Preterit vs. Imperfect

Preterit Tense Verb Endings
 
AR Verbs
 
(Yo) é
(Tú) aste
(Él/Ella/Usted) ó
(Nosotros/as) amos
(Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes) aron

 
  Hablar 
 
 (yo) hablé = I talked
 (tú) hablaste = You talked
 (él) habló = He talked
 (ella) habló = She talked
 (usted) habló = You (formal) talked
 (nosotros) hablamos = We talked
 (ellos/ellas) hablaron = They talked
 (ustedes) hablaron = (All of you) talked
 
 
Example Sentences:

HABLAR (To speak):

Present Tense:
You talk to John. = Tú hablas con John.
They talk tonight. = Ellos hablan esta noche.

Preterit Tense:

You talked with John. = Tú hablaste con John
They talked last night. = Ellos hablaron anoche.

CAMINAR (To Walk):

Present Tense:
I walk to your house. = Yo camino a tu casa.
They walk quickly. = Ellos caminan rápidamente.

Preterit Tense:
I walked to your house. = Yo caminé a tu casa.
They walked quickly. = Ellos caminaron rápidamente.

 
 
 
 
 
ER and IR Verbs
 
 (Yo) í
(Tú) iste
(Él/Ella/Usted)
(Nosotros/as) imos
(Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes)ieron

 
Comer

(yo) comí = I ate (tú) comiste = You ate (él) comió = He ate (ella) comió = She ate (usted) comió = You (formal) ate (nosotros) comimos = We ate (ellos/ellas) comieron = They ate (ustedes) comieron = (All of you) ate

 
Vivir

(yo) viví = I lived (tú) viviste = You lived (él) vivió = He lived (ella) vivió = She lived (usted) vivió = You (formal) lived (nosotros) vivimos = We lived (ellos/ellas) vivieron = They lived (ustedes) vivieron = (All of you) lived

 
Examples Sentences:
 
 
 
COMER (To Eat):

Present Tense:
I eat with Juan. = Yo como con Juan.

Preterit Tense:
I ate with Juan. = Yo comí con Juan.
 
Present Tense:
They eat tacos. = Ellos comen tacos.

Preterit Tense:
They ate tacos. = Ellos comieron tacos.
 
 
 
VIVIR (To live)
 
Present Tense:
She lives with her sister. = Ella vive con su hermana.

Preterit Tense:
She lived with her sister. = Ella vivió con su hermana.

 
 
 
When to use the Preterit Tense
 
The preterit tense is basically used to express actions in the past that have a clear starting or ending point. Sudden actions, the start of an action or event and the ending of an action or event are common situations that clearly necessitate the use of the preterit tense. Below you will see explanations and examples for specific situations that would call for
the preterit.
 
 
1. To tell about the beginning or ending of a past action.
 
Examples:
 
a) Yo terminé el trabajo el veinte de octubre. I finished the work on the 20th of October.
 
 
b) Comenzó a llover a las nueve de la mañana. It began to rain at 9 in the morning.
 
 
c) Dejé de estudiar a las cuatro de la tarde. I stopped studying at 4 in the afternoon.
 
 
 
 
2. To express an action that is seen as completed.
 
Examples:
 
a) Terminé el ensayo el sábado. I completed the report on Saturday.
 
 
b) El concierto duró tres horas.
    The concert lasted three hours.
 
 
 

c) Los Tigres ganaron el partido ayer. The tigers won the game yesterday.
 
 
 
3. To express a series of completed actions.
 
 
Example:
 
a) En la obra de teatro los actores cantaron, bailaron, y gritaron. =
In the play the actors sang, danced and screamed.
 
b) Ayer el equipo de fútbol jugó el partido, cenó en el restaurante chino y celebró la victoria en el bar.

Yesterday the soccer team played the game, ate dinner in the Chinese restaurant, and celebrated their victory in the bar.
 
c) Durante la clase de historia con el Señor Pérez yo estudié para el examen, leí el libro sobre México, y escribí una carta.
 
During Mr. Perez’s history class yesterday I studied for the test, I read the book about Mexico, and I wrote a card.

4. To express an instantaneous action.
 
Examples:
 
 
a) De repente se echó a cantar. All of a sudden she started singing.
 
 
b) Apareció una foto de Salina en la pantalla de mi computadora.

A photo of Salina appeared on the screen of my computer.
 
c) Sin pensarlo recogí el dinero y me fui. Without thinking about it I picked up the money and left.
 
_____________________________________________________________________________
 
 
Imperfect Tense Verb Endings
 
  AR Verbs
 
(Yo) aba
(Tú) abas
(Él/Ella/Usted) aba
(Nosotros/as) ábamos
(Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes) aban
 
 
 
 Hablar

(yo) hablaba = I was talking or I used to talk (tú) hablabas = You were talking or you used to talk (él) hablaba = He was talking or he used to talk (ella) hablaba = She was talking or she used to talk (usted) hablaba = You (formal) were talking or used to talk (nosotros) hablábamos = We were talking or we used to talk (ellos/ellas) hablaban = They were talking or they used to talk (ustedes) hablaron = (All of you) were talking or used to talk

Example Sentences:

CAMINAR= (to walk)
 
Present Tense
Yo camino a la tienda. = I walk to the store.

