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The Spanish imperfect tense Pretérito Imperfecto usually is the 3rd Spanish past tense that you study as a beginner or intermediate speaker. It is slightly different from past tenses you use in English or the “Plusquamperfekt” in German. But still, there are some similarities in how you use it in Spanish.
After reading our three useful tips on how to master the Spanish imperfect tense Pretérito Imperfecto, you should have a good idea of how and when to use it.
Spanish imperfect conjugations: regular verbs
First tip: Get familiar with the Spanish imperfect endings! The regular verbs for the Spanish imperfect are not as tricky as the ones for the Spanish preterite Pretérito Indefinido, for example.
You only have to memorize the Spanish imperfect endings for the verbs ending with -ar (first group) and with -er/-ir (second group).
We offer some free exercises here.
If you are not sure if you are doing it correctly, we found this webpage for the Spanish verb conjugations very helpful (click here).
The Spanish imperfect tense irregular verbs
Good news: Compared to other past tenses, the Spanish imperfect tense conjugations are not that complicated. There are only three irregular verbs: ver (to see), ser (to be), and ir (to go). Memorize them well, and the rest is easy!
Spanish imperfect tense examples
When to use imperfect in Spanish? Our second tip to master the Spanish imperfect tense is to memorize typical phrases that you will often hear and use as a Spanish speaker. With these small chunks (learn more about this concept here), you’ll get the hang of it after a while. Let’s start with the following three examples:
Cuando yo era joven, todo era diferente.
(When I was young, everything was different.)
Cuando yo era joven, todo era diferente. (English: When I was young, everything was different. German: Als ich noch jung war, war alles anders.) As you can see, the use of the Spanish imperfect, in this case, is different from the german “Plusquamperfekt” and the English simple past tense.
The Spanish Pretérito Imperfecto is often used to describe a past state to emphasize the process or habitual repetition of an action. Also, to express an action in the past, interrupted by another.
Cuando yo tenía 16 años, siempre jugaba fútbol.
(When I was 16, I always used to play soccer.)
You can express actions in the past with “I always used to… (play soccer…)” in English. The same meaning in Spanish usually triggers the Spanish imperfect tense.
Mi mamá cocinaba cuando entré a casa.
(My mum was cooking when I came in the house.)
When talking about a past action in progress (Mi mama cocinaba…) that was interrupted (…cuando entré a casa), the action in progress is in the imperfect, and the interrupting action is in the Spanish preterite Pretérito Indefinido.
Learning video: The Spanish pretérito imperfecto
Our third tip to master the Spanish imperfect tense: Watch Mónica’s video on YouTube! It will give you a good summary of what you have read here.
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