Spanish Preterite vs Imperfect - Part II

In Spanish there are two past tenses: preterite and imperfect. The preterite tense is used to describe past actions that have been completed. These actions have a definite beginning and end point. The imperative tense is used to describe past actions that were habitual and ongoing. It is also used to set the stage of past actions. Learn more by reading Preterite vs Imperfect. Below we're going to explore how using the preterite vs imperfect changes the entire meaning of five important Spanish verbs.

  • querer - to want
  • conocer - to know (a person)
  • poder - to be able to
  • tener - to have
  • saber - to know (something)

querer

Juan tried to rent the car.
(completed action)
Juan quiso alquilar el coche.
(preterite)
Juan wanted to rent the car.
(no definite beginning or end)
Juan quería alquilar el coche.
(imperfect)

no querer

Juan refused to rent the car.
(completed action)
Juan no quiso alquilar el coche.
(preterite)
Juan did not want to rent the car.
(no definite beginning or end)
Juan no quería alquilar el coche.
(imperfect)

conocer

I met my wife ten years ago.
(completed action)
Conocí a mi esposa hace diez años.
(preterite)
At that time she didn't know my family very well.
(no definite beginning or end)
En aquella época ella no conocía a mi familia muy bien.
(imperfect)

saber

He found out the day before yesterday.
(completed action)
Él lo supo anteayer.
(preterite)
He knew we were going to throw a party.
(no definite beginning or end)
Él sabía que ibamos a dar una fiesta.
(imperfect)

tener

Jorge received a ticket from the police officer.
(completed action)
Jorge tuvo una multa de la policia.
(preterite)
Jorge used to have a car.
(no definite beginning or end)
Jorge tenía un coche.
(imperfect)

poder

Mario succeeded in cleaning the kitchen.
(completed action)
Mario pudo limpiar la cocina.
(preterite)
Fernando was able to attend the meeting.
(no definite beginning or end)
Fernando podía asistir a la reunión.
(imperfect)