Preterite or Imperfect?

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I'm not sure whether to use preterite or imperfect when translating this sentence:

'In the year 2008, the aerospace industry consumed just a small percentage of the integrated circuits manufactured.?

While it is an action that has a specific beginning and end (which would be preterite) it could also be interpreted as a habitual event that happened over time (imperfect). I am leaning toward preterit, but this sentence seems to fall between the rules. Help!

11664 views
updated JUN 10, 2009
posted by Alicia2919

4 Answers

1
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While it is an action that has a specific beginning and end (which would be preterite) it could also be interpreted as a habitual event that happened over time (imperfect). I am leaning toward preterit, but this sentence seems to fall between the rules. Help!

That's because you are using fake rules that don't work. Ask yourself this question: do you want to specifically indicate in that sentence that the action finished at some point the past? If the answer is yes, you must use preterite; if not, imperfect.

Preterite can be perfectly used for habitual actions, provided that you intend to indicate that these habitual actions reached an end. When you use imperfect, you don't intend to indicate when these habitual actions finished (just yet). You can interpret an action as habitual with ALL Spanish tenses, including present, future and conditional, so the "habitual" rule is useless, trust me.

*Fui al gimnasio todos los días *(habitual action with preterite)

Although it is not specifically stated, there was a time span during which I went to the gym every day, and after which I STOPPED going, and this cut-off point is implicitly understood with this tense: you must picture the moment in the past after which I was no longer going every day. However, if you say:

*Iba al gimnasio todos los días *(habitual action with imperfect)

I was going to the gym every day for an specify period of time, and for the moment I don't intend to talk about when I stopped going, or even if I did. Just imagine me going over and over again, and don't think about the end.

The fact that an action is habitual or not is determined by the context, or time markers such as "todos los días", not by the choice of tense between imperfect and preterite.

*Voy al gimnasio todos los días *(habitual action with present)
*Iría al gimnasio todos los días *(habitual action with conditional)
*Iré al gimnasio todos los días *(habitual action with future)

The microchips were bought in a particular year, and the balance of those sales was generated AT the end of the year, so the action is clearly finished in the past, so you must use preterite. You'd use imperfect if people were still buying them before the end of the year, and you don't intend to reach that end in your story (just yet).

Imperfect can be used for habitual actions, yes (and so can any other verb in Spanish), but that doesn't mean that every time you want to talk about habitual actions, you have no option but to use imperfect. If someone tells you that a pair of scissors can be used to cut a plastic string, that doesn't mean that every single time you see a plastic string, you must use scissors and nothing else. Knives and other tools will also cut the string. Books on Spanish grammar tend to explain this pretty badly.

updated ENE 10, 2012
posted by lazarus1907
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Thank you-- that made it a lot clearer than the references I have been using. I appreciate it.

updated JUN 10, 2009
posted by Alicia2919
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I'm not sure whether to use preterit or imperfect when translating this sentence:

"In 2008, the aerospace industry bought a small percentage of integrated circuits manufactured."

While it is an action that has a specific beginning and end (which would be preterit) it could also be interpreted as a habitual event that happened over time (imperfect). I am leaning toward preterit, but this sentence seems to fall between the rules. Help!

Your sentence sounds awkward. May I suggest:

"In 2008, the aerospace industry bought a small percentage of **the **integrated circuits [that were] manufactured."

I would lean towards the preterite also, because the "in 2008" infers that you aren't including those in 2007 or 2009 (a beginning or end time is emphasized).

I don't understand your question in general, however. If you feel that either could be correct depending on what the writer wished to express (completed or habitual) then why ask if it has to be one or the other? Could it not be at the writer's discretion similar to choosing whether to use the subjunctive or imperative mood in some sentences depending on which mood that the author wishes to express?

I'm speaking in general, because I realize that many sentence structures dictate whether to use the imperfect or preterite tense. ( or subjunctive or indicative mood)

updated JUN 10, 2009
posted by 0074b507
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Oops, sorry-- I didn't copy the sentence correctly. Here's what the original writer said: "In the year 2008, the aerospace industry consumed just a small percentage of the integrated circuits manufactured." I had deleted it in the document I'm translating from English and retyped it by memory. smile

updated JUN 10, 2009
posted by Alicia2919