1. Imperfect and Preterite When Narrating: Tips and Tricks
  2. Reviewing Preterite and Imperfect Conjugation
  3. Preterite and Imperfect Tense When Narrating Stories

The preterite and the imperfect are among the most-used tenses in Spanish, so it is important to know how to differentiate them. For example, you might use both when narrating a story about the past.



Era un día lluvioso cuando Josué vio a esa persona a lo lejos.

It was a rainy day when Joshua saw this person in the distance.

Imperfect and Preterite When Narrating: Tips and Tricks

Rule 1. Although these are good guidelines on when it's better to use one tense over the other, it's really not super important to stress about whether you're using the right tense or not. In a moment, you'll realize that the most important thing is to focus on how you want to say something and which tense helps you emphasize that quality in your story.

Rule 2. Think of the preterite as the bones of the story and the imperfect as its meat. If this sounds far-fetched to you, don't worry — when you read the guidelines, this will surely make more sense.

Reviewing Preterite and Imperfect Conjugation

Before going deeper, it is important to remember the conjugation of regular and irregular verbs in the preterite and imperfect tense.

Rule 3. Regular verbs in the preterite tense have the following conjugation for verbs ending in -ar and verbs ending in -ir/-er.

Subject Pronouns-ar ending verbs-er and -ir ending verbs
yo hablé comí
hablaste comiste
él, ella, usted habló comió
nosotros, nosotras hablamos comimos
vosotros, vosotras hablasteis comisteis
ellos, ellas, ustedes hablaron comieron

Rule 4. Regular verbs in the imperfect have the following conjugation for verbs ending in -ar and verbs ending in -ir/-er.

Subject Pronouns-ar ending verbs-er and -ir ending verbs
yo hablaba comía
hablabas comías
él, ella, usted hablaba comía
nosotros, nosotras hablábamos comíamos
vosotros, vosotras hablabais comíais
ellos, ellas, ustedes hablaban comían

Rule 5. The three irregular verbs of the imperfect also exist in the preterite (but don't forget that the preterite has more irregular verbs).

Subject Pronounirserver
yo iba era veía
ibas eras veías
él, ella, usted iba era veía
nosotros, nosotras íbamos éramos veíamos
vosotros, vosotras ibais erais veíais
ellos, ellas, ustedes iban eran veían
Subject Pronounirserver
yo fui fui vi
fuiste fuiste viste
él, ella, usted fue fue vio
nosotros, nosotras fuimos fuimos vimos
vosotros, vosotras fuisteis fuisteis visteis
ellos, ellas, ustedes fueron fueron vieron

Preterite and Imperfect Tense When Narrating Stories

Rule 6. Continuing with our earlier analogy, the imperfect is used in a general sense to speak of the story's setting and things that happened in the background or that surrounded the main events. These are the bones. Meanwhile, what carries or sustains the story and gives it "meat" is the preterite.

Below is a table with these forms used side by side.

Narrates a series of consecutive actions Describes the story's setting
Indicates when an action began or ended Describes feelings or moods of the characters
Indicates actions taking place at a certain time in the past Indicates past actions that repeat

Let's look at these uses in an actual story. Verbs in the imperfect tense are in blue, while verbs in the preterite are in bold.

Era un verano lluviosa en la Ciudad de Méxcio. Mariano se sentía muy decaído, no tenía ganas de ir a la escuela, se sentía sin esperanza así que decidió tomar el metro e se dirigió al parque de Chapultepec. Como era un miércoles en la mañana, no había gente en el parque más que algunas personas haciendo ejercicio, así que se sentó cerca del lago, sacó su cuaderno y empezó a escribir todo lo que tenía en la cabeza. Despues de escribir por un buen rato, se quedó dormido y tuvo el sueño más extraño...

It was a rainy summer in Mexico City. Mariano was feeling very down, he didn't feel like going to school, he felt hopeless so he decided to take the subway and go to Chapultepec Park. As it was a Wednesday morning, there was no one in the park but a few people walking, so he sat down near the lake, took out his notebook and started to write down everything that was on his mind. After writing for quite a while, he fell asleep and had the strangest dream....

As you can see, the imperfect really makes us imagine the rainy city and the morning chill. It makes us empathize with Mariano, while the preterite is guiding us and telling us what is concretely happening.

So, the next time you tell a story from your past, don't focus on which verb is the right one. Instead, think about what you want to emphasize, where you want the listener's attention to go, and what is background information versus the main events.



________ una tarde calurosa, Martha no sabía qué hacer. (setting the scene)


correct answers.