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The Preterite Imperfect Indicative in Spanish

The preterite imperfect indicative in Spanish is one of the easiest verbal tenses to conjugate. However, how and when to use it is more complicated. Today we are going to show you the conjugation of regular and irregular verbs and the basic uses of the preterite imperfect indicative in Spanish.

What Does Its Name Mean?

As we always say in our free grammar resource articles at, if we understand the name of the verbal tenses, we can use them more intuitively. It is a preterite and, therefore, it is a tense that expresses past actions; moreover, it is imperfect, so those actions were not completed, they were in progress; also, it is a simple tense, that is, it has only one form, without the need of an auxiliary; to finish, it belongs to the indicative mood, that is, it expresses real actions, facts, information… Let’s see how it is formed.

How Is the Preterite Imperfect Indicative Formed in Spanish?

As we have said before, the preterite imperfect indicative in Spanish is one of the easiest tenses to conjugate. It has only three irregular verbs and the endings of the regular ones are stable. Let’s start with the regular verbs.



Regular Verbs in the Imperfect Tense

The regular verbs of the imperfect tense are divided into two groups: the verbs of the first conjugation (-ar), which end in -aba, and the verbs of the second and third conjugations (-er, -ir), which end in -ía.

Conjugation of regular verbs in the Preterite imperfect indicative in Spanish

Irregular verbs of the imperfect tense

Let us now look at the conjugation of the three irregular verbs in the preterite imperfect indicative tense: ir, ser and ver. The first two change their stem completely. On the other hand, the verb ver is almost regular but keeps the vowel (e) from the infinitive.

Conjugation of irregular verbs in the Preterite imperfect indicative in Spanish

How is the preterite imperfect indicative used?

We already said at the beginning of the article that the difficulty of the imperfect is to use it correctly and understand the differences with other past tenses. By the way, let us recommend an article in which we show you the contrast of all the tenses of the past tense of indicative.

Now, let’s take a look at the main uses of the preterite imperfect indicative:

Habitual actions

It describes habitual actions in the past. It informs us of what was normal at a particular period of time or what we usually did at a particular time in our life. For example:

Cuando era joven, montaba a caballo todos los días.

En la década de los 60 las mujeres nunca salían solas por la noche.

Expressions of frequency are often used: Normalmente, siempre, a menudo, con frecuencia, nunca, de vez en cuando, todos los días

Descriptions in the past

The preterite imperfect indicative describes people, things or places in the past. We can also use it to describe the circumstances in which the action of the verb takes place. For example:

La casa de mis abuelos era grande y tenía una pequeña granja.

Mi padre, de joven, era muy guapo.

Cuando conocí a Pablo, era invierno. Nevaba mucho y hacía mucho viento.

Actions in progress

The imperfect also expresses actions that were in progress in the past simultaneously or that were interrupted by another action. In this case, it is advisable to use the imperfect of the verb estar and the gerund of the main verb:

Anoche, mientras yo cocinaba, mi esposa ponía la mesa.

Ayer estaba estudiando para el examen DELE cuando mi novia me llamó.

As we can see in the first example, two actions were in progress at the same time. In contrast, in the second one, the action of studying, which was in progress, was interrupted by the call from his girlfriend. The action that interrupts is expressed with the past simple. If you want to remember the forms and uses of this verb tense, take a look at this article.

These are the main uses. However, if you want to go deeper and learn more advanced uses of the preterite imperfect indicative, you can read our article on the blog. We also recommend you to reserve a class with our teachers to put into practice everything you have learned about the preterite imperfect indicative in Spanish.

Infographic about the preterite imperfect indicative in Spanish