El pretérito y el imperfecto
Como y cuando usar los tiempos
pasados en español
El pretérito
• Generally speaking, the preterit is used for actions in the
past that are seen as completed. Use of the preterit tense
implies that the past action had a definite beginning and
definite end.
For example:
• Compré uno zapatos para mi hijo. I bought a pair
of shoes for my son.
• ¿Dónde comió usted ayer? Where did you eat
• Comí en casa de Carlos y hablé con su padre. I ate
at Charles’s house and spoke with his father.
El pretérito
The preterit is used for past events that
The preterit is also used for incipient action,
happened once and at a
very specific moment in
time, such as “Last night I went to the
meaning action that we see
begin, such as "the sun came out" as
opposed to an imperfect weather statement such
as "It was sunny yesterday".
When action begins or ends (ex: “I
met Felipe. She graduated from college. The
class ended at 9:15.”) we use the preterit.
Furthermore, when action is
interrupted (ex: “We were golfing
when it started to rain.") the verb that stops the
action is in the preterit.
El pretérito
The conjugations
are as follows:
-iste -isteis
El imperfecto
The Spanish imperfect usually translates into English as "used to" or "would" for
– When we were young we USED TO EAT cereal. (We may still eat cereal today.)
– As a child we WOULD EAT cereal. (We might still.)
– In the sentence "As a child I lived in Chicago" the listener does not have enough
information to determine when the speaker arrived in Chicago or when he/she
left. It is possible that he/she still lives there.
The imperfect can also be used as a past progressive, such as "They WERE EATING".
The general rule is that if you do not know when the action began or ended, it takes
the imperfect.
However, there are some cases in the past that almost always take the
Unless you have a clear beginning (incipient action), use the imperfect to describe the
following in the past:
El imperfecto
• Age
Tenía 12 años cuando robé el primer
I was 12 when I stole my first car.
• Weather
Hacía buen tiempo cuando me
It was nice weather when they arrested
• Emotional states
Mi amigo estaba nervioso porque era
la medianoche.
My friend was nervous because it was
the middle of the night.
• What people were doing
WHEN something else
Me duchaba cuando sonó el teléfono.
I was showering when the phone
• Habitual past actions
Íbamos a la playa cada verano.
We went [used to go] to the beach
every summer.
• Time
Eran las nueve de la noche.
It was nine o'clock at night.
El imperfecto
Words that are hints for using
Cada (año, día...)
En general
En el pasado...
El imperfecto
The conjugations are as follows:
El imperfecto
Solo hay tres verbos irregulares en el imperfecto …
SER – era, eras, era, éramos, erais, eran
IR – iba, ibas, iba, íbamos, ibais, iban
VER – veía, veías, veía, veíamos, veíais, veían

El pretérito y el imperfecto