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Grammar Basics



Spanish 101A

Spanish 101B

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The Imperfect is used to paint a background for a story. It describes a scene the way we would describe a painting or a photograph. There is no action going on so we can only describe what we see.

We use the Imperfect for

1) Age

Tenía 12 años cuando robé el primer carro. I was 12 when I stole my first car.

2) Weather

Hacía buen tiempo cuando me arrestaron. It was nice weather when they arrested me.
Pero llovía cuando mi amigo me pagó la fianza. But it was raining when my friend posted my bail.

3) Emotional States

Mi amigo estaba nervioso porque era la medianoche. My friend was nervous because it was the middle of the night.
Mi padre estaba furioso porque robé el carro de su jefe. My father was furious because I stole his boss's car.

Note: Remember that when you become something, you will use the Preterite past tense. Becoming something is an action or event, not a description:

He became nervous. Se puso nervioso
She got angry (became angry) Se enojó (se puso enojada)

4) What people were doing WHEN something else occured

Me duchaba cuando sonó el teléfono. I was showering when the phone rang.

5) Habitual Past actions

íbamos a la playa cada verano. We went [used to go] to the beach every summer.

6) Time

Eran las nueve de la noche. It was nine o'clock at night.
Era el doce de febrero. It was the twelfth of February.
Era el invierno. It was winter.

Words that are hints for using Imperfect:

Cada año (día, mes, etc.)
Normalmente Generalmente
En general En el pasado...
Usualmente Todos los días (meses, años, etc.)

When people "set a scene" describing what they were doing, what time it was, or what was going on around them at the time of a crime, they will use the Imperfect. For example, if you are about to tell a friend what happened to you in the mall yesterday, you will begin by first describing the scene: where you were, what was going on around you, what people were in the middle of doing. This is all described in the Imperfect. When you begin to tell all of the exciting (or frustrating) things which proceeded to happen, you will tell it in the Preterite.