5.- The imperfect tense.


Irregular Verbs in the Imperfect



It is easy to remember that:


* there are only three verbs with irregular conjugations in the imperfect: ir, ser, and ver.


Ir ( to go) Ser ( to be) Ver (to see)






















When is the Imperfect used in Spanish?


The imperfect is one of the tenses used to narrate past actions.

Unlike the preterit, the imperfect does not refer to the specific time an action took place or when the beginning or the end of an action occurred. The imperfect tense describes the ongoing duration of an action or how frequently the action took place. You will use the imperfect tense:


* to describe continuing, ongoing actions in the past.


Elsa tenía muchos amigos y pocas preocupaciones

Elsa had many friends and few worries.


The above example refers to a past time (tenía). It does not tell us exactly when or for how long Elsa was in these circumstances. The speaker´s message (with tenía) includes the notion of a continuing action.


* to indicate actions that took place on a regular basis, actions that were repeated, or were habitual or customary in the past.


Cuando Carlos vivía en Nueva York, iba al teatro con frecuencia.

When Carlos lived in New York, he used to go to the theater frequently.



In the previous example, the imperfect form vivía refers to a past, ongoing time when Carlos lived in New York. It does not tell us when specifically the action of vivir took place, nor for how long. The second part of the sentence, iba (he used to go), refers to a past action whose exact time or number of times is not specified, since it is not important to the message. Rather, the emphasis i son the repeated nature of Carlos´s activity, reinforced by the expresión con frecuencia (frequently).



Other Uses of the Imperfect


The imperfect tense is also used in other circumstances. Remember to use the imperfect:


* to describe people or states of indefinite duration in the past.


Era un político muy honrado

He was a very honest politician.



In this example, era underscores the ongoing nature of the characteristic. Again, the description does not convey a specific time or times.


Keep in mind that ser is used to describe qualities or states of indefinite duration in the past.


Marta era extremadamente cuidadosa.

Marta was extremely careful.



* to express the English equivalent of the construction would + verb, referring to actions that took place repeatedly or customarily in the past.


Yo pasaba muchas horas allí.

I used to (would) spend many hours there.



Note that this use of would does not imply the conditional mood in English. There is no condition to be met. Compare the following examples an observe the context.



1.Compraría ( conditional ) el carro pero no tiene dinero.

She would buy the car bur she does not have the money.


2.Compraba (imperfect) un vestido nuevo todos los meses el día de cobro.

She would buy (used to buy) a new dress every month on payday.


In the first example, would buy is a clear use of the conditional in English and corresponds to the use of the conditional in Spanish: if a condition were met – having money-then she would action and the Spanish equivalent is compraba. The sentence includes an expression of time, todos los meses, indicating a repeated action and showing its habitual nature (compraba).



Certain expressions of time stress the customary or repetitive nature of the actions in the imperfect tense. You learned some of these expressions in ejercicio 5-1. The list that follows contains several more. Try to use these expressions when you use the imperfect to communicate repeated actions in the past.





A menudo

A veces

Algunas veces

Casi nunca

Casi siempre

De vez en cuando




At times


Hardly ever

Almost always

From time to time






Muchas veces

Por lo general

Rara vez


Todas las mañanas

Todos los años

Todos los días

Many times




Every morning

Every year

Every day




More About the Uses of the Imperfect


The imperfect is also used:


* to express age in the past


La actriz tenía treinta años.

The actress was thirty years old.



* To describe the background or circumstances of an action.


Era un día hermoso, fresco.

It was a beautiful, cool day.



* to indicate the time of day in the past


Eran las cuatro de la tarde

It was four in the afternoon.



Ejercicio 5-7


Cuando Lucinda vivía en Nueva York. Traduce las experiencias de Lucinda. Note that many of the statements express a customary or repeated action during the time she spent in the city.


  1. When I was twenty years old, I lived with my friends in New York City.___________________________________________________


  1. We have known each other since we were in kindergarten. ___________________________________________________


  1. Every morning I went to y English class. _______________________________________________________


  1. Usually my class would end at noon. ___________________________________________________


  1. The weather was beautiful in spring. _______________________________________________________


  1. I liked New York ___________________________________________________


  1. My friends and I lived near Chinatown. ___________________________________________________


  1. They worked for a Chilean company. _______________________________________________________


  1. I would often help with the household chores. ___________________________________________________



Ejercicio 5-8


¿ Por qué usamos el imperfecto? Go back to your answers to the previous exercise ( ejercicio 5-7). For each statement, write down any key Spanish expression that signals a customary or repeated action. If no expression of time appears in a given statement, leave a blank.






















