Verbs that Change Meaning in the Preterite
All about Aspect
Some Spanish verbs have different meanings depending on whether they are perfective or imperfective.
Perfective is just a fancy way of saying that a verb describes an action that is considered complete at or by a certain time. Put another way, the perfective aspect is used in tenses that describe singular events that occur (initiate and/or terminate) at the temporal reference point in the sentence. These tenses include the preterite tense and all perfect tenses.
Imperfective is just an equally fancy way of saying that a verb describes an action that is considered incomplete or ongoing in the time referenced in the sentence. Tenses in the imperfective aspect describe events that are ongoing or habitual in relation to the temporal reference point. These tenses include the simple present tense, the imperfect tense, progressive tenses, the conditional tense, and the future tense.
When it comes down to it, the inherent meaning of the verb (from the perspective of a Spanish speaker) does not change with a change in aspect. Instead what is effected is the durative nature of the event being described. This difference comes up a lot when looking at differences between the preterite and and imperfect tenses. Let's take a look!
Change of Pace
Here is a list of verbs that change meaning according to the perfective/imperfective relationship described above.
Verbs that Change
|Infinitive||Imperfective Translation||Perfective Translation|
|to know||to meet|
|to be||to become/to get|
|to be able to||to manage|
|to want||to try|
|to not want to||to refuse|
|to know||to find out|
|to have||to receive|
Now, let's take a closer look at examples of a few of the above verbs in the different tenses mentioned earlier.
|Imperfective||Simple Present||I know the truth.|
|Imperfective||Imperfect||I knew the truth.|
|Perfective||Preterite||I found out the truth.|
|Perfective||Present Perfect||I have found out the truth.|
|Imperfective||Simple Present||He has a letter.|
|Imperfective||Imperfect||He had a letter.|
|Perfective||Preterite||He received a letter.|
|Perfective||Present Perfect||He has received a letter.|
|Imperfective||Simple Present||You don't want the invitation.|
|Imperfective||Imperfect||You didn’t want the invitation.|
|Perfective||Preterite||You refused the invitation.|
|Perfective||Present Perfect||You have refused the invitation.|
|Imperfective||Simple Present||They are able to do it.|
|Imperfective||Imperfect||They were able to do it.|
|Perfective||Preterite||They managed to do it.|
|Perfective||Present Perfect||They have managed to do it.|
Remember that the meanings of the verbs above don't really change. What's going on is that an action in the perfective aspect is viewed as a single event or completed action, whereas an action in the imperfective aspect is considered ongoing in the period of time referenced in the sentence.