Imperfect

Imperfect

Imperfect forms from the Spanish in Texas Corpus

The imperfect (imperfecto) is one of the two simple past tenses in Spanish. It is used for ongoing or recurrent actions in the past. It is also used for descriptions, states of being, and for providing background information about the past.

Forms

Regular verbs can be divided into 2 categories in the imperfect: ar verbs and er/ir verbs. The regular imperfect endings are showed in the tables below.

ar verbs

hablar  to speak
yo hablaba nosotros/as hablábamos
tú hablabas  
él/ella/usted hablaba
ellos/as/ustedes hablaban

ir and er verbs

comer  to eat
yo comía nosotros/as comíamos
tú comías  
él/ella/usted comía
ellos/as/ustedes comían
Cada octubre había una peregrinación grandísima. En toda la carretera, creo que eran doce carriles, no había carros, nada más la carroza en la que iba la muñeca.
Every October there was a huge pilgrimage. In the whole highway, I think there were twelve lanes, there were no cars, just, the carriage where the doll went.

Irregular Verbs

There are only 3 irregular verbs in the imperfect: serirver

ser  to be
yo era nosotros/as éramos
tú eras  
él/ella/usted era
ellos/as/ustedes eran
ir  to go
yo iba nosotros/as íbamos
tú ibas  
él/ella/usted iba
ellos/as/ustedes iban
ver  to see
yo veía nosotros/as veíamos
tú veías  
él/ella/usted veía
ellos/as/ustedes veían
Yo creo que el reto más difícil para mí era hablar el inglés.
I think that the most difficult challenge for me was speaking in English.

Uses

The imperfect tense has two primary uses: to describe on-going actions and states of being in the past, and to state habitual actions in the past. The preterit and imperfect are each used quite differently in narration.

States of Being or Past Description

The imperfect is used to describe people, places, conditions or situations in the past. Some verbs occur more frequently in the imperfect when they are in the past since they typically describe states of being: ser, tener, estar, gustar, etc. But these verbs do sometimes occur in the preterit.

A mí me gustaba negociar, me gustaba hacer otras cosas.
used to like trading, I used to like to do other things.

Habitual Actions in the Past

The imperfect is also used to state habitual actions in the past. These past habits are often translated as used to. Note that the imperfect may also be translated by the simple past in English; however, the context, and often adverbs, let you know the action is a past habit.

Ella y yo convivíamos con mi papá y mi mamá en la iglesia, nos íbamos de compras.
She and I used to live together with my dad and my mom in the church, we used to go shopping.

For more information about the uses of the imperfect and comparisons with the preterit, see also the page about narration.