Preterite Tense
Yo caminé a la tienda. = I walked to the store.

Imperfect Tense
Yo caminaba a la tienda. = I used to walk to the store.
 
  ER/IR Verbs
 
 
 (Yo) ía
(Tú) ías
(Él/Ella/Usted) ía
(Nosotros/as) íamos
(Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes) ían
 
Comer
 
 (yo) comía = I was eating or I used to eat (tú) comías = You were eating or you used to eat (él) comía = He was eating or he used to eat (ella) comía = She was eating or she used to eat (usted) comía = You (formal) were eating or you (formal) used to eat (nosotros) comíamos = We were eating or we used to eat (ellos/ellas) comían = They were eating or they used to eat (ustedes) comían = (All of you) were eating or used to eat

 
 Vivir

(yo) vivía = I was living or I used to live (tú) vivías = You were living or you used to live (él) vivía = He was living or he used to live (ella) vivía = She was living or she used to live (usted) vivía = You (formal) were living or you (formal) used to live (nosotros) vivíamos = We were living or we used to live (ellos/ellas) vivían = They were living or they used to live (ustedes) vivían = (All of you) were living or used to live

 
 Example sentences:

APRENDER = TO LEARN

Present tense:
Ella aprende la materia. = She learns the material.

Preterit tense:
Ella aprendió la materia. = She learned the material.

Imperfect tense:
Ella aprendía la materia. = She used to understand the material/She was understanding the material.
 
 
When to use the Imperfect Tense
 
 
The imperfect tense is used to express past actions that were seen as ongoing without a definite starting and ending point. The following are situations that would call for the use of the imperfect:
 
 
1. Telling what a person, place or thing/event was like in the past.
 
Example:
 
a) Mi tío era un hombre muy inteligente. = My uncle was a very smart man.

b) En el desierto el viento soplaba mucho. = In the desert the wind used to blow a lot.
 
 
c) La computadora de Juan siempre nos daba problemas. = Juan’s computer always gave us problems.
 
 
2. Talking about mental states in the past.
 
Examples:
 
 
a) Me sentía orgulloso por mis habilidades. = I was proud of my skills.
 
b) Mis amigos estaban nerviosos por la guerra en Iraq. = My friends were nervous because of the war in Iraq.
 
c) Yo estaba enojado con mi primo. = I was angry with my cousin.
 
 
 
3. Habitual actions
 
Examples:
 
 
a) Yo caminaba a la tienda en vez de tomar el tren. = I used to walk to the store instead of taking the train.
 
 
b) íbamos a la playa cada domingo. = We used to go to the beach on Sundays.
 
 
c) Ellos me visitaban en mi casa todos los días. = They used to visit me at my house every day.
 
 
4. Referring to the time in the past.
 
Examples:
 
a) Eran las tres de la mañana. = It was three in the morning.
 
b) Era la una cuando me llamó mi hermano. = It was one o’clock when my brother called.
 
 
5. Giving background details.
 
Examples:
 
 a) El hombre era alto y tenía veintitrés años de edad. = The man was tall and he was twenty-three years old.
 
b) Llovía mucho durante el concierto en el parque. = It was raining a lot during the concert in the park.
 
c) Todos los niños en el autobús eran altos. = All the kids on the bus were tall.
 
 
 
6. Telling about an action that was occurring when another action interrupted it.
 
Examples:
 
a) Ella corría en el parque cuando le llamó un amigo. = She was running in the park when a friend called her.
 
b) Yo estudiaba en la biblioteca cuando me interrumpió un sonido fuerte. = I was studying in the library when a loud noise interrupted me.
 
 
c) Ella limpiaba la cocina cuando entró el ladrón. = She was clearing the kitchen when the thief entered.
 
 
d) Yo leía cuando llegó mi prima con las noticias malas. = I was reading when my cousin arrived with the bad news.
 
 
 
 

In conclusion, the preterit can be generally described as the verb tense you use to describe situations that occurred in the past that have a clear starting or ending point. The imperfect tense is used to describe situations in the past that are viewed as ongoing with no clear starting or ending point.



More Exercises

  • Script for Preterit vs. Imperfect Listening Passage
  • Preterit Tense Conversation Exercise
  • Imperfect vs. Preterit Quiz
  • Preterit Tense Exercise for AR Verbs
  • Spanish Listening Lesson - Preterit vs. Imperfect
  • Imperfect vs. Preterit AR Verbs Exercise
  • Past Tense Activity for ER and IR Verbs
  • Preterit vs. Imperfect Fill in the Blanks
  • Imperfect vs. Preterit Matching Activity