The Imperfect Tense
At some point in your life, you have undoubtedly heard people describe what things were like in the “good old days” when they were younger. Spanish has a specific past tense dedicated to this sort of descriptive narrative:the imperfect. Now, keep in mind that there is nothing imperfect about it.
Not surprisingly, the
Irregular Verbs in the Imperfect
Like any good verb tense, the imperfect has a few verbs that are irregular in their conjugation. These aren't very tricky though, since they follow the regular pattern after you make the irregular change. You'll probably learn them as easily as you learned the regular conjugations.
So, how is the imperfect used? Well, we've seen one context already: Spanish uses this tense to describe how things used to be in the past. For example, listen to Track 40, which has some examples of how you might talk about what your life was like when you were ten years old. Repeat each sentence after you hear it, paying close attention to the placement of the accent.
(When I was ten years old, I was very shy.)
(My family and I lived in Acapulco.)
(Dad worked in a hotel.)
(Lots of famous people stayed in the hotel.)
Have a look at the following list for a summary of the uses of the imperfect:
(You were very slender as a boy.)
States of Being:
(I wasn't angry yesterday; I was sad.)
(José always used to get up early and go out for a walk.)
Ongoing Actions at a Past Time:
(You were playing while I was working.)
(My grandmother was twenty when she met my grandfather.)
(It was three in the afternoon and there was no one in the house.)
(It was August sixth …)
The English phrases “used to” and “would” that describe habitual actions in the past are expressed with the imperfect in Spanish. For example, “When I was little, I would always walk to school” would be translated into Spanish as: Cuando era pequeño, siempre andaba a la escuela.
Practice The Imperfect
Translate the following sentences into Spanish and then check your answers in Appendix D. There may be some slight differences, but you should be able to tell if you've got the idea.
My brother was very funny when he was a boy.
Susana and I used to be good friends.
When you were sixteen you worked in a restaurant, didn't you?
I liked to go to bed late when I was younger.
Martin and Clara used to play the piano together at parties.