    no poder to fail (an action was undertaken but was unsuccessful) to not have the ability
    tener que to have to do something (and you did) to suppose to do something (completion has not happened)
    querer to want to and try to do something to have the desire to do something
    no querer to refuse to do something to not want to do something (outcome is unknown)
    conocer to meet someone to be familiar with something
    saber to discover to know or have information about something

    Read the following examples closely to get a feel for the difference in meaning.

    Ejemplo Explicación

    Teníamos que ir a la clase, pero tuvimos que llevar el perro al veterinario.

    We were supposed to go to class, but we had to take the dog to the veterinarian.

    The imperfect in the first part of the sentence expresses the speakers' knowledge that they were supposed to go to class, but this action could not be completed. The preterit in the second part describes what they had to and did do.

    No llamé anoche porque no quería molestarte

    I didn't call last night because I didn't want to disturb you.

    The preterit in the second part of the sentence describes what the person didn't want to do (and didn't do).

    En 2019 no conocía a José. Lo conocí en 2020.

    In 2019, I didn't know Jose. I met him in 2020.

    The imperfect occurs in the first sentences because it describes a condition. The preterit occurs in the second because an action took place: the actual meeting of Jose.

    Mi amigo no quiso ir a Argentina hasta que vio las fotos de Buenos Aires

    Mi friend refused to go to Argentina until he saw that photos of Buenos Aires.

    In this example, we use the preterit because the friend didn't just express a desire not to go, but refused to go...until he saw some pictures.

    !A practicar!

    Actividad 1

    Escoge la forma apropiada.
    (Note: not all of the verbs in the paragraph do change meaning depending on the use of the preterit or imperfect)

    Antes yo no (1. sabía/supe) nada sobre Colombia, pero el diciembre pasado (2. viajaba/viajé) a Bogotá y (3. aprendía/aprendí) mucho sobre el país. Durante mi visita, (4. conocía/conocí) varios centros comerciales, discotecas, universidades y parques inmensos. También (5. podía/pude) ver obras originales de Fernando Botero, el famoso pintor de figuras voluminosas. El último día, un guía turístico me (6. decía/dijo) que yo no (7. podía/pude) irme sin ver el Museo del Oro, e inmediatamente (8. decidía/decidí) visitarlo. Afortunadamente, esa misma tarde (9. podíamos/pudimos) ir al museo. Allí (10. había/hubo) impresionantes piezas de oro elaboradas por la cultura Muisca, los indígenas de esa región. También (11. sabíamos/supimos) que los muiscas nunca (12. querían/quisieron) revelar el secreto de El Dorado –la legendaria ciudad de oro– a los españoles, quienes no (13. podían/pudieron) encontrarlo jamás. Paradójicamente, los colombianos (14. daban/dieron) el nombre de "El dorado" al aeropuerto internacional de la capital. Gracias a este viaje, (15. sabía/supe) que Bogotá es una ciudad muy moderna con una rica historia.

    Respuestas

    1. sabía 2. viajé 3. aprendí 4. conocí 5. pude 6. dijo 7. podía 8. decidí
    9. pudimos 10. había 11. supimos 12. quisieron 13. pudieron 14. dieron 15. supe

    Contributions and Attributions

    This page was adapted from that


    2.7: Cambios de significado con el pretérito y el imperfecto is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by E. Aldea, A. Anderson, K. Armstrong, J.Liu, and A. Stachura.