Imperfect or perfect tense?

Reminder: the imperfetto (imperfect tense) and the passato prossimo (perfect tense) are both used to talk about actions that took place in the past, but are used in different situations.

Quando vivevo a Roma vivere, imperfetto, lavoravo lavorare, imperfetto in un hotel.

When I lived in Rome, I worked in a hotel.

Ieri sera ho guardato un film d’avventura. guardare, passato prossimo

Yesterday evening I watched an adventure movie.

We use the imperfetto (imperfect) to talk about:

  • repeated actions (habits or routines) in the past

Da piccolo, Matteo studiava inglese. studiare, imperfetto

When Matteo was little, he used to study English.

  • to talk about actions that happened at the same time in the past

Mentre passeggiavo lungo la spiaggia passeggiare, imperfetto, mangiavo un gelato. mangiare, imperfetto

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

  • with some expressions to do with time, like da piccolo (when… was young), mentre (while), spesso (often), sempre (always), ogni giorno/anno/venerdì (every day/year/Friday), etc. 

Mentre parlavo parlare, imperfetto con Laura, è suonato il telefono. 

While I was talking with Laura, the phone rang. 

We use the passato prossimo (perfect tense) to talk about:

  • actions that were completed at a specific moment in the recent past

Ieri sono uscito dall’hotel Baldoria alle 18. uscire, passato prossimo

Yesterday I left Hotel Baldoria at 6 p.m.

  • when listing actions that occured in the past

Domenica scorsa ho passeggiato lungo la spiaggia passeggiare, passato prossimo, ho mangiato un gelato mangiare, passato prossimo e ho giocato a pallavolo. giocare, passato prossimo

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

  • with some expressions to do with time, like ieri (yesterday), la settimana scorsa (last week), l'anno scorso (last year), nel 2013 (in 2013), all'improvviso (suddenly), etc.

Camminava sul ponte e all’improvviso è caduto nell'acqua. cadere, passato prossimo

He was walking on the bridge and suddenly he fell into the water.

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