Imperfecto vs Pretérito

Verbos que inclinan hacia el imperfecto

Spanish past tenses
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Knowing whether to use the pretérito or imperfecto is particularly difficult when translating certain verbs into Spanish. Before reading this lesson, be sure you understand the basics of pretérito vs imperfecto.

Very broadly speaking, the Spanish imperfect is equivalent to the English past progressive (was/were + ___ing), but some English verbs are not often used in this form. So when translating things like was, had, and liked into Spanish, you really have to think about the meaning in order to decide which Spanish tense to use.

Spanish verbs that usually describe background information such as situations, states of being, or mental states are most commonly used in the imperfect:

Por ejemplo…

Me sentaba enfermo.   I felt sick (ongoing).
Siempre estaba enfermo.   I was always sick.
Tenía la gripe.   I had the flu.
Hacía frío.   It was cold out (background description).

But they are used in the pretérito when talking about something that happened suddenly, or something that occurred with a clear beginning and/or end.

Por ejemplo…

Me sentí enfermo.   I (suddenly) felt sick.
Estuvo enfermo durante una semana.   I was sick for a week.
Tuvo la gripe.   I got the flu.
Ayer hizo frío.   It was cold out yesterday.

 More imperfecto vs pretérito

 Pretérito vs imperfecto quizzes

Think you’ve got it? Test yourself on the difference between pretérito and imperfecto with these exercises:

Note: You must be logged into your Progress with Lawless Spanish account to take these tests. If you don’t have one, sign up – it’s free!

 Related lessons

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Pretérito vs imperfecto

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