Había vs Hubo (Imperfect vs Preterite)

There are two ways to say There was/were in Spanish.

Haber in El Pretérito ImperfectoHabía

Haber in El Pretérito IndefinidoHubo

Have a look at the following examples:

Había un perro en el parque.
There was a dog in the park.

Hubo un accidente en la carretera.
There was an accident on the road.

Hubo buen entretenimiento en la fiesta.
There was good entertainment at the party.

Había bastantes clientes en el departamento de juguetes.
There were quite a few clients in the toys department.

In all examples above the English translation is the same (there was/were), and they are all referring to past actions. This is why many learners find it hard to understand which one to use.

So, how do we know when to use HABÍA or HUBO?

Deciding when to use había or hubo will depend on whether the speaker:

  • wants to emphasise the fact that the action had a beginning and an end (hubo), that is to say s/he sees that action as completed.
  • doesn't see it as a completed action in the past, but as more of a descriptive function, describing what was happening (había) at that moment in the past.

For example:

Hubo mucha comida en la fiesta.
There was a lot of food at the party. (completed action in the past)

Había mucha comida en la fiesta.
There was a lot of food at the party. (action not completed in the past, descriptive)

Hubo una reunión importante el sábado.
There was an important meeting on Saturday.

Había una reunión importante el sábado.
There was an important meeting on Saturday.

Important note: notice how in the last two examples above the specific time tha action happened is specified: "el sábado", which would generally trigger El Pretérito Indefinido (hubo) , however we can also use El Pretérito Imperfecto (había) using the same specific time frame if what we want to convey is an action that "was happening", as an ongoing action within that specific timeframe.

See also:

Also: Irregulares en Indefinido/mismas terminaciones

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Hubo una reunión importante el sábado.
There was an important meeting on Saturday.


Había un perro en el parque.
There was a dog in the park.


Había una reunión importante el sábado.
There was an important meeting on Saturday.


Hubo mucha comida en la fiesta.
There was a lot of food at the party. (completed action in the past)


Hubo buen entretenimiento en la fiesta.
There was good entertainment at the party.


Había mucha comida en la fiesta.
There was a lot of food at the party. (action not completed in the past, descriptive)


Hubo un accidente en la carretera.
There was an accident on the road.


Había bastantes clientes en el departamento de juguetes.
There were quite a few clients in the toys department.


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