Using El Imperfecto vs El indefinido (time markers)

In Spanish we can use both El Pretérito Imperfecto and El Pretérito Indefinido to talk about past actions. Which tense to use can be tricky to understand for English speakers because we can use the same English translation for both tenses. 

El Pretérito Imperfecto tells us in general when an action took place, whereas El Pretérito Indefinido tells us specifically when an action took place. 

Some words and phrases indicate specific timeframes, and therefore signal the use of either El Pretérito Imperfecto or El Pretérito Indefinido.

Let's have a look at these examples:

Siempre iba a Galicia con mis padres.
I always used to go to Galicia with my parents.

Todos los días estudiabas para el examen.
You studied for the exam every day.

Cada mes visitábamos a nuestra abuela.
Every month we visited our grandmother.

¡Reían juntos tantas veces!
They laughed together so many times!

In the examples from above, the time markers tend to trigger El Pretérito Imperfecto because they generally refer to an ongoing length of time or express frequency with no definite beginning and end.

Here is a list of Common time markers that require the Imperfect.

Now have a look at these other examples:

Ayer Mario comió pescado.
Yesterday Mario ate fish.

El año pasado fuimos a Italia.
Last year we went to Italy.

Nos gustamos desde el primer momento.
We liked each other from the first moment.

Ayer por la mañana hice mi trabajo.
Yesterday morning I did my work.

In the examples from above, the time markers tend to trigger El Pretérito Indefinido because they generally refer to a more limited and specific timeframe in the past, with a beginning and an end.

Here is a list of Common time markers that require the Preterite.

See also Using El Imperfecto vs El indefinido (general use).

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Todos los días estudiabas para el examen.
You studied for the exam every day.


El año pasado fuimos a Italia.
Last year we went to Italy.


Ayer por la mañana hice mi trabajo.
Yesterday morning I did my work.


Siempre iba a Galicia con mis padres.
I always used to go to Galicia with my parents.


Nos gustamos desde el primer momento.
We liked each other from the first moment.


¡Reían juntos tantas veces!
They laughed together so many times!


Ayer Mario comió pescado.
Yesterday Mario ate fish.


Cada mes visitábamos a nuestra abuela.
Every month we visited our grandmother.


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