Preterite vs Imperfect - Table of Contents

Preterite and Imperfect: A First Look

The preterite tense and the imperfect tense are both used to talk about the past in Spanish. The student of Spanish must learn when to use one tense or the other and this is a frequent source of frustration for many beginning and intermediate students. However, the difficulty students encounter is often due to the fact that textbooks describe how to form these two tenses without first explaining the basic differences between them and why Spanish requires two different verb forms to talk about the past. The following two sections show when to use the preterite tense and when to use the imperfect. You'll notice that the examples below are all in English. This is because, for now, I want you to focus on the different ways we talk about the past in English without worrying about new Spanish verb forms yet. We will begin to look at how to form the preterite and imperfect in the next section of this review.

Use the preterite tense to...

In all of the above examples, the verbs in bold would be translated using the preterite tense in Spanish. Now let's look at when to use the imperfect.







Use the imperfect tense to...

In all of the above examples, the words in bold would be translated using a single verb in the imperfect tense in Spanish. Now that you have a basic idea of what types of sentences require the preterite and what types require the imperfect, let's take a look at how to form these two tenses.



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