Using the Imperfect Tense
(a)Durante la guerra la gente no tenía comida. – During the war the people had nothing to eat.
(b)Mi mama siempre iba a las clases en el gimnasio. – My mom would (used to) always go to the gym.
2.To describe emotions or mental states as well as plans and intentions.
(a)Andrea estaba triste porque su tío estuvo enfermo. – Andrea was sad because her uncle was sick.
(b)Lana quería llamar a su novio pero él llamó antes. – Lana wanted to call her boyfriend but he called first.
3.To describe what was happening when another action occurred (note that the finished action is in the preterit).
(a)Hablábamos de Marcus cuando él llegó. – We were talking about Marcus when he showed up.
(b)Estaban en la calle frente al edificio cuando él explotó. – They were on the street opposite the building when it exploded.
4.To tell time or someone’s age in the past.
(a)Eran las siete de la noche cuando oí la noticia. – It was 7pm when I eard the news.
(b)Megan tenía doce años cuando conoció a Cameron. – Megan was 12 when she first met Cameron.
Preterit versus the Imperfect Tense
In addition to memorizing the rules of each tense it is important to understand that the Preterit Tense is most equivalent to the Past Tense in English. That said we have to appreciate that every language will not be completely equivalent to English as each language is unique. In Spanish there are two ways to speak of past events: the Preterit and Imperfect Tenses. The Preterit Tense is used with PAST COMPLETE ACTIONS/EVENTS, which may be used to speak of the beginning or the end of these complete actions/events in the past. On the other hand, the Imperfect Tense is used to emphasize the DURATION OF PAST ACTIONS/EVENTS. As a result of the nature of these tenses, in story telling the Preterit Tense is used to NARRATE and the Imperfect Tense is used to DESCRIBE.