Preterite and Imperfect Compared

1. Habitual/Customary occurrence
 "used to"

1. Single occurrence of past actions

2. Unspecified number of repetitions

2. Specified number of repetitions 

3 Actions that took place during an indefinite time period in the past

3. Actions that took place in a definite time period

4. Descriptions


Physical condition (health)







5. Action in progress


Él trabajaba en Costa Rica...

Ella estaba en su oficina...

Hablaba con mis compañeros.

5. Action that interrupts the action in progress

cuando su hijo nació

cuando su esposo llamó

cuando oí las noticias

Spanish imperfect equivalent to three English forms:


Trabaja en L.A.

I used to work in L.A.

I was working in L.A. (and then...)

I worked in L.A. (but we don’t know for how long)

Key words:

·      Siempre

·      Muchas veces

·      A menudo

·      Con frecuencia

·      A veces

·      Todos los ______

·      Cada día

·      De vez en cuando

·      Durante

·      Mientras

Remember with the preterite the action is always completed. Reference is made to when the action began, ended, or both.
Key words

·      Hoy

·      Ayer

·      Anteayer

·      La semana pasada

·      El año pasado

·      Anoche

·      Esta mañana

Ayer por la mañana

Special Meanings

Wanted/Wished                QUERER           Tried/Refused

Knew facts                        SABER               Found out (beginning

                                                                           of knowledge)

Knew people/places          CONOCER       Met

Was able                           PODER                     Was able and DID

Had to                               TENER QUE     Had to and DID

Was (place)                       ESTAR               Got/Reached/Arrived