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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!
Yo - era
Nosotros - éramos
Tú - eras
Vosotros - erais
Usted - era
Ustedes - eran
Él/Ella - era
Ellos/Ellas - eran
Yo - iba
Nosotros - íbamos
Tú - ibas
Vosotros - ibais
Usted - iba
Ustedes - iban
Él/Ella - iba
Ellos/Ellas - iban
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.