Spanish Imperfect Tense Forms

Quick Answer

The imperfect tense (el imperfecto ) is one of several past tenses in Spanish. It is used mainly to describe past habitual actions or to set the scene in the past, what a person “used to” do or “was” doing. Below you will find when to use it as well as how to conjugate it for regular and irregular verbs.

Regular Imperfect Forms

There are only two sets of endings for regular imperfect verbs, one for -ar verbs and one for both -er and -ir verbs. Simply remove the infinitive ending and add the correct imperfect ending depending on the subject of the action.

Regular Imperfect Verb Endings

Subject-ar verbs-er and -ir verbs
yo-aba-ía
-abas-ías
usted, él, ella-aba-ía
nosotros-ábamos-íamos
vosotros-abais-íais
ustedes, ellos, ellas-aban-ían

Since the 1st person and 3rd person singular have the same conjugation endings, context and subject pronouns will indicate the subject if it is ambiguous.

Yo caminaba por el parque cada domingo. (I walked through the park every Sunday.)
Mi abuela caminaba por el parque cada sábado. (My grandmother walked through the park every Saturday.)
Yo tenía un perro. (I used to have a dog.)
Mi vecino tenía un perro. (My neighbor used to have a dog.)

Irregular Imperfect Forms

There are only three verbs with irregular conjugations in the imperfect. No stem-changes, no spelling-changes, only these three:

Subjectir (to go)ser (to be)ver (to see)
yoibaeraveía
ibaserasveías
usted, él, ellaibaeraveía
nosotrosíbamoséramosveíamos
vosotrosibaiseraisveíais
ustedes, ellos, ellasibaneranveían

Uses of the Imperfect Tense

In general, the imperfect can translate to what someone was doing or used to do. It sets the background knowledge or scenery for a story.

1. Actions Repeated Habitually

These are the activities that you did over and over for a long period of undetermined time.

Almorzábamos cada día.
We used to eat lunch together every day.
 
Todos los sábados las mujeres iban de compras.
Every Saturday the ladies would go shopping.
 

2. Actions that Set the Stage for other Actions

The imperfect verb is interrupted by a preterite verb.

Estaba durmiendo cuando el teléfono sonó.
I was sleeping when the telephone rang.
 
Estaba cocinando la cena cuando entré a casa.
He was cooking dinner when I came in the house.
 

3. Telling Time and Dates in the Past

Eran las tres de la tarde.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon.
 
Era el jueves, el 9 mayo.
It was Thursday, the 9th of May.
 

4. Describing a Scene or Person in the Past

La niña tenía 4 años.
The little girl was 4 years old.
 
Mi profesor era alto y tenía el pelo ondulado.
My professor was tall and had wavy hair.
 
El campo era bello.
The countryside was beautiful.
 
Hacía calor esa noche.
It was hot that night.
 

5. Describing Mental/Emotional States or Desires in the Past

Me sentía feliz con mi trabajo nuevo.
I was happy with my new job.
 
Quería mudarme a otro país.
I wanted to move to another country.
 

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