Spanish Imperfect Tense

Overview

There are only two sets of endings for regular imperfect verbs in Spanish, one for -ar verbs and one for both -er and -ir verbs. To conjugate a regular verb in the imperfect tense in Spanish, simply remove the infinitive ending (-ar, -er, or -ir) and add the imperfect ending that matches the subject.

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As we learned in our previous lesson about the Preterit Tense, we have two forms of the past tense in Spanish: The Preterit Tense and The Imperfect Tense. We have covered the Preterit Tense and all of its irregulars so now it’s time to learn about the Imperfect Tense!

The Imperfect Tense in Spanish is a tense used for actions that are recurring, that do not have a specific start or end, or that were happening when something else interrupted (Preterit Tense). Think about this tense as being something that happened “over and over” while the Preterit Tense was “one and done”.

Let’s look at a few examples in English. The bold parts are the verbs that will be conjugated in the Imperfect Tense:

used to watch Barney as a child.

When he was a kid, he always traveled to Texas.

We were watching tv when the power suddenly went out!

How to conjugate in the Imperfect Tense

The endings for -AR verbs in the Imperfect Tense

-aba-ábamos
-abas-abais
-aba-aban

NOTE: The endings for the yo and él/ella/usted forms are the same. This means the only way to tell the difference is based on the context of the sentence in which it’s used.

The endings for -ER and -IR verbs in the Imperfect Tense

-ía-íamos
-ías-íais
-ía-ían

NOTE: The endings for the yo and él/ella/usted forms are the same. This means the only way to tell the difference is based on the context of the sentence in which it’s used. ALSO, the accent on the first “i” in each of these endings must have an accent. 

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Additional Topics

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A past participle (participio) is a very useful verb form that can function as an adjective or as part of a perfect tense when used in conjunction with the verb haber. To form the past participle of a regular verb, you drop the infinitive ending (-ar, -er, -ir) and add -ado to the stem of -ar verbs and -ido to the stem of -er and -ir verbs. This is equivalent to adding -ed to many verbs in English.

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In Spanish, the passive is formed in exactly the same way, using the verb ser (meaning to be) and a past participle. When you say who the action is or was done by, you use the preposition por (meaning by).

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Superlatives in Spanish are adjectives that you’ll use to compare three or more things where one is “the most” or “the least” in certain characteristics.

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

Writing:
I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
Reading:
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
Listening:
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.