Imperfect Tense

In Portuguese, as in other Romance languages, there is a separate past tense to relate to conditions and situations in the past not covered by the Preterite. The imperfect is used to refer to habitual and continuous actions in the past, and there are other usages too. Thus, the verb tense is difficult to translate in English because it could have at least three interpretations. For example, if I say Eu andava, that sentence could mean “I walked,” “I would walk,” “I used to walk,” or “I was walking.” Many Portuguese grammars are dedicated to the presentation of this verb tense and how it relates to the Preterite. Below is the conjugation for the imperfect verbs:

TRACK 72

The Imperfect Tense: Regular Verbs

Subject

— ar

— er

— ir

eu

falava

comia

dormia

você

falava

comia

dormia

ele/ela

falava

comia

dormia

nós

falávamos

comíamos

dormíamos

vocês

falavam

comiam

dormiam

eles/elas

falavam

comiam

dormiam

As can be seen in the table above, the verb tense is very regular, despite its name being “imperfect.” As far as verb tenses go, this one is very student-friendly. For one, the first three grammatical persons are conjugated exactly the same. Second, the first person plural has an accent across the board, in all conjugations. Finally, the vocês and eles form are also exactly alike, as in all other conjugations. The trick with this verb is to concentrate on its many usages, which can be very distinct. However, there are some irregular imperfect verbs:

TRACK 73

The Imperfect Tense: Irregular Verbs

Verb

Conjugation

ser (to be)

era, éramos, eram (were, used to be)

ter (to have)

tinha, tínhamos, tinham (had, used to have)

vir (to come)

vinha, vínhamos, vinham (came, used to come)

pôr (to put)

punha, púnhamos, punham (put, used to put)

These are among the few irregular verbs in the imperfect tense, which makes a very “regular” and consistent verb tense. Notice that three out of four verbs have the — nh — combination, making it easier to identify this verb. The next section goes into more detail about the difference between the “preterite” and the “imperfect.”

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