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Spanish Imperfect Tense

How to Form and Use the Spanish Imperfect Tense

Do you know how to use and form the Spanish imperfect tense? Have you ever had a chance to use it? Finally, do you have an idea why we use it?

Worry not, because, by the end of this article, we will answer these and all other concerns you may have about the imperfect tense.

Spanish has irregular verbs, as you probably know, so other than conjugations and all the uses of the Spanish imperfect tense, we will also talk about these verbs and how to conjugate them.

Additionally, we prepared plenty of examples with audio to help you better understand the concept of Spanish imperfect tense and practice your listening skills.

Spanish Imperfect Tense

Just like preterite, we use the Spanish imperfect tense to talk about the past.

Unlike preterite, we use the imperfect tense in Spanish to talk about non-completed actions. So, what’s the difference between these two tenses? Our article preterite vs imperfect will help you distinguish them.

The most common translations of the imperfect sentences in Spanish would be: used to, was/were…-ing, and would + infinitive verb, and simple past conjugations such as bought, went, drove, walked, etc.

Let’s check some uses of imperfect tense – Spanish examples followed by the English translation:

Durante verano, hacía tanto calor que no se podía respirar.

During summer, it was so hot that you couldn’t breathe.

Or:

Cuando era niño, mis padres me llevaban a la piscina todos los domingos.

When I was a kid, my parents used to take me to a swimming pool every Sunday.

How to Form the Spanish Imperfect Tense

What you need to know to conjugate the regular verbs in imperfect sentences in Spanish are the endings.

The Spanish language has three types of conjugations, based on how the verbs end: -ar, -er, -ir.

Subject pronoun (SUBJ. PRON.) and conjugations (CONJ.).

-Ar Verbs

The ending of the imperfect past tense in Spanish for all the verbs of the first conjugation (-ar) is –aba in all forms.

SUBJ. PRON.ENDINGS
Yo
-aba
-abas
Él/ella/Ud.
-aba
Nosotros/as
-ábamos
Vosotros/as
-abais
Ellos/as/Uds.
-aban

Examples

SUBJ. PRON.CANTAR
Yo
Cantaba
Cantabas
Él/ella/Ud.
Cantaba
Nosotros/as
Cantábamos
Vosotros/as
Cantabais
Ellos/as/Uds.
Cantaban

-Er and -ir Verbs

The ending of the imperfect tense in Spanish for all the verbs ending in -er and -ir is -ía in all forms.

SUBJ. PRON.-ER/-IR VERBS
Yo
-ía
-ías
Él/ella/Ud.
-ía
Nosotros/as
-íamos
Vosotros/as
-íais
Ellos/as/Uds.
-ían

Examples

SUBJ. PRON.COMER
Yo
Comía

Comías
Él/ella/Ud.
Comía
Nosotros/as
Comíamos
Vosotros/as
Comíais
Ellos/as/Uds.
Comían
SUBJ. PRON.VIVIR
Yo
Vivía
Vivías
Él/ella/Ud.
Vivía
Nosotros/as
Vivíamos
Vosotros/as
Vivíais
Ellos/as/Uds.
Vivían

Irregular Verbs

There are three irregular verbs in the imperfect tense in Spanish: ser, ir, and ver.

These are the verbs whose conjugations you have to memorize. We are not joking. But look on the bright side: it’s only three verbs.

Ser

SUBJ. PRON.CONJ.
Yo
Era
Eras
Él/ella/Ud.
Era
Nosotros/as
Éramos
Vosotros/as
Erais
Ellos/as/Uds.
Eran

Ir

SUBJ. PRON.CONJ.
Yo
Iba
Ibas
Él/ella/Ud.
Iba
Nosotros/as
Íbamos
Vosotros/as
Ibais
Ellos/as/Uds.
Iban

Ver

SUBJ. PRON.CONJ.
Yo
Veía
Veías
Él/ella/Ud.
Veía
Nosotros/as
Veíamos
Vosotros/as
Veíais
Ellos/as/Uds.
Veían

How to Form Imperfect Tense Spanish – Practice

Conjugations

Written Practice

Quizzes

Gap Fill Exercises

When to Use Spanish Imperfect Tense

There are several cases where you can apply the imperfect tense in Spanish. Sometimes, people who start learning Spanish as their second language can often have issues understanding when to use Spanish imperfect tense.

