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The Spanish Imperfect (Past) Tense

The imperfect tense expresses actions that happened in the past that do not have a defined ending. It is usually used to describe the past in more general terms, rather than for specific events.

Uses

To describe habitual, continuous or repeated actions in the past

  • Hablábamos sin parar durante horas
  • We used to talk non stop for hours
  • Caminaba por el parque cada día
  • I would walk through the park every day

Actions in the past that set the stage for another action

  • Todos comían cuando llegué
  • They were all eating when I arrived
  • Ella buscaba sus llaves cuando el teléfono soñó
  • She was looking for her keys when the phone rang

To express time and dates in the past

  • Eran las cinco cuando salió
  • It was five o'clock when he left
  • Era el jueves, el 13 mayo
  • It was Thurday, the 13th of May

To describe a person, emotional state or scene in the past

  • La mesa era blanca
  • The table was white
  • El hombre era viejo
  • The man was old

Conjugations

-Ar Verbs

To conjugate regular -ar verbs in the imperfect tense, add the following endings to the stem:

yo -aba
-abas
él/ella/Ud. -aba
nosotros -ábamos
vosotros -abais
ellos/ellas/Uds. -aban
Note

In the imperfect tense the yo and él/ella/Ud. forms are the same. You can use the pronoun (yo, él etc) if the subject of the verb is not clear from the context.

Example - cortar / to cut
yo cortaba I used to cut
cortabas you used to cut
él cortaba he used to cut
nosotros cortábamos we used to cut
vosotros cortabais you used to cut
ellos cortaban they used to cut

-Er and -Ir Verbs

In the imperfect tense the verb endings are the same for -er and -ir verbs.

yo -ía
-ías
él/ella/Ud. -ía
nosotros -íamos
vosotros -íais
ellos/ellas/Uds. -ían
Example - comer / to eat
yo comía I used to eat
comías you used to eat
él comía he used to eat
nosotros comíamos we used to eat
vosotros comíais you used to eat
ellos comían they used to eat
Example - vivir / to live
yo vivía I was living
vivías you were living
él vivía he was living
nosotros vivíamos we were living
vosotros vivíais you were living
ellos vivían they were living

Irregular Verbs

There are only three verbs that are irrregular in the imperfect form.

Serto be
Irto go
Verto see