Quick Answer

The Spanish imperfect tense (el pretérito imperfectoo copretérito) is used to describe past habitual actions or to talk about what someone was doing when they were interrupted by something else.

How Do You Form the Imperfect Tense in Spanish?

Regular Imperfect Forms

There are only two sets of endings for regular imperfect verbs in Spanish, one for -ar verbs and one for both -er and -ir verbs.

To conjugate a regular verb in the imperfect tense in Spanish, simply remove the infinitive ending (-ar, -er, or -ir) and add the imperfect ending that matches the subject.

Check out the table of regular imperfect endings below.

Regular Imperfect Verb Endings

Subject-ar Verbs-er and -ir Verbs
él, ella, usted-aba-ía
ellos, ellas, ustedes-aban-ían

Irregular Imperfect Forms

There are only three verbs with irregular conjugations in the imperfect: ir, ser, and ver. Here they are!

Irregular Imperfect Conjugations

SubjectIr (to go)Ser (to be)Ver (to see)
él, ella, usted
ellos, ellas, ustedes

Uses of the Imperfect Tense

In general, the imperfect is used to talk about past actions, conditions, or events that occurred habitually or repeatedly or that were in progress at a point in the past. It is also used to tell time, talk about dates, give a person's age, and describe characteristics, conditions, and feelings in the past. Read on for more about these uses of the imperfect.

1. Habitual or Repeated Actions

Habitual or repeated actions are those that were done over and over in the past. These are often things a person used to or would do.

Almorzábamos juntos 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 Were in Progress in the Past

It's quite common to see the imperfect used to talk about something that was happening when something else occurred. It's also used for actions that continued in the past for an unspecified period of time.

When talking about a past action in progress that was interrupted, the action in progress is in the imperfect, while the interrupting action is in the preterite. For more on the differences between the preterite and the imperfect, check out this article!

Iba a clase cuando sonó el teléfono.
I was going to class when the telephone rang.
Mi papá cocinaba cuando entré a casa.
My dad was cooking when I came in the house.
A veces le dolían las manos y las piernas.
Sometimes her hands and legs ached.

3. Times and Dates

The imperfect is used to talk about times and dates in the past.

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

4. Age

The imperfect is commonly used to talk about age in the past.

La niña tenía 4 años.
The little girl was 4 years old.
Los perros tenían dos años cuando los adopté.
The dogs were two years old when I adopted them.

5. Descriptions of Characteristics, Conditions, and Feelings

The imperfect is used to give descriptions in the past, especially those that set the scene in terms of the senses.

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.
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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