Preterite Vs Imperfect: Know When To Use Which One [+12 Examples & Quiz] | Language Atlas (2023)

In this Spanish grammar lesson, you will learn about preterite vs imperfect.

In this lesson you will learn about:

  • preterite vs imperfect
  • how to use preterite vs imperfect is used in sentences
  • how you can quiz yourself on preterite vs imperfect
  • how you can practice with flashcards on preterite vs imperfect
  • how and why you should use the courses of Language Atlas to learn Spanish

By the end of the lesson you will know all about preterite vs imperfect!

Table of Contents

Introduction to Preterite vs Imperfect

Preterite SpanishPreterite EnglishImperfect SpanishImperfect English
anochelast nighta menudooften
ayeryesterdaya vecessometimes
el año pasadolast yearcada día/semana/mes/añoevery day/week/month/year
de repentesuddenlycon frecuenciafrequently
en (mes/estación/año)in (month/season/year)de vez en cuandofrom time to time
hace (tiempo)(time) agoen aquella épocaat that time
la semana pasadalast weekfrecuentementefrequently
el verano pasadolast summermuchas vecesmany times
muchoa lot
nuncanever
siemprealways
tantas vecesso many times
todas las semanasevery week
todos los díasevery day
todo el tiempoall the time
varias vecesseveral times

In this lesson we will explore two tenses that can be used to talk about events in the past.

It can be tricky to know when to use which one.

If you haven’t already done so, please read the lessons on when to use the preterite tense and when to use the imperfect tense.

You need to know the content of those lessons to understand this one.

Here is a small refresher.

The preterite will be used for past actions with a clear beginning and end.

The imperfect will be used for past actions without a clear beginning and end.

The table of trigger words has also been included to help understand when to use which tense.

Preterite vs Imperfect with Trigger Words

The preterite trigger words specifically tell you when an action took place.

The imperfect trigger words tell you in general when an action took place.

(Video) SPANISH past tense preterit vs. imperfect || BASICS of Spanish past tenses

Here are some examples with the preterite:

Ayer llegué tarde al trabajo porque había muchísimo tráfico.

Yesterday I was late for work because of heavy traffic.

Hace un rato nos encontramos con Alex por la calle. ¡Casi no lo reconozco!

A while ago we met Alex in the street – I almost didn’t recognise him!

La semana pasada estuvimos haciendo reformas en la casa.

Last week we were doing some reforms in the house.

Mi cuñada estuvo en Croacia el verano pasado y vino encantada.

My sister-in-law was in Croatia last summer and was delighted.

The trigger words trigger the preterite because they refer to a restricted and specific time period in the past, with has a beginning and an end.

Here are some examples with the imperfect:

Cuando era pequeña, siempre íbamos a un camping junto a la playa de Conil.

When I was little, we always went to a campsite by the beach in Conil.

Cada día se despertaba por culpa de las pesadillas.

Every day he woke up because of nightmares.

Recuerdo que a menudo visitabais aquella iglesia. ¿Por qué lo hacíais?

I remember that you often visited that church, why did you do that?

Sergio siempre veía este programa con su abuela.

Sergio always watched this programme with his grandmother.

The trigger words trigger the imperfect because they express frequency or an ongoing length of time without a clear beginning and end.

Preterite vs Imperfect Without Trigger Words

Not every sentence contains trigger words.

In those cases, it is extra important to know when to use which one.

The preterite will be used for past actions with a clear beginning and end.

The imperfect will be used for past actions without a clear beginning and end.

(Video) Preterite and imperfect aspect in Spanish

Please keep this in mind whilst you look at the following examples:

preterite

Mi madre me llamó.

My mom called me. [you can see that your mom has has finished calling]

imperfect

Mi madre me llamaba.

My mom called me. [your can see that your mom is calling]

preterite

Mi padre lanzó la pelota.

My dad threw the ball. [you can see that your dad has has finished throwing the ball]

imperfect

Mi padre lanzaba la pelota.

My dad threw the ball. [your can see that your dad is throwing the ball]

Example Sentences on Preterite vs Imperfect

This section of the lesson on preterite vs imperfect is about seeing the tenses used in sentences.

This is valuable because you can improve your understanding of preterite vs imperfect through examples.

Ayer llegué tarde al trabajo porque había muchísimo tráfico.

Yesterday I was late for work because of heavy traffic.

Hace un rato nos encontramos con Alex por la calle. ¡Casi no lo reconozco!

A while ago we met Alex in the street – I almost didn’t recognise him!

La semana pasada estuvimos haciendo reformas en la casa.

Last week we were doing some reforms in the house.

Mi cuñada estuvo en Croacia el verano pasado y vino encantada.

My sister-in-law was in Croatia last summer and was delighted.

Cuando era pequeña, siempre íbamos a un camping junto a la playa de Conil.

(Video) Acabar de: An Easy Hack to Speak Past-Tense Spanish

When I was little, we always went to a campsite by the beach in Conil.

Cada día se despertaba por culpa de las pesadillas.

Every day he woke up because of nightmares.

Recuerdo que a menudo visitabais aquella iglesia. ¿Por qué lo hacíais?

I remember that you often visited that church, why did you do that?

Sergio siempre veía este programa con su abuela.

Sergio always watched this programme with his grandmother.

preterite

Mi madre me llamó.

My mom called me. [you can see that your mom has has finished calling]

imperfect

Mi madre me llamaba.

My mom called me. [your can see that your mom is calling]

preterite

Mi padre lanzó la pelota.

My dad threw the ball. [you can see that your dad has has finished throwing the ball]

imperfect

Mi padre lanzaba la pelota.

My dad threw the ball. [your can see that your dad is throwing the ball]

Quiz Yourself on Preterite vs Imperfect

At the end of every lesson you can do a small quiz.

You will see the sentences of the previous chapter.

You will either need to fill in the blanks, choose the correct multiple choice option, or both.

Once you are done the correct answer will be shown.

You can redo the quiz as many times as you want!

(Video) Learn Finnish! Lesson 39: Past tense - Imperfekti

How to Practice With Flashcards for This Lesson

Using flashcards is an absolute necessity when it comes to learning a language!

It is the best way to memorize what you learn, you can personalize your progression because it adapts to your actions, and all flashcards have audio to improve your hearing and pronunciation.

Please read our article on how to learn a new language for more information on flashcards and the best way to learn a new language.

There are two ways to practice with Flashcards for this lesson.

  1. Anki
  2. The Flashcards in our Courses

Anki is a free software with which you can create and practice flashcards.

After you have downloaded Anki for free, you can get our Spanish B1 Anki Deck.

This Anki Deck contains 2,052 flashcards with which you can practice absolutely everything for Spanish B1.

All the flashcards have text, images, explanations, and audio.

You can also use our courses that have flashcards integrated alongside lessons with audio, quizzes and much more!

However, I am sure you are wondering, what are your courses, and why should I take them?

The Courses of Language Atlas

Have you ever wondered what the best way is to learn a new language?

I have been learning languages for over 20+ years and I was always frustrated with books, courses, and classes that I had tried.

It never really seemed to work for me.

I wanted to learn a language in the most effective and efficient way, and there was nothing out there for me.

So I thought, “why not make something myself?“.

Using my experience and by doing research I created Language Atlas, a platform where people can learn French and Spanish in the most effective and efficient way.

I created free lessons and quizzes so that there would always be an easy and accessible way for people to learn or brush up on their language skills.

However, I also created courses that are much more comprehensive and in-depth.

These courses are easy to follow, clear, and allow you to become fluent in the most effective and efficient way.

The courses of Language Atlas have:

  • 800+ Lessons with audio
  • 800+ Quizzes
  • 10,000 Flashcards with explanations, images, and audio
  • A gamified way of learning a new language
  • A vibrant community (including support from me)

You can register for free and try the French A0/A1 and Spanish A0/A1 Courses for free!

