• Home  / 
  • Grammar
  •  /  Intro to the Spanish Imperfect Tense

Intro to the Spanish Imperfect Tense

By Anthony / April 28, 2017

I love the imperfect tense in Spanish! I would love tell you that my love for this particular tense was something significant, but it merely breaks down to the fact that the verbs are super easy to conjugate. There is something about the endings that sound almost musical and are just oh so easy to remember.

If you don’t already know, in Spanish there are two simple past tenses - the preterite and the imperfect. If you haven’t already learned the preterite, check out our article on that. Although both the preterite and the imperfect are past tenses, it is easier if you learn the preterite first and the imperfect second.

El Imperfecto - The Imperfect Tense

The imperfect tense is used to describe a habitual or repeated past action. The exact time the action began and/or ended is not important. The important words to always remember with the imperfect are habitual and repeated. This will make learning the imperfect that much easier.

So what do we exactly mean by repeated or habitual? Let’s look at some examples in English:

  • I always woke up early as a child.
  • Every year my family went skiing in the Alps.
  • For four years I was a student at the university

Each of these sentences talk about an action that happened more than once. It was a repeated or habitual action that occurred multiple times over a length of time.

There are keywords in Spanish that can help you determine that the imperfect needs to be used. These indicators help denote that the actions are either ongoing, repeated, or habitual.

Some common "time" expressions used with the imperfect are:

  • Siempre – always
  • A veces - sometimes
  • ​De vez en cuando – from time to time/once in a while
  • ​Con frecuencia – frequently
  • ​A menudo - often
  • Todos los días (años) – every day (year)

Conjugating Imperfect Verbs

As with all verbs that are conjugated, simply take of the AR ending and add the correct ending for the correct subject.

Los verbos regulares: AR

Yo - aba

Nosotros - ábamos

Tú - abas

Vosotros - abais

Usted - aba

Ustedes - aban

Él/Ella - aba

Ellos/Ellas - aban

Let’s check out some examples:

  • Ellos siempre desfilaban detrás de la banda.
  • A veces yo bailaba.
  • ​De vez en cuando ella llevaba un disfraz.
  • ​Todos los días, tú hablabas con tus padres.

Los verbos regulares: ER and IR

Yo - ía

Nosotros - íamos

Tú - ías

Vosotros - íais

Usted - ía

Ustedes - ían

Él/Ella - ía

Ellos/Ellas - ían

Here's some more examples:

  • ¿Tú recibías notas malas?
  • Ustedes vivían en Uruguay.
  • ​Yo esciribía muchos correos electrónicos.
  • Ellas tenían muchos amigas.

Keep in mind that there are no stem changes (of verbs) in the imperfect, so each verb is conjugated from the infinitive form.

Irregulars in the Imperfect

One of the best things about the imperfect tense is the very small list of irregular verbs. It is probably one of the reasons I love this tense so much. There are so few to remember!

The verbs ser, ir, and ver are the only verbs that are irregular in the imperfect tense. Unfortunately, these verbs are just something you have to memorize, but at least there are only three!

Ser

Yo - era

Nosotros - éramos

Tú - eras

Vosotros - erais

Usted - era

Ustedes - eran

Él/Ella - era

Ellos/Ellas - eran

Ir

Yo - iba

Nosotros - íbamos

Tú - ibas

Vosotros - ibais

Usted - iba

Ustedes - iban

Él/Ella - iba

Ellos/Ellas - iban

Ver

Yo -veía

Nosotros - veíamos

Tú - veías

Vosotros - veíais

Usted - veía

Ustedes - veían

Él/Ella - veía

Ellos/Ellas - veían

The imperfect of hay is había.

  • Había un concierto durante la fiesta.
  • Había fuegos artificiales durante la fiesta.

If you need some extra help remembering how to use the imperfect tense give this music video a listen:

As you can see, the imperfect tense is not so bad once you get the hang of it. The fact that there are only 3 irregular verbs should have you jumping for joy, I know I did when I learned that I would only have to memorize a few verbs that didn’t fit the mold.

Questions? We can help. Leave your question in the comment section below and we will be happy to answer and help you in any way we can.

Don’t forget to keep practicing, you are doing an amazing job! Take it one day at a time and before you know it you will be an imperfect perfectionist.

About the author

Anthony

Coffee drinker, Spanish speaker, habitual traveler, taking life one beautiful day at a time.

Leave a comment: