Preterite vs Imperfect: Know When To Use Which One [+12 Examples & Quiz]

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In this Spanish grammar lesson, you will learn about preterite vs imperfect.

In this lesson you will learn about:

  • preterite vs imperfect
  • how to use preterite vs imperfect is used in sentences
  • how you can quiz yourself on preterite vs imperfect
  • how you can practice with flashcards on preterite vs imperfect
  • how and why you should use the courses of Language Atlas to learn Spanish

By the end of the lesson you will know all about preterite vs imperfect!

Table of Contents

Introduction to Preterite vs Imperfect

Preterite SpanishPreterite EnglishImperfect SpanishImperfect English
anochelast nighta menudooften
ayeryesterdaya vecessometimes
el año pasadolast yearcada día/semana/mes/añoevery day/week/month/year
de repentesuddenlycon frecuenciafrequently
en (mes/estación/año)in (month/season/year)de vez en cuandofrom time to time
hace (tiempo)(time) agoen aquella épocaat that time
la semana pasadalast weekfrecuentementefrequently
el verano pasadolast summermuchas vecesmany times
muchoa lot
nuncanever
siemprealways
tantas vecesso many times
todas las semanasevery week
todos los díasevery day
todo el tiempoall the time
varias vecesseveral times

In this lesson we will explore two tenses that can be used to talk about events in the past.

It can be tricky to know when to use which one.

If you haven’t already done so, please read the lessons on when to use the preterite tense and when to use the imperfect tense.

You need to know the content of those lessons to understand this one.

Here is a small refresher.

The preterite will be used for past actions with a clear beginning and end.

The imperfect will be used for past actions without a clear beginning and end.

The table of trigger words has also been included to help understand when to use which tense.

Preterite vs Imperfect with Trigger Words

The preterite trigger words specifically tell you when an action took place.

The imperfect trigger words tell you in general when an action took place.

Here are some examples with the preterite:

Ayer llegué tarde al trabajo porque había muchísimo tráfico.

Yesterday I was late for work because of heavy traffic.

Hace un rato nos encontramos con Alex por la calle. ¡Casi no lo reconozco!

A while ago we met Alex in the street – I almost didn’t recognise him!

La semana pasada estuvimos haciendo reformas en la casa.

Last week we were doing some reforms in the house.

Mi cuñada estuvo en Croacia el verano pasado y vino encantada.

My sister-in-law was in Croatia last summer and was delighted.

The trigger words trigger the preterite because they refer to a restricted and specific time period in the past, with has a beginning and an end.

Here are some examples with the imperfect:

Cuando era pequeña, siempre íbamos a un camping junto a la playa de Conil.

When I was little, we always went to a campsite by the beach in Conil.

Cada día se despertaba por culpa de las pesadillas.

Every day he woke up because of nightmares.

Recuerdo que a menudo visitabais aquella iglesia. ¿Por qué lo hacíais?

I remember that you often visited that church, why did you do that?

Sergio siempre veía este programa con su abuela.

Sergio always watched this programme with his grandmother.

The trigger words trigger the imperfect because they express frequency or an ongoing length of time without a clear beginning and end.

Preterite vs Imperfect Without Trigger Words

Not every sentence contains trigger words.

In those cases, it is extra important to know when to use which one.

The preterite will be used for past actions with a clear beginning and end.

The imperfect will be used for past actions without a clear beginning and end.

Please keep this in mind whilst you look at the following examples:

preterite

Mi madre me llamó.

My mom called me. [you can see that your mom has has finished calling]

imperfect

Mi madre me llamaba.

My mom called me. [your can see that your mom is calling]

preterite

Mi padre lanzó la pelota.

My dad threw the ball. [you can see that your dad has has finished throwing the ball]

imperfect

Mi padre lanzaba la pelota.

My dad threw the ball. [your can see that your dad is throwing the ball]

Example Sentences on Preterite vs Imperfect

This section of the lesson on preterite vs imperfect is about seeing the tenses used in sentences.

This is valuable because you can improve your understanding of preterite vs imperfect through examples.

Ayer llegué tarde al trabajo porque había muchísimo tráfico.

Yesterday I was late for work because of heavy traffic.

Hace un rato nos encontramos con Alex por la calle. ¡Casi no lo reconozco!

A while ago we met Alex in the street – I almost didn’t recognise him!

La semana pasada estuvimos haciendo reformas en la casa.

Last week we were doing some reforms in the house.

Mi cuñada estuvo en Croacia el verano pasado y vino encantada.

My sister-in-law was in Croatia last summer and was delighted.

Cuando era pequeña, siempre íbamos a un camping junto a la playa de Conil.

When I was little, we always went to a campsite by the beach in Conil.

Cada día se despertaba por culpa de las pesadillas.

Every day he woke up because of nightmares.

Recuerdo que a menudo visitabais aquella iglesia. ¿Por qué lo hacíais?

I remember that you often visited that church, why did you do that?

Sergio siempre veía este programa con su abuela.

Sergio always watched this programme with his grandmother.

preterite

Mi madre me llamó.

My mom called me. [you can see that your mom has has finished calling]

imperfect

Mi madre me llamaba.

My mom called me. [your can see that your mom is calling]

preterite

Mi padre lanzó la pelota.

My dad threw the ball. [you can see that your dad has has finished throwing the ball]

imperfect

Mi padre lanzaba la pelota.

My dad threw the ball. [your can see that your dad is throwing the ball]

Quiz Yourself on Preterite vs Imperfect

At the end of every lesson you can do a small quiz.

You will see the sentences of the previous chapter.

You will either need to fill in the blanks, choose the correct multiple choice option, or both.

Once you are done the correct answer will be shown.

You can redo the quiz as many times as you want!

How to Practice With Flashcards for This Lesson

Using flashcards is an absolute necessity when it comes to learning a language!

It is the best way to memorize what you learn, you can personalize your progression because it adapts to your actions, and all flashcards have audio to improve your hearing and pronunciation.

Please read our article on how to learn a new language for more information on flashcards and the best way to learn a new language.

There are two ways to practice with Flashcards for this lesson.

  1. Anki
  2. The Flashcards in our Courses

Anki is a free software with which you can create and practice flashcards.

After you have downloaded Anki for free, you can get our Spanish B1 Anki Deck.

This Anki Deck contains 2,052 flashcards with which you can practice absolutely everything for Spanish B1.

All the flashcards have text, images, explanations, and audio.

You can also use our courses that have flashcards integrated alongside lessons with audio, quizzes and much more!

However, I am sure you are wondering, what are your courses, and why should I take them?

The Courses of Language Atlas

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Using my experience and by doing research I created Language Atlas, a platform where people can learn French and Spanish in the most effective and efficient way.

I created free lessons and quizzes so that there would always be an easy and accessible way for people to learn or brush up on their language skills.

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