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Beginner Spanish Lesson 42 Comparing Pretérito Indefinido and Pretérito Imperfecto Posted by on Nov 6, 2012 in Basic, Learning, Pronunciation, Spanish Grammar, Spanish Vocabulary, Videos

In this Beginner Spanish lesson we will compare the Pretérito Indefinido and Pretérito Imperfecto Spanish grammar tenses.

Both of these Spanish grammar tenses are used to talk about the past, but they are quite different and it is vital to be absolutely clear on when you should use one or the other.

The Spanish equivalent of the English Past Simple has two distinct grammar tenses, Pretérito Indefinido and Pretérito Imperfecto, which are used for different descriptions in the past and their verbs are conjugated in different ways. In English the Past Simple grammar tense is more straightforward as there is only one Past Simple and the majority of its verbs are conjugated simply with the addition of -ed (for example: “Last year I worked-ed as a chef”).

In this course we have already looked in detail at how to construct and use both the Pretérito Indefinido and Pretérito Imperfecto Spanish grammar tenses and now we will compare the differences between the two tenses to hopefully give you a clearer idea of when to use one or the other.

First, let’s see the uses of Pretérito Imperfecto:

For habitual actions in the past:

• Cuando éramos pequeños estudiábamos en ese colegio: When we were little we studied in that school.
• Antes escuchaba la radio todos los días: Before, I used to listen to the radio every day
• Cuando vivía con mis padres no tenía responsabilidades: When I lived with my parents I didn´t have responsibilities.
• Mis amigos iban al cine todas las tardes, pero yo tenía que estudiar: My friends used to go to the movies every afternoon, but I had to study.

For descriptions of the past:

• Mi profesor era simpático e inteligente: My teacher was friendly and intelligent.
• Mi abuelo era muy alto y fumaba mucho: My grandad was very tall and he used to smoke a lot.
• Mi pueblo antes era muy pequeño y no tenía colegio ni centro de salud: My town used to be very small and it didn´t have either a school or a health centre.
• Has cambiado mucho, antes eras más divertido y parecías más feliz: You have changed a lot, you used to be more fun and you seemed happier.

For actions happening in the past:

• Mientras todos hablaban, Juan miraba por la ventana: While everyone was talking, Juan was looking out the window
• Antes siempre hacía los deberes cuando veía la televisión: Before I used to do my homework when I was watching TV.
• Ana siempre pensaba en otra cosa cuando hablaba conmigo: Ana was always thinking about something else when she was speaking to me.
• Carlos estaba fumando cuando conducía: Carlos was smoking when he was driving.

Next let’s see the uses of Pretérito Indefinido:

Specific unique or repeated actions:

• ¿Qué hiciste en Semana Santa?: What did you do at Easter?
• Fuimos a París, ¿y vosotros?: We went to Paris, and you?
• Ayer compramos un coche nuevo: Yesterday we bought a new car.
• Hace dos días mis padres vinieron a visitarme: Two days ago my parents came to visit me.

Finally, let’s look at Pretérito Indefinido and Pretérito Imperfecto being used together in the same sentence. Pretérito Indefinido expresses the main action and Pretérito Imperfecto describes the reason or circumstances in which the main action happens.

• Cuando tenía 18 años comenzó a estudiar en la univesidad: When he was 18, he started to study at university
• Mientras dormía, alguien entró a mi casa: While I was sleeping, someone came into my house.
• Cuando me estaba duchando, alguien llamó a la puerta: When I was having a shower, someone knocked on the door
• Cuando iba al parque me encontré con Pablo: When I was going to the park I saw Pablo.

As I said in the previous beginner Spanish lesson, try not to get flustered by all of the grammar terminology you are being bombarded with: Pretérito Indefinido, Pretérito Perfecto, Pretérito Imperfecto, etc. For many students the titles make things sound more complicated than they actually are and this can scare some students off.

In fact, when you strip Spanish grammar back to its basics and concentrate on the bare bones of each of the Spanish tenses they really are not so difficult. Always try to concentrate on being totally clear on when you should use one of the Spanish grammar tenses over another and how you should conjugate the verbs in that tense for all the persons.

Enjoy your Spanish studies and see you next time with another beginner Spanish lesson.


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About the Author:Laura

I am from Bilbao in northern Spain. I qualified as a Spanish Language Teacher in 2004. I have taught Spanish in England and Spain and now really enjoy teaching the Spanish Language via my website The Spanish Blog to students from all around the world. I love my job and the intricacies of the Spanish Language. My main personal interests are music, reading and cooking. I studied music for twelve years in Bilbao and I play the piano. I also enjoy singing and I try my best to sing more in English now. I hope very much that you enjoy my posts and welcome any comments.