This includes over 60 lessons and quizzes, 500 flashcards that adapt to how you learn, and access to the community (including support from me).

All you have to do is study 30 minutes a day and you will be fluent in no time!

Don’t miss out – register for free and start learning!

(Video) Dagmar Divjak

FAQs

How do I know when to use preterite or imperfect? ›

Preterite and Imperfect tenses are both related to the past, but they function differently. The preterite tells you precisely when something happened in the past, while the imperfect tells you in general terms when an action took place with no definite ending.

How do you know when to use imperfect in Spanish? ›

The imperfect (imperfecto) is one of the two simple past tenses in Spanish. It is used for ongoing or recurrent actions in the past. It is also used for descriptions, states of being, and for providing background information about the past.

What are 3 uses of the imperfect? ›

The imperfect is used to:
  • describe repeated, habitual, or usual actions in the past.
  • describe actions that were ongoing in the past.
  • describe what things were like in the past.
  • describe time and people's ages in the past.

How do you know when to use present or imperfect subjunctive? ›

Present subjunctive is translated to English in normal present tense, imperfect subjunctive is translated to English in past tense. With present subjunctive we talk about things that might still happen, but imperfect subjunctive expresses things that are not possible anymore.

What are some examples of imperfect? ›

Adjective It's an imperfect solution to a difficult problem. He had an imperfect understanding of the task. In “He was singing when I came in,” “was singing” is in the imperfect tense.

What are imperfect verbs examples? ›

The imperfect tense is used to refer to actions in the past that occurred repeatedly.
  • I used to walk every day. Yo caminaba cada día. ...
  • I used to eat paella frequently. Yo comía frecuentemente paella. ...
  • We were coming home when we saw Juan. Veníamos para casa cuando vimos a Juan. ...
  • Juan was feeling sick. Juan estaba enfermo.

What is a preterite example? ›

In general, the preterite is used in referring to events that happened at a specific time or to repeated events that happened over a specific time. A simple example would be "Ayer yo busqué las llaves" (I looked for the keys yesterday) because the event happened at a specific time.

What are the 6 main uses of the imperfect tense? ›

Terms in this set (6)
  • Habitual or repeated actions. Ibamos.
  • Events or actions that were in progress. Leía.
  • Telling time. Eran.
  • Age. Tenian.
  • Physical characteristics. Era.
  • Mental or emotional states. Quería.

What is imperfect used for? ›

The imperfect tense is used: to describe repeated or continuous actions in the past. to describe what something or someone was like in the past. to say what people used to do or what things used to be like.

What are the 3 imperfect verbs in Spanish? ›

The main 3 irregular verbs in the Spanish past imperfect tense are ser (to be), ir (to go) and ver (to see).

How do you know when to use the subjunctive in Spanish? ›

Do use the subjunctive when you're describing your attitude towards something factual, or a fact relating to someone, provided that…
  1. There are two verbs in the sentence, with a “que” in between them. ...
  2. The 'person' of the first verb is different to the 'person' of the second verb.
17 Feb 2020

What is an example of a imperfect subjunctive? ›

The imperfect tense of the subjunctive mood is used to express the same subjectivity as the present subjunctive, but in the past. It was interesting that Jorge would read to me the news. It is interesting that Jorge reads to me the news. I hope that it would snow tomorrow.

What's the difference between imperfect and subjunctive? ›

The imperfect subjunctive follows the same general rules as the present subjunctive in terms of when the subjunctive is necessary. The main difference is timing, as the imperfect subjunctive is used when the main verb is in either the preterite or imperfect past tenses.

What are the 2 main endings the imperfect tense uses in Spanish? ›

Imperfect Verb Endings in Spanish

There are two sets of rules for the endings of regular imperfect verbs in Spanish, one set is for '-ar' ending verbs and the other set is for the '-er' and '-ir ' ending verbs.

Is imperfect used for characteristics? ›

Use the imperfect for: Describing physical characteristics (what things or people looked like) Describing mental or emotional characteristics (someone's personality, feelings, or state of mind) Telling time or someone's age.

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