Most used. Preterit or Imperfect? | SpanishDict Answers
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What do you think is most used in the Spanish language? The preterit or the imperfect? Which one would you spend more time on in your studies?

  • Posted Jan 6, 2011
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9 Answers

2 Vote

You could always study both of them at the same time by reading simple stories in Spanish. Most stories tend to be written in the past tense and will generally make use of both perfect and imperfect aspects (preterit and imperfect). If you learn this way, you will have a much better feel of how they are actually used within the language itself than if you simply sit and study verb conjugation charts for hours on end.

When you start out, it might be slow going at first, but every time you are unsure of a conjugation, be sure to look it up. Before long, however, you will start to recognize the difference almost instinctually and will have a much better grasp of the language than you would by studying the language in abstraction (i.e. endless sets of verb conjugation training).

That's not to say that you should not at least familiarize yourself with the basic verb endings, just that by repeatedly looking up unfamiliar endings as the words appear in context is probably a much more efficient and natural way to go about studying the language.

One thing I will mention, is that it really helps to have a solid understanding of the fundamental characteristics of verbs. Verbs generally have five¹ major characteristics: number, person, tense, mood and aspect. Of these, probably the most overlooked yet most important in terms of preterit vs imperfect is the idea of grammatical aspect. If you are unaware of the role aspect plays in this discussion, it would really benefit you to take a little time to investigate and familiarize yourself with the idea as it relates to the topic at hand. Armed with this understanding and at least a passing familiarity with the regular verb endings, not to mention lots of lots of reading, you should be able to gain at least a moderately comfortable appreciation of the usage of both tenses.

¹ Note: This is actually a bit of an oversimplification but should be sufficient for this discussion

1 Vote

They have completely different uses in Spanish. You will need them both. Learn them both.

Imperfect stresses that an action was on-going in the past (you were in the middle of doing something). Preterite emphasizes the action is over. You can describe the same event using both depending on how you wish to convey the situation.

Ayer fui al restaurante. Hoy iré a su casa. = Yesterday, I went to the restaurant. Today, I will go to your house.

Ayer iba al restaurante cuando mi madre me llamó. = Yesterday, I was going to the restaurant when my mom called me.

I am oversimplifying it, certainly.

  • Typically, Spanish uses imperfect for what we use past progressive (I was going / iba). - webdunce Jan 6, 2011 flag
1 Vote

Most used in the Spanish language... by whom? when? where?

If you are making lots of descriptions, you'll probably be using a lot of imperfect. If you are narrating a sequence of events, you'll probably be using a lot of preterite. There are many cases when each one allows to tell a story from a different point of view, and other cases where only one of them makes sense. You need both if you want to speak Spanish even if you don't intend to speak the language well.

1 Vote

The thing that seemed to give me the most problems was estar being in imperfect. I had to think of it in an incorrect English to see what the Spanish meant.

Estuve allí ayer = I was there yesterday

Estaba allí ayer = I was there yesterday

Think of the second example as "I was being there yesterday" or like "I was in the middle of being there."

Estaba allí ayer cuando mi madre me llamó = I was there yesterday when my mom called me.

1 Vote

The imperfect is much more regular, so you should spend more time studying the preterite. This has nothing to do with how often they are used in speaking though.

1 Vote

Or you could ignore both tenses and only speak/read/write about present and future events. It might limit your comprehension and ability to communicate but think of the time you'd save!

0 Vote

The preterite us used more than the imperfect. Not withwithstanding some hispanics overuse the preterite when they should use the imperfect. example: en vez de- hacia calor,, suelen decir hizo calor etc...... Sergio

0 Vote

Izanoni1 wrote:

You could always study both of them at the same time by reading simple stories in Spanish. Most stories tend to be written in the past tense and will generally make use of both perfect and imperfect aspects (preterit and imperfect). If you learn this way, you will have a much better feel of how they are actually used within the language itself than if you simply sit and study verb conjugation charts for hours on end.

I couldn't agree more. I know if I'm telling a really colorful story, both perfect and imperfect tenses have to be used. I think that reading stories like this helped me more than anything to aquire the feel and sound of these past tenses.

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You know I was looking up articles written by William Bull (an author whose work I sometimes enjoy reading) and I came across an article published in the language journal Hispania back in the 1950s on the topic of (then) modern Spanish verb form frequencies.

The study was planned to have comprised 1350 random samples of 50 running words from over 300 (mostly contemporary) authors of all genres and encompassing 100 different subjects. In all, the final tally included 45 groups of thirty 50-word samples making up a total sampling of 9394 verb forms.

The frequency of verb forms from this sampling was then ranked and the results were as follows (for the preterit and imperfect):

Verb Form Total Count Percent Frequency Overall Rank
Preterit 1141 12.15% 3
Imperfect 697 7.42% 4

Interesting results, but as far as I can tell really of little practical value in that, as others have already mentioned, both are necessary to know.

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