Besides the explanation of what situations you should use the Spanish imperfect past tense in, we will give a few examples.

Before we get on to it, the best way to know whether or not to use the imperfect tense in Spanish in a sentence is to think about the action you want to describe in the past. Is it really over? Was it a repeated action in the past?

These are some of the questions you can make to clarify whether you need to use the imperfect tense.

Ongoing Actions

The Spanish imperfect tense describes past actions that are seen as an ongoing process.

Examples

  • Las chicas hablaban en español. → The girls were speaking in Spanish.
  • Estudiaba para el examen. → I was studying for the test.

Indefinite Starting or Ending Point

When there is no definite starting or ending point in the past, we use the Spanish imperfect tense.

Examples

  • Tenía novio. → I had a boyfriend.
  • Cuando era joven, iba a la montaña. → When I was young, I would go to the mountain.

Actions That Took Place Over an Indefinite Period

Imperfect sentences in Spanish can also describe actions in the past that lasted for an indefinite period.

Examples

  • Yo viajaba a menudo. → I used to travel.
  • Cuando era joven, leía mucho. → When he was young, he used to read a lot.

Common/Regular Actions

To describe some repeated actions that used to happen in the past, use the imperfect tense. Spanish examples:

Examples

  • Nadábamos todas las mañanas. → We used to swim every morning.
  • Iba al cine cada semana. → I used to go to the theater every week.

General Descriptions

We also use the Spanish imperfect tense to describe things, people, and backgrounds.

Examples

  • Hacía viento y llovía. → It was windy and it rained.
  • Mi jefe era alto y rubio. → My boss was tall and blonde.

Expressing Emotions, Thoughts, and Certain Mental Activities

If we want to describe how we felt about something in the past, we use, you guessed, the Spanish imperfect tense!

Examples

  • Quería viajar. → I wanted to travel.
  • No pensábamos que iban a cambiar de oficina. → We didn’t think they were going to change the office.

Times, Dates, and Age

Another use of the Spanish imperfect past tense is to talk about time, dates, and age in the past.

Examples

  • Eran las cuatro de la tarde. → It was 4pm.
  • Era el tres de junio. → It was June 3rd.
  • El chico tenía veinte años. → The boy was twenty years old.

Indirect Speech

You must’ve heard about the indirect speech before. Well, to report what someone said in the past, we will use the imperfect tense. Spanish examples follow:

Examples

  • Me dijo que iba al concierto. → She told me she was going to the concert.
  • El director informó que pensaba despedir a los trabajadores. → The director stated that he was thinking about firing the workers.

Time Markers in Imperfect Sentences in Spanish

The following adverbs and adverbial phrases can help you in situations when you are not sure whether to use the Spanish imperfect tense.

SPANISHENGLISH
A menudo
Often
A veces
Sometimes
Cada año
Each/every year
Cada día
Each/every day
Con frecuencia
Frecuentemente
Frequently
Cada semana
Each/every week
De vez en cuando
From time to time
En aquella época
At that time
During that time
Generalmente
Generally
Muchas veces
Many times
Nunca
Never
Siempre
Always
Todo el tiempo
All the time
The whole time
Todos los días
Every day
Todas las semanas
Every week
Todos los lunes
Every Monday
Un día si, un día no
Every other day
Varias veces
Several times

Where to Practice Spanish Imperfect Tense

Oral Practice

Written Practice

Gap Fill Exercises

Final Thoughts

Grammatically speaking, the Spanish imperfect tense is not as difficult as some other tenses. Look, you only have three irregular verbs. How cool is that, right? And the conjugations are pretty simple, don’t you agree?

Hopefully, we managed to clarify some doubts you may have had regarding the imperfect tense in Spanish.

But our honest suggestion is to try and form the imperfect sentences in Spanish by yourself using the time markers from this article or just try telling a story that happened to you or to someone in the past.

Good luck!


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