The imperfect is also used to express the past:


* to indicate a mental state, a mental action, or a state of indefinite duration with verbs such as sentir, creer, conocer, pensar, querer, and saber. Mental states are considered ongoing conditions.


1.Él pensaba en mí.

He thought about me.


2.Nos conocíamos desde que éramos pequeños.

We have known each other since we were Little.


3.Me gustaba caminar por las calles.

I used to like walking down the streets.



* in the Spanish equivalent of the English – ing forms, referring to past actions. Usually they refer to simultaneous actions, and there is no mention of a specific time in the past.


1.Ella trabajaba y yo descansaba.

She was working and I was resting.


2.El ladrón salía mientras nosotras entrábamos a la habitación

The thief was leaving while we were going into the room



Ejercicio 5-9


Completa la frases con la forma apropiada de uno de los verbos. Usa el imperfecto.


Comprar    estar         salir

Decir          pensar       sentir


1.- Siempre_____________ en ti.


2.- Yo no __________ mentiras (lies)


3.- Sus amigos _____________ mucho dolor.


4.- En el cine tú_____________ las entradas.


5.- El día___________ de la tienda.


6.- Llovía cuando tú_____________ de la tienda.




The Imperfect and the Preterit in the Same Sentence


Often more than one tense will be needed in a sentence: the imperfect to point out ongoing actions or background information and the preterit to express actions seen as “ interrupting” the actions in the imperfect.


Llovía y de momento salió el sol.

It was raining and all of a sudden the sun cameo ut.


In the previous example note the description in the past. The verb llovía appears in the imperfect. While this action is taking place, a different action is expressed in the preterit (salió). De momento (suddenly) points to the specific time that action took place.The preterit is the appropriate tense to express the “interrupting” action.


Mientras caminaba por la calle me saludó Juan.

While I was walking down the Street, Juan greeted me.


The ongoing action in the second example above is caminaba, expressed with reference to saludó, an action completed in the past. Again, the preterit is used to describe the “interrupting” action.



Ejercicio 5-10


Ahora tú. Escribe la forma apropiada del imperfecto.


1.- Yo_____________(dormir) cuando Robin me llamó para darme la noticia.


2.- ______________(Haber) una venta especial en mi tienda favorita de aparatos electrónicos.


3.- Robin___________ (querer) comprar un ordenador nuevo.


4.- La venta especial ______________(ser) fenomenal.


5.- Ese día ellos ____________(tener) una rifa (raffle) para una computadora.


6.- Yo_______________(preferir) descansar en casa pero acompañé a Robin.


7.- Cuando llegamos, los vendedores__________(ayudar) a muchos clientes.



Ejercicios 5-11


¿ Qué pasó mientras Luis…? Escribe la forma apropiada del imperfecto del verbo que corresponde a cada oración.


Bañarse     entrar        leer            regresar

Dormir       hablar        mirar          ser


1.- _______________ cuando sonó el despertador.


2.- _______________ cuando tú llamaste por teléfono.


3.- _______________ el periódico y entonces el perro quiso salir al patio.


4.- Salía de casa cuando____________ las ocho.


5.- ______________ en el mercado cuando empezó a llover.


6.- ______________ la televisión cuando empezó su película favorita.


7.- Mientras _____________ con un cliente, el jefe lo interrumpió.


8.- _______________ a casa cuando descubrieron al ladrón.



Ejercicio 5-12


Preguntas personales.


1.- ¿ Qué hacías ayer mientras trabajabas?


2.- ¿ Qué soñaste cuando dormías?


3.- ¿ Qué anunciaron mientras escuchabas la radio?


4.- ¿Dónde estabas cuando sonó teléfono?


5.- ¿ Quién te interrumpió cuando hablabas por teléfono?




Ejercicio 5-13


Frank viaja a España. Traduce. Usa el vocabulario útil



Frank was a methodical man. Each spring he would travel to Spain on a nonstop fight to Madrid. At the Chicago airport, he would show his Passport, check his luggage, and rest at the gate. He would get on the plane and ask the flight attendant for a pillow.In his pocket, he would carry a list of gifts for his family and would think of the days shopping at the Spanish department stores. He would fall asleep and when he arrived at the airport in Madrid, he would go to the luggage terminal, pick up his suitcase, and go through customs. Them he would go to his hotel.But last year was different.The plane made a stop in New York, an Frank decided to visit the city. Frank missed the flight to Madrid, and he determined to start a new tradition: to spend his vacation in the United States.





Vocabulario útil



Flight attendant



Nonstop flight

La aduana

El/la asistente de viaje/de vuelo

La puerta de embarque

El equipaje

El vuelo directo







To check (luggage)

El pasaporte

La maleta

La terminal

Facturar (el equipaje)

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