The Imperfect (el imperfect)
-AR verbs, add -aba
Hablar yo hablaba tú hablabas él/ella/Ud. hablaba nosotros/as hablábamos vosotros/as hablabáis ellos/ellas/Uds. hablaban
-ER or -IR verbs, add -ía
Comer Vivir yo comía vivía tú comías vivías él/ella/Ud. comía vivía nosotros/as comíamos vivíamos vosotros/as comíais vivíais ellos/ellas/Uds. comían vivían
Uses of the Imperfect
The imperfect tense is used to describe an event or action in the past without indicating the start or end point of the action, event or state.
To describe habitual actions in the past:
- --Íbamos a la piscina todos los días en el verano.
- We used to go to the pool every day in the summer.
- --Cuando yo era joven, pasaba mucho tiempo en la casa de mi abuela.
- When I was young, I used to spend a lot of time at my grandma’s house.
- --Los picnics siempre tomaban lugar en el parque.
- The picnics always took place (or always used to take place) in the park.
Notice that the speaker does not indicate the beginning or the end of the action, event or state in any of these examples. The speaker does not emphasize when what he is describing started or when it ended. For example, in the second sentence (“Cuando era joven…”), the speaker does not indicate that she started being young or that she stopped being young. She is describing that she when she was in the middle of being young she used to go to her grandma’s house.
To express emotional, mental or physical states in the past:
- --El chico se sentía triste.
- The boy was feeling sad.
Again there is no indication as to when he started feeling sad or when he stopped feeling sad. In this sentence we know that he was in the middle of being sad.
To describe two or more simultaneous events in progress in the past:
- --Yo leía y mi novio trabajaba en el jardín.
- I was reading and my boyfriend was working in the garden.
The speaker does not indicate when these two simultaneous events/actions began or ended, just that they were taking place at the same time in the past.
To provide background information in a story:
- --Era un día muy bonito. Hacía mucho sol y soplaba un viento suave. Se escuchaban los gritos de los niños que jugaban en el parque cuando de repente...
- It was a nice day. It was very sunny and a gentle breeze was blowing. One could hear the shouts of the children that were playing in the park when suddenly…
When you are setting the stage to narrate a story or event in the past it is common to describe what was in the middle of going on. It didn’t start being a nice day or stop being a nice day—it was in the middle of being a nice day. The sun was in the middle of shining and the breeze was in the middle of blowing. The shouts of the children in the park didn’t begin or end. But this type of scene setting makes us wonder what will start to happen.
What verb tense do you think that you should use to after “cuando de repente (when suddenly)…”?