Spanish Imperfect Tense Uses

The imperfect tense in Spanish describes past actions that happened habitually. It indicates what a person "used to" to do and "was" doing in the past. It also sets the stage for the past. You can learn more about the imperfect tense by visiting Spanish Verbs: Imperfect Tense. Below we'll explore the uses of the imperfect tense in Spanish.

1. Actions that are repeated habitually.

These are actions and activities that occurred again and again over a long, undetermined period of time.

The young women would always chat with the young men at the parties.
Las señoritas siempre charlaban con los muchachos en las fiestas.
Every Sunday the ladies would go to the church.
Todos los domingos las mujeres iban a la capilla.
We used to eat lunch with our parents every day.
Almorzábamos con nuestros padres cada día.

2. Actions that set the stage for other actions.

The imperfect past tense sets the stage for other actions interruped by a verb in the preterite tense.

I was eating when my friend arrived.
Estaba comiedo cuando llegó mi amigo.
I was eating dinner when the door bell rang.
Cenaba cuando el timbre de la puerta sonó.
We were going to the store in our car when the tire went flat.
Ibamos a la tienda en nuestro coche cuando la llanta se pinchó.

3. To tell past times and dates.

The irregular imperfect form of the verb "ser" (to be) is used to tell time and dates in the past.

It was eight o'clock in the evening when we arrived.
Eran las ocho de la tarde cuando llegamos.
It was Friday, the 13th of July.
Era el viernes, el 13 de Julio.
It was six o'clock in the morning.
Eran las seis de la mañana.

4. Providing a description of a scene or person in the past.

The Spanish imperative tense is used for describing people and scenes form the past, as shown in the examples below.

The little boy was only three years old.
El niño tenía tres años nada más.
The man was tall and muscular.
El hombre era alto y músculoso.
The countryside was the most beautiful.
El campo era lo más bello.
It was very cold that day.
Hacía mucho frio ese día.

5. Emotional and mental states of mind.

The imperitive is used to describe mental states, emotional states or desires in the past.

I was very happy to see you arrive safely.
Me sentía muy feliz verte llegar sin daño.
I wanted to find a new job.
Quería encontrar un nuevo empleo.
I liked the girl a lot.
Me gustaba mucho la chica.