Imperfect Tense in Spanish

The name of this tense in Spanish is: "pretérito imperfecto"

Imperfect conjugation

As we said in the previous lessons: In Spanish, there are 3 conjugations "ar", "er" and "ir". Now, we show you, the conjugation rules for the regular verbs:

First Conjugation "-ar"

First, we will see the conjugation of the "ar" verbs, the conjugation "ar" of the imperfect is quite different to the "er" and "ir" conjugation:

saltar (to jump)

[stem] + "-ar"
yo saltabaI jumped
tú saltabasyou jumped
él saltabahe jumped
nosotros saltabamoswe jumped
vosotros saltábaisyou jumped
ellos saltabanthey jumped

Second Conjugation "-er"

Now, we will study the conjugation of the "er" verbs:

querer (to want)

[stem] + "-er"
yo queríaI wanted
tú queríasyou wanted
él queríahe wanted
nosotros queríamoswe wanted
vosotros queríaisyou wanted
ellos querían they wanted

Third Conjugation "-ir"

Finally, we learn the conjugation of the "ir" verbs, if you notice, in the imperfect, there are no differences between the second and third conjugation("-er" and "–ir" verbs).

dormir (to sleep)

[stem] + "-ir"
yo dormíaI slept
dormíasyou slept
él dormíahe slept
nosotros dormíamoswe slept
vosotros dormíaisyou slept
ellos dormíanthey slept

NOTE: "dormir" and "querer" are irregular verbs but they have regular conjugation for the imperfect tense.

Summary of 'imperfect' endings

Next, we have a table for you with all of the first, second and third person conjugations of regular verbs in the imperfect indicative.

[stem] + "-ar"
[stem] + "-er"
[stem] + "-ir"

Uses of the imperfect

  1. It is used to describe habitual actions that have already been carried out in the past.

    Mis hijos jugaban en el parque todas las tardes (ahora ya son mayores y no juegan en el parque)
    My kids played in the park every afternoon (now they are older and don´t play in the park)

    Cuando vivía en Barcelona, (yo) paseaba por la playa muchas tardes
    When I lived in Barcelona, I walked on the beach many afternoons

  2. Also, it is used to describe objects, places, or persons from the past

    Esa lámpara me gustaba mucho. Era muy moderna y tenía un color más vivo.
    I liked that lamp. It was very modern and had a more vibrant color.

    Sí, fui al concierto. El sonido era perfecto, había muchas luces y la gente se sabía todas las canciones.
    Yes, I went to the concert. The sound was perfect, there were many lights and the people knew all of the songs.

The question with the imperfect indicative

When we ask a question, generally, we switch the position of the verb to that of the personal pronoun.

tú ganabas
you won
¿ganabas (tú)?
did you win?
ella respondía
she answered
¿respondía (ella)?
did she answer?

Negation of the imperfect indicative

To make the negative form, simply put the word "no" before the verb, or, in other words, to the left of the verb.

yo caminaba
I walked
yo no caminaba
I did't walk
él lavaba
he washed
él no lavaba
he didn't wash