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Using El Pretérito Imperfecto to refer to a present action/future action

El Pretérito Imperfecto is used sometimes to express something that is/may be happening at the time of speaking or might/will be happening in the future. 

A present action

For example, in a conversation, if someone says:

Vaya, Alberto no está en casa...
Oh! Alberto is not at home...

The other speaker could reply:

No, Alberto tenía un partido de rugby, ¿no te lo dijo ayer?No, Alberto has a rugby match, didn't he tell you yesterday?

This reply is referring to a present action, i.e. Alberto is now at a rugby match.

Despite using El Imperfecto (tenía) instead of El Presente (tiene), this is referring to what is happening in the present, at the moment of speaking, i.e. Alberto is at a rugby match at this moment. This use of El Imperfecto shows that the speaker is trying to avoid some of the responsability for what is said. It is as if the speaker is thinking: "This is the information I had / I heard / I've been told, so I assume that is what is happening."

A future action

The same way as with the present, El Imperfecto can also be used to refer to something that will happen. For example:

Elena estará aquí esta noche, su avión aterrizaba a las nueve y media.Elena will be here tonight, her flight lands at half past nine.

Él se reunía con el abogado mañana.He is meeting the lawyer tomorrow.

In both sentences above using El Imperfecto, they are referring to future events, not past events.

Other examples for present and future events using El Imperfecto:

(Present event)

- Marina, tú eras vegetariana, ¿verdad? - Sí, soy vegetariana.- Marina, you are a vegetarian, aren't you? - Yes, I am a vegetarian.

Los nuevos inquilinos se mudaban hoy.The new tenants are moving today.

(Present/future event)

Mi madre iba al médico esta mañana.My mother is going to the doctor this morning.

 

See also Using ir in El Pretérito Imperfecto to express was/were going to [do something]

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Los nuevos inquilinos se mudaban hoy.The new tenants are moving today.
- Marina, tú eras vegetariana, ¿verdad? - Sí, soy vegetariana.- Marina, you are a vegetarian, aren't you? - Yes, I am a vegetarian.
Él se reunía con el abogado mañana.He is meeting the lawyer tomorrow.
Mi madre iba al médico esta mañana.My mother is going to the doctor this morning.
No, Alberto tenía un partido de rugby, ¿no te lo dijo ayer?No, Alberto has a rugby match, didn't he tell you yesterday?
Elena estará aquí esta noche, su avión aterrizaba a las nueve y media.Elena will be here tonight, her flight lands at half past nine.

Q&A Forum 2 questions, 1 answer

PatiC1Kwiziq community member

Frequency of usage

 Imna, I'm curious to know, how frequently this structure is used in Spanish? Moreover, is it more common in Spain than say in Central and/or South America?

P.S. When I first read this lesson my thoughts were similar to Alan's. I too recognized that  there are similar 'past for present' verb structures in English.

Asked 1 month ago

Frequency of usage

 Imna, I'm curious to know, how frequently this structure is used in Spanish? Moreover, is it more common in Spain than say in Central and/or South America?

P.S. When I first read this lesson my thoughts were similar to Alan's. I too recognized that  there are similar 'past for present' verb structures in English.

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AlanC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

English too has similar usages

It's interesting to note that these two tense usages occur in English as well, e.g.

-- Oh, Albert's not at home. -- No, he was playing in a rugby match today, didn't he tell you?

-- What was the name, sir?

-- What were you asking for this painting?

-- Where were you going tomorrow?

Asked 4 months ago
IanC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Thank you for posting that on English usage. Exactly what I was thinking when I decided to explore the discussion.

English too has similar usages

It's interesting to note that these two tense usages occur in English as well, e.g.

-- Oh, Albert's not at home. -- No, he was playing in a rugby match today, didn't he tell you?

-- What was the name, sir?

-- What were you asking for this painting?

-- Where were you going tomorrow?

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