Spanish Preterite vs Imperfect

Beginner Spanish - Level A1


The preterite is used when referring to actions that were completed in the past. The imperfect is used to denote an action that took place in the past, but the specifics of the timeframe are left up in the air. 

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Spanish A1


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Spanish Preterit vs. Imperfect

We have now learned about both past tenses and how they are used in Spanish: the Preterit Tense and the Imperfect Tense. Now, we’re going to learn how to choose when to use each tense.

As we have discussed, the Preterit Tense is used to talk about what we will refer to simply as a “one and done” action in the past tense. The Imperfect Tense is used to talk about what we will refer to simply as “over and over” actions done in the past tense.

There are key words that you can look and listen for that will tell you whether to use the Preterit or Imperfect. Let's check them out... 


Key Words



Ayer (yesterday)

A veces (sometimes)

Anoche (last night)

Cada día/semana/mes (every day/week/month)

Anteayer (the day before yesterday)

De vez en cuando (from time to time)

Esta mañana/tarde (this morning/afternoon)

Frecuentemente (frequently)

Hace un día/mes (one day/month ago)

Generalmente (generally)

La semana pasada (last week)

Nunca (never)

El mes pasado (last month)

Siempre (always)

El año pasado (last year)

Todo el tiempo (all the time) Todos los días (every day)


Now that you know these words and phrases, choosing between Preterit and Imperfect will be a breeze! 

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Let’s practice!

Choose the proper tense based on the context of the sentence given. Be sure to click READ MORE once you are finished to check the answer key!

  1. Mis amigos y yo (fuimos / íbamos) a la playa ayer.
  2. ¿Tú (comiste / comías) el brócoli generalmente cuándo eras niño?
  3. Anteayer mi novia me (cocinó / cocinía) la cena.
  4. El mes pasado mi hijo (aprendió / aprendía) caminar.
  5. Mis perros (rompieron / rompían) cosas en mi casa de vez en cuando.
  6. Nosotros (hablamos / hablábamos) por teléfono anoche.
  7.  Mis abuelos nos (visitaron / visitaban) frecuentemente.
  8.  La pastelería (cerró / cerraba) el año pasado.
  9.  Cuando era estudiante yo siempre (estudié / estudiaba) en la biblioteca.
  10.  Mi compañero de cuarto (compró / compraba) provisiones hace dos días.



Answer key: 1. Fuimos, 2. Comías, 3. Cocinó, 4. Aprendió, 5. Rompían, 6. Hablamos, 7. Visitaban, 8. Cerró, 9. Estudiaba, 10. Compró

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