Pretérito Imperfecto

The Spanish pretérito imperfecto (or simply “imperfecto”) is one of the two most used past tenses. Unlike its counterpart, the pretérito indefinido, the imperfecto is used to describe general characteristics or routine actions that took place in the past.

The imperfect is used in a similar manner to the the term “used to” in English, in that it doesn’t indicate a specific event, or a specific time, but is a more general recollection.

Mi tío me hablaba por teléfono mucho.
My uncle spoke to me by telephone often.

Iba a los partidos del Boca los domingos.
I used to go to the Boca games on Sundays.

In contrast with the preterito indefinido (and indeed the presente) the pretérito imperfecto is a joy to learn and conjugate, as there are only two endings, and only three irregular verbs. The challenge is in learning when to use it.

How to conjugate in the Spanish Imperfecto Tense

PersonAR VerbsER/IR Verbs
Yo-aba-ía
-abas-ías
Él / ella / usted-aba-ía
Nosotros-ábamos-íamos
Vosotros-abais-íais
Ellos / ellas / ustedes-aban-ían

This is the first verb in Spanish you will learn where both the yo and él/ella forms are identical, although this becomes much more common the further you study. In such situations, it is legitimate to either use or drop the pronoun as required, depending on the context of the discussion.

Irregular Verbs in the Imperfect Tense

  • ser
  • ir
  • ver

(No, honestly, that’s all!)

They are conjugated as follows:

PersonSerIrVer
Yoeraibaveía
erasibasveías
Él / ella / ustederaibaveía
Nosotroséramosibamosveíamos
Vosotroseraisibaisveíais
Ellos / ellas / ustedeseranibanveían

So now you’ve learned the conjugations of the imperfect, it is important to study the rules for using each of the past tenses to avoid confusion.

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