Préterito imperfecto vs pretérito indefinido

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Préterito imperfecto vs pretérito indefinido

Reminder: the pretérito imperfecto and the pretérito indefinido are two different past tenses (the imperfect tense and the simple past, respectively).

Trabajaba TRABAJAR todos los días hasta que gané GANAR la lotería.

I used to work every day until I won the lottery.

Uses of the pretérito imperfecto:

  • Habitual actions in an imprecise past.

De pequeño Teo estudiaba inglés ESTUDIAR

When Teo was little, he used to study English.

  • To talk about the circumstances surrounding an action or event.

Mientras paseaba PASEAR por la playa iba IR comiendo un helado.

While I was walking along the beach, I was eating ice cream.

  • To describe people, places or things.

El día de su fiesta, Ana llevaba un disfraz de pirata LLEVAR

On the day of her party, Ana was wearing a pirate costume.

Note: some adverbs of time or expressions that are typically used with the imperfect are siempre (always), cuando era joven (always, when I was young), mientras (while), todos los días/años/viernes, sábados (every day/year/Friday, Saturday), etc.

Uses of the pretérito indefinido:

  • Finished actions from a specific moment in the past.

El año pasado Teo estudió inglés ESTUDIAR

Last year Teo studied English.

  • To list actions that occur in a specific moment in the past.

El domingo paseé PASEAR por la playa, comí COMER un helado y jugué JUGAR a voleibol.

On Sunday, I walked along the beach, I ate an ice cream, and I played volleyball.

  • To describe the qualities or characteristics of an action or event.

La fiesta de Ana fue SER increíble, me divertí DIVERTIR mucho.

Ana’s party was amazing; I had a lot of fun.

  • Actions that suddenly interrupt a narrative.

Caminaba por el puente hasta que cayó al agua CAER

He was walking on the bridge when he fell in the water.

Note: some adverbs of time or expressions often used with the simple past are ayer (yesterday), la semana pasada (last week), el año pasado (last year), en 2013 (in 2013), de repente (suddenly).


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