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3.8: Lección- El pretérito y el imperfecto

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    The preterite and the imperfect

    In this lesson, we will be combining both past tenses together, "el pretérito" and "el imperfecto". These two tenses are not interchangeable, and the decisions to use one versus the other depend on the context that is given and the point of view of the speaker. Let’s review the expressions used in each tense and the situations in which each tense is used.

    Common expressions

    used with preterite

    used with imperfect




    pasado, pasada (la semana pasada, el mes pasado, el año pasado, el verano pasado)

    Todos los, todas las (todos los días, años, todas las semanas)

    Cada (día, semana, mes, año, primavera, verano, otoño, invierno)

    Hace + time period (hace dos días, hace tres meses, hace diez años)

    De niño, de niña

    De joven

    Cuando era (niño, niña, joven)

    Por + time period (por dos años, un mes, dos semanas, una hora)

    durante + time period (durante un año, cinco meses, tres días, diez minutos)



    Frecuentemente, a menudo, con frecuencia

    De repente



    In the examples below, all common expressions and the conjugated verbs are in bold.

    Preterite Imperfect

    Action happened at one specific time in the past.


    Ayer empecé mi proyecto.

    Yesterday I began my project.

    Anoche cenamos con nuestra familia en un restaurante italiano.

    Last night we had dinner with our family in an Italian restaurant.

    A habitual or a recurring action of the past.


    De niña, jugaba con los niños de la vecindad.

    As a child, I used to play with the kids from the neighborhood.

    Cada sábado, visitábamos a nuestros abuelos en San Diego.

    Every Saturday, we would visit our grandparents in San Diego.

    Action took place at a specific moment in time and it is now over.


    La semana pasada, los estudiantes entregaron su ensayo.

    Last week the students turned in their essay.

    Lucía y Pedro vieron una película anteayer.

    Lucía and Pedro watched a movie the day before yesterday.

    On-going actions of the past (with no specific beginning nor end).


    escuchabas la música mientras hacías tu tarea.

    You were listening to the music while doing your homework.

    En la clase los estudiantes escuchaban a la profesora mientras hacían las preguntas.

    In the classe the students were listening to the professor while they were asking questions.

    A series of actions that happened right after another.


    A las seis de la mañana, me levanté, me duché y me vestí enseguida. Después me maquillé y salí de la casa.

    At six in the morning, I got up, I showered, and dressed right away. Then I put on makeup and left home.

    Background description of time, location, weather, and physical and emotional description of a person, character, and/or situation.


    Era la medianoche. Llovía fuertemente y Mariela estaba sola en su casa. Mariela era una niña de seis años. Ella era valiente y no tenía miedo de nada.

    It was midnight. It was raining heavily and Mairela was alone in her house. Mariela was a six year old little girl. She was brave and was not afraid of nothing.

    Preterite and imperfect in the same sentence

    When the preterite and the imperfect appear in the same sentence, the imperfect tense is used for the action describes what was happening (ongoing). The preterite tense is used to describe the action that interrupted the ongoing activity.


    Yo leía un libro cuando mi teléfono sonó.
    I was reading a book when my phone rang.

    I was reading a book when the phone rang.jpg

    Nosotros estábamos preparando unos sándwiches cuando alguién tocó la puerta.
    We were preparing some sandwiches when someone knocked on the door.

    We were preparing some sandwiches when someone knocked on the door.jpg

    The following video explains the differences between the preterit and imperfect tenses in Spanish. It was created by Fresno City College Faculty.