¡Hola a todos! I was wondering if someone could clarify the difference between the preterite and the imperfect tenses for me. I’ve been studying Spanish for roughly eight years now and this is a concept that has been driving me insane the whole time. I’m majoring in Spanish with an intent to teach eventually teach it, so I want to do whatever it takes to get this concept mastered. My professor told me to think of it like this:

Ejemplo del pretérito: Cuando fui a Honduras, bailé con mis amigos. Ejemplo del imperfecto: Bailaba cuando mis amigos y yo fuimos en el parque.

That then raises the question: What is the difference between the imperfect (cantaba, bailaba, etc.) and combining the imperfect form of estar and the gerund (ex: Estaba cantando en la iglesia).

¡Muchas gracias para ayudarme!

  • Posted Feb 4, 2012
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1 Answer



We have library articles, lessons, and countless threads explaining the differences if you care to do some research.

Basically, however, the answer lies in the titles of the tenses. el pretérito perfecto simple y el pretérito imperfecto.

pretérito means past (pasado) so in both tenses the verb's action occurs in the past.

perfecto=completed So the action is considered over and done with in the past. Emphasis can be placed on the beginning, end or duration of the past action, but the verb's action is viewed as completed in the past. [often translated with the -ed or simple past tense in English [e.g. talked, fell]

imperfecto=incomplete Habitual or reocurring, imcomplete, or there is no importance placed on time, beginning, end, or duration [often translated with was+present participle [e.g. was talking]

An example of that would be the interrupted action in the past context.

María was painting (imperfect past) the ceiling, when the can of paint tipped over (preterit past).

The difference between the imperfect past tense and the past continuous tense could be shown by considering when the imperfect tense was used to show habitual or reoccurring action. Nadabamos cada día del verano. The past continous, however, only refers to an ongoing action in the past. Estábamos charlando antes de la reunión.

¡Bienvenido al foro!

Welcome to the forum!