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Using El Pretérito Imperfecto to express habits or repeated actions in the past (imperfect tense)

The Spanish tense El Pretérito Imperfecto is used to talk about habits in the past (used to) and to describe actions which were repeated in the past.

Read and listen to these examples:

Yo solía nadar todas las semanas cuando era pequeña.
I used to swim every week when I was little.

Tú siempre volvías del trabajo a las 6.00 pm.
You always came back from work at 6.00pm.

Edgar Degas siempre pintaba bailarinas y carreras de caballos.
Edgar Degas always painted ballet dancers and horse races.

Nosotros comíamos mucho pescado en Valencia.
We ate a lot of fish in Valencia.

Vosotros trabajabais en Madrid durante los años 80.
You used to work in Madrid in the 80s.

Los actores firmaban autógrafos después de cada función.
The actors signed autographs after each function.

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Tú siempre volvías del trabajo a las 6.00 pm.
You always came back from work at 6.00pm.


Edgar Degas siempre pintaba bailarinas y carreras de caballos.
Edgar Degas always painted ballet dancers and horse races.


Yo solía nadar todas las semanas cuando era pequeña.
I used to swim every week when I was little.


Vosotros trabajabais en Madrid durante los años 80.
You used to work in Madrid in the 80s.


Los actores firmaban autógrafos después de cada función.
The actors signed autographs after each function.


Nosotros comíamos mucho pescado en Valencia.
We ate a lot of fish in Valencia.


Q&A

Abby

Kwiziq community member

20 May 2018

1 reply

i continue to have difficulty lay with pretérito vs imperfecto. In the sentence She sang in a rock band in high school, why is it ella cantaba ella

cantó?  I understand it is a repeated action in the past, however it is also during a specific time frame ( high school), which has been completed.  Este me cuesta mucho.  Por favor, ayúdame.  Gracias

Inma

Kwiziq language super star

20 May 2018

20/05/18

Hola Abby


As you know the Imperfect tense is used to express a repeated action in the past, like the sentence you mentioned. I have changed the translation in English to "used to sing" so it is more clear. 


As you are saying, why not cantó? 


If you see this sentence in English, "She sang in a band during high school", despite having a timeframe that shows the action is a completed action (she is not in high school any more), this can take both the Imperfect and the Indefinido. If you use the imperfect: cantaba, the speaker is seeing "her" singing in the band during her time in high school, with no specific beginning or end. If you use the Indefinido: cantó, the speaker is seeing the action of singing as an action with a clear beginning and an end. 


We appreciate the difference between the Imperfecto and the Indefinido is quite tricky. It needs a lot of practice.


Here is a lesson about this. It is explaining the general difference between these two tenses


https://spanish.kwiziq.com/revision/grammar/using-el-imperfecto-vs-el-indefinido-general-use


I hope this clarifies your doubts.


Un saludo


Inma

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