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Pretérito Imperfecto in Spanish

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What is the pretérito imperfecto (imperfect tense) in Spanish?

The imperfect tense (Spanish: el pretérito imperfecto or imperfecto) is in addition to the pretérito perfecto simple and pretérito perfecto compuesto, another tense to talk about the past. It is used in descriptions and to say what was happening or used to happen.

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Regular and irregular verb conjugations

The conjugation of the imperfecto is much less complex than the other past tense forms.

Regular conjugation of the imperfecto

The imperfect of regular verbs is formed by dropping the endings -ar, -er, -ir of the infinitive form and adding the following endings:

  • for verbs ending in -ar with -aba, -abas, -aba, -ábamos, -abais, -aban
  • for verbs ending in -er, with -ía, -ías, -ía, -íamos, -íais, -ían
  • for verbs ending in -ir, with -ía, -ías, -ía, -íamos, -íais, -ían

-ar verbs conjugated

-er verbs conjugated-ir verbs conjugated
PronounsHablar (to speak)Comer (to eat)Vivir (to live)
Él / Ellahablabacomíavivía


enlightenedAttention: Note, that –er and –ir verbs share the same endings and all forms have a written accent mark.

Irregular conjugation of the imperfecto (ir, ver, ser)

It is easy to remember that there are only three verbs with irregular conjugations in the imperfect: ir, ser and ver

PronounsIr (to go)
Él / Ellaiba


PronounsSer (to be)
Él / Ellaera


Pronounsver (to see)
Él / Ellaveía

When to use the pretérito imperfecto in Spanish?

Ongoing actions

To describe continuing, ongoing actions in the past.

  • Miriam tenia muchos amigos. (Miriam had a lot of friends.)
  • No teníamos mucho dinero. (We didn’t have much money.)

Regular actions in the past

To say what used to happen or what you used to do regularly in the past.

  • Cuando vivía en Paris iba al teatro con frecuencia. (When I was living in Paris, I usedto go to the theatre frequently.)
  • Llamaba a su madre cada día. (She used to call her mum every day.)

Descriptions of states

To describe people or states of indefinite duration in the past.

  • Era un politico corrupto. (He was a corrupt polititian.)
  • Hacía sol. (It was sunny.)

Simultaneous actions in the past

To describe simultaneous actions in the past.

  • El padre cocinaba mientras los niños jugaban.  (The father was cooking while the children were playing.)
  • María escuchaba música mientras trabajaba. (Maria listened to music while working.)

Unexpected events

To describe what was happening or what the situation was when something else took place.

  • Me caí cuando cruzaba la calle. (I felt over when I was crossing the road.)
  • Estaba en casa cuando hubo un corte de electricidad. (I was at home when there was an electricity cut.)

Marker words of the pretérito imperfecto.

These expressions indicated the use of imperfecto. Most of the words highlight that the action takes place regularly or is a habit.

de joven / de niñowhen I was young / a child
a menudooften
algunas vecessometimes
casi nuncahardly ever
de vez en cuandofrom time to time
todos los días/añosevery day/year

Examples sentences for the imperfecto in Spanish

  • Antes comía carne. (Before, I used to eat meat)
  • Normalmente volvías de trabajar a las 18:00. (Usually you came back from work at 18:00)
  • Siempre veíamos la televisión después de cenar.  (We always watched TV after dinner)

Example text

“Garrapata” era un hombre feroz y barrigudo. Tenía una pata de palo y un garfio de acero en vez de mano. Era el terror de Londres. Tenía la nariz gorda y colorada como una berenjena.. Le faltaba media oreja y llevaba un parche negro para taparse un ojo de cristal. Por lo demás, no era demasiado feo.

Extraído de: El Pirata Garrapata. Juan Muñoz Martín


"Garrapata" was a ferocious and pot-bellied man. He had a wooden leg and a steel hook instead of a hand. It was the terror of London. His nose was big and red like an eggplant. He had half an ear and wore a black patch to cover his glass eye. Apart from that, it was not too ugly.

From El Pirata Garrapata. Juan Muñoz Martín


  1. Exercise to practice the Imperfecto
  2. ¿Do you know how to conjugate irregular verbs in Imperfecto?
  3. Use the imperfecto to complete the sentences.

Exercise to practice the Imperfecto

¿Do you know how to conjugate irregular verbs in Imperfecto?

Use the imperfecto to complete the sentences.

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