Spanish Grammar: The Preterite and Imperfect Past Tenses

Spanish Grammar: The Preterite and Imperfect Past Tenses

Creative Commons Image via The LEAF Project


Spanish Grammar: The Preterite and Imperfect Past Tenses
la gramática española: el pretérito y el imperfecto

  • Communicates types of actions occurring in the past.
  • Identify differences and utilize the preterite and imperfect past tenses.


60-Second Spanish Grammar Lesson

  • Coming Soon!


You already know how to conjugate the preterite and the imperfect tenses in Spanish. The use of them depends on what kind of meaning you wish to convey. The choice depends on your perspective: how do you view the action or state of being?

Preterite Imperfect
Completed actions Ongoing or habitual
Series of completed events / actions Actions in progress
“Key Words” associated with time:
ayer, anteayer, anoche, una vez, de repente…
Descriptions / Characteristics
  Time (with SER)
  Age (with TENER)
  “Key Words” associated with time:
todos los días, siempre, frecuentemente, mientras, de niño(a)

Some Spanish words change their meanings slightly in the preterite:

saber : found out

conocer : met

poder : could

querer : tried

The preterite and imperfect often occur in the same sentence. The imperfect is used to say what was happening and the preterite is used for the event that interrupted the first event.

Miguel estudiaba cuando sonó el teléfono.

The preterite and imperfect are also used together in the presentation of an event. The preterite narrates the action while the imperfect sets the stage, describes the conditions that caused the action or emphasizes the continuing nature of a particular action.


¿Qué hacía José?
What was José doing?

¿Qué hacía cuando era niño?
What did you do when you were a child?

¿Qué jugaba?
What did you play?

¿Cómo se sentía?
How did you feel?

¿Cuándo terminó su tarea?
When did you finish your homework?

¿Por qué hizo eso?
Why did you do that?

¿Cuántos libros leyó usted?
How many books did you read?

¿Dormiste bien anoche?
Did you sleep well last night?



Quizlet Activity

  • Coming Soon!