Spanish Grammar Tip

El imperfecto

The Spanish language, alike other romance languages, has a variety of tenses to convey ideas that refer to the past. Depending on what nuance we are expressing we employ a specific past tense rather than another. One of them is el pretérito imperfecto (the imperfect) and here follows how to form it and when to use it.


Yo (I) hablaba
Tú (you) hablabas
Él/Ella (he/she) hablaba
Nosotros (we) hablábamos
Vosotros (you all) hablabais
Ellos/Ellas (they) hablaban


Yo (I) comía
Tú (you) comías
Él/Ella (he/she) comía
Nosotros (we) comíamos
Vosotros (you all) comíais
Ellos/Ellas (they) comían


Yo (I) vivía
Tú (you) vivías
Él/Ella (he/she) vivía
Nosotros (we) vivíamos
Vosotros (you all) vivíais
Ellos/Ellas (they) vivían


Forming the imperfect, as it happens for all other tenses in Spanish, simply requires taking the infinitive form of the verb, dropping the verb group ending (-ar, -er, -ir) and replacing it with the imperfect ending depending on who is executing the action.

As the table above shows, ar verbs present a set of endings for the imperfect tense that features a distinctive aba, whereas er and ir verbs both shares the same imperfect endings with the feature ía.

In terms of its uses, the imperfect expresses actions that are continuous in the past. In particular, the imperfect can define an action that happened in the past either at the same time as another action or when another action ended.


Ex. = Juan ponía la mesa mientras Ana terminaba de ver la peli.  → Juan was setting the table whilst Ana was about to finish watching the movie.

Manuel preparaba la cena cuando Sergio llegó a casa. → Manuel was cooking dinner when Sergio got home.

The imperfect is also used to describe an action or activity that someone used to do in the past over the course of some time.

Ex. = Cuando tenía cinco años, jugaba al fútbol todos los findes. → When I was five years old, I used to play football every weekend.


Lastly, the imperfect is considered the easiest tense in Spanish when it comes to irregular verbs, as there are only three that do not follow the conjugation rule explained above.


SER (to be)
Yo (I) era
Tú (you) eras
Él/Ella (he/she) era
Nosotros (we) éramos
Vosotros (you all) erais
Ellos/Ellas (they) eran


IR (to go)
Yo (I) iba
Tú (you) ibas
Él/Ella (he/she) iba
Nosotros (we) íbamos
Vosotros (you all) ibais
Ellos/Ellas (they) iban


VER (to see)
Yo (I) veía
Tú (you) veías
Él/Ella (he/she) veía
Nosotros (we) veíamos
Vosotros (you all) veíais
Ellos/Ellas (they) veían


Let’s look at some examples:

Cuando era pequeño, veía los dibujos animados todas las mañaña y tardes. → When I was little, I used to watch cartoons every morning and afternoon.

Cuando vivía en Barcelona, siempre iba de paseo por la playa para relajarme. → When I was living in Barcelona, I used to go to the beach to relax all the time.

Era de noche e íbamos en coche cuando oímos un ruido muy fuerte. → It was late at night and we were driving when we heard a very loud noise.


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