Special usages of imperfect indicative in Spanish is a topic that our students learn at the advanced levels on Spanishviaskype.com. As you might know, the imperfect tense is often used to describe and express routines in the past. However, depending on the linguistic register, it can have other senses.
We are not learning how to form this tense. However, if you are not familiar with its conjugation, you can read this article from our free resources about all the past tenses in indicative. Today, let’s focus on the special usages of imperfect indicative in Spanish.
Special Usages of Imperfect Indicative: narrative purposes
The main tense that we often use to narrate stories is the preterite (indefinite). It shows actions at a specific moment in the past. Nevertheless, we can also use the imperfect tense to do that. It’s very common when we tell a dream (it’s called the oneiric imperfect) or historical events (narrative imperfect). Let´s see some examples:
Cuando era un niño, tuve un sueño horrible: un monstruo llegaba a mi habitación y me atrapaba; saltaba por la ventana y me llevaba volando.
As you can see, those actions in bold letters are not describing or showing routines: they are specific actions. This is one of the special usages of imperfect indicative we were talking about.
El 20 de julio de 1969, Neil Armstrong pisaba la luna y decía: “un pequeño paso para un hombre, un gran salto para la humanidad”.
Again, pisar and decir are not actions in progress or descriptions. However, we can use the imperfect here to move that story away in the past, in order to make it more epic or mysterious.
Imperfect tense with a present meaning
Special usages of the imperfect indicative in the past might seem not so special. But what if we tell you that we can use this past tense to talk about the present? It’s not a joke. If you are in a formal context, you can use the imperfect tense in order to sound more polite:
—Buenos días, quería un libro de historia de España, por favor.
—Buenos días, señor. ¿En qué periodo estaba más interesado?
In addition to this, we can express a doubt or if you forgot an important information, you can moderate the situation using this tense:
—Disculpe, profesor, la parte oral del examen DELE, era hoy, ¿verdad?
Finally, we can check an information that we considered to be real, but it seems to be wrong:
—Pero, ¿tú no tenías que estar trabajando ahora mismo?
—Sí, pero me he puesto enfermo y he vuelto a casa.
So, these special usages of the imperfect indicative are very helpful when we are not sure about the facts in the present.
Special Usages of Imperfect Indicative: conditional meanings
Another of the special usages of the imperfect indicative we are studying today is the conditional meaning.
In the reported speech, we can change the conditional tense into the imperfect one to express a subsequent action to another one in the past:
Mi amigo me dijo ayer que hoy reservaba algunas clases de conversación en Spanishviaskype.com.
We can also express a hypothetical wish in the future using the imperfect tense. This is very common in colloquial situations:
Yo, ahora mismo, me dormía una siesta, pero tengo que trabajar toda la tarde.
Finally, the last of the special usages of imperfect indicative is used in conditional and concessive sentences. Instead of the conditional tense, we can use the imperfect, again, in colloquial contexts:
Si tuviera ese dinero, te lo dejaba. Pero aunque te lo dejara, yo no me compraba ese coche.
In conclusion, if you want to put in practice these special usages of imperfect indicative, you can do it! Just reserve a free trial lesson here! Do you want to try a trial lesson first? Sure, we’ll be pleased to speak with you.
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