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8.14 TALKING ABOUT THE PAST: The Imperfect Tense - Regular Verbs

The imperfect tense allows you to express events that happened repeatedly or habitually in the past or to describe ongoing actions in the past.

The preterite and the past perfect describe actions or events that have happened and were completed at that time. The imperfect tense describes something you used to do over a period of time (e.g. ‘I used to play football’ as opposed to ‘I played football’ or ‘I have played football’.

Let’s take a look at one example before we move on to the conjugations:

Comí ensalada ayer – I ate salad yesterday (Preterite tense)
He comido ensalada – I have eaten salad (Past Perfect tense)
Comía ensalada – I used to eat salad (Imperfect tense)

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Let’s take a look at the conjugations of regular ‘ar’, ‘er’ and ‘ir’ verbs in the imperfect tense.

The imperfect and 'ar' verbs

HABLAR – To speak

Yo hablaba – I spoke/used to speak
Tú hablabas – You spoke/used to speak (informal)
Usted hablaba – You spoke/used to speak (formal)
Él/Ella hablaba – He/she spoke/used to speak
Nosotros/Nosotras hablábamos – We spoke/used to speak
Ustedes hablaban – You spoke/used to speak (plural)
Ellos/Ellas hablaban – They spoke/used to speak

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Let’s look at some examples with ‘ar’ verbs:

Hablábamos mucho en la escuela – We used to talk a lot in school
(Yo) trabajaba en un banco en Nueva York – I used to work in a bank in New York
Ella me saludaba todos los días – She used to greet me every day (saludar – to greet)
Él manejaba un camión – He used to drive a truck (manejar – to drive, to manage)
Pasaban toda el día tomando vino – They used to spend the whole day drinking wine
No pudimos venir porque estábamos enfermos – We could not come because we were sick

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The imperfect and 'er' verbs

COMER – To eat 

Yo comía – I ate/used to eat
Tú comías – You ate/used to eat (formal)
Usted comía – You ate/used to eat (formal)
Él/Ella comía – He/She ate/used to eat
Nosotros/nosotras comíamos – We ate/used to eat
Ustedes comían – You ate/used to eat (plural)
Ellos/Ellas comían – They ate/used to eat

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Let’s look at some examples with ‘er’ verbs:

(Yo) tenía un buen carro – I used to have a nice car
Tenías mucha suerte – You used to be very lucky (tener suerte – to be lucky, lit. ‘to have luck’)
Él comía pasteles todos los días – He used to eat pastries every day.
Ella nunca hacía tanto ejercicio – She never used to do so much exercise
Lo entendíamos mejor – We used to understand it better
(Ellos/Ellas) bebían mucho café – They used to drink a lot of coffee

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THE imperfect and 'ir' verbs

VIVIR – To live

Yo vivía – I lived/used to live
Tú vivías – You lived/used to live (informal)
Usted vivía – You lived/used to live (formal)
Él/Ella vivía – He/She lived/used to live
Nosotros/Nosotras vivíamos – We lived/used to live
Ustedes vivían – You lived/used to live (plural)
Ellos/Ellas vivían – They lived/used to live

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Let’s look at some examples of ‘ir’ verbs:

(Yo) vivía en España – I used to live in Spain
Dormías muy temprano, ¿verdad? – You used to sleep very early, right?
Ella salía todos los días a caminar – She used to go out walking every day
Salíamos juntos – We used to go out together
(Ellos) vivían con sus abuelos – They used to live with their grandparents

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