Grammar & Vocabulary

Past Tense Review

Here is a review on the pretérito perfecto and the pretérito imperfecto tenses.

Level: Intermediate

As you probably know, there are two past tenses in Spanish. This is the easiest way to use them:

 

1. For specific actions in the past, use pretérito perfecto:

Fui al supermercado el viernes pasado. I went to the supermarket last Friday.
Ayer por la noche, cociné pescado. Last night, I cooked fish.
El viernes estudié toda la noche. On Friday, I studied all night.
Llamé a mi mamá el domingo. I called my mom on Sunday.
El sábado pasado me levanté temprano. Last Saturday I woke up early.

 

2. For habitual, recurrent activities in the past tense (“used to do something,” or “would always do something”), use pretérito imperfecto:

Yo antes comía mucho. In the past, I used to eat a lot.
Siempre iba a casa de María después del trabajo. I would always go to Mary’s house after work.
Yo bailaba muy bien. I used to dance very well.
A veces la llamaba por la noche. Sometimes I would call her at night [in the past].
¿Manejabas a tu trabajo normalmente? Would you usually drive to work? [In the past]

 

3. For a descriptive use of verbs in the past tense (“was/were doing something”], use pretérito imperfecto:

La gente bailaba y se divertía. People were dancing and having fun.
Ella miraba la televisión y comía palomitas. She was watching TV and eating popcorn.
Mientras yo cocinaba mi hermano fregaba los platos. While I was cooking my brother was washing the dishes.

Notes on #2 and #3: These two uses are context-dependent. For example, if we just say “Peter cantaba,” that can mean either “Peter used to sing” or “Peter was singing.” Context will always help us understand the actual meaning of the sentence.

Conjugation review, for regular verbs:

Pretérito Perfecto Pretérito Imperfecto
-AR -ER/-IR -AR -ER/-IR
-aba -ía
-aste -iste -abas -ías
-ió -aba -ía
-amos -imos -ábamos -íamos
(-asteis) (-isteis) (-abais) (-íais)
-aron -ieron -aban -ían

Practice:

1. Write down all the activities you did last week, using pretérito perfecto.

2. Write down all the activities you used to do as a kid, using pretérito imperfecto.

3. Write down all the activities people were doing at the last birthday party you attended, using pretérito imperfecto.

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