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Tomoko (Parent) April 20 2015
Both the preterite and imperfect tenses are used to describe an action that occurred in the past. Use of each will depend on the frequency of the action, whether it was completed or not, whether it was limited in time, and the context in which the action took place. Sometimes it may be possible to use either.
Use the preterite to express an action that was completed in the past:
Ayer vi a Julio y a Juan- yesterday I saw Julio and Juan.
Use of the imperfect here (veía) would suggest a continuous/ prolonged action, and would only really be used if it was describing the background against which another event (usually expressed in the preterite) took place:
Ayer veía la televisión cuando sonó el teléfono- yesterday I was watching television when the telephone rang.
The preterite is thus used to express instantaneous events, i.e. events that happened suddenly and in the moment:
Me rompí la pierna- I broke my leg; De repente oí el teléfono- suddenly I heard the phone.
It is also used to describe events that occurred within a specific time period, i.e. where the beginning and end of the period is clear. Look for time indicators such as 'durante' or 'por' to know if an action is limited in time:
Habló durante tres horas- he spoke for three hours; Por un instante pensé en mi hermana- for a moment I thought of my sister.
The imperfect is used to describe a past event that continued for an unspecified period of time- where the beginning and end is not clear:
Mi padre jugaba conmigo- my father played/ used to play with me (we don't know how long for).
It is therefore used to describe habitual actions and characteristics:
Cuando era pequeña iba al colegio en autobús- when I was young I used to go to school by bus.
Mi casa era grande; mi padre tenía los ojos azules- my house was big; my father had blue eyes.
The imperfect is used as the main tense in stories and when someone is evoking a memory/ past experience, as it is a descriptive tense:
Recuerdo que tenía que llevar un uniforme- I remember that I had to wear a uniform.
It often provides the background description to another event (see above):
Llovía cuando llegué- It was raining when I arrived.
When phrases like 'todos los días' or 'todos los años' are used, it may be possible to use either tense. If you see the action as complete, so if you are looking back on it as a whole, use the preterite:
Todos los días me levanté a las ocho- every day I got up at eight.
If you see it as happening at the time, use the imperfect:
Todos los días me levantaba a las ocho- every day I got up/ was getting up at eight.
Example of a short passage:
Trabajé como una camarera durante dos semanas (I worked as a waitress for two weeks. ‘Trabajar’ is used in the preterite because the action is limited in time). Tenía que llevar un uniforme y podía usar el teléfono del restaurante (I had to wear a uniform and I was able to use the restaurant telephone. ‘Tener’ and ‘poder’ are used in the imperfect because it is a description- they describe a state of affairs that was happening at the time). Todos los días hablé/ hablaba con los clientes (every day I talked/ was talking to the customers. ‘Hablar’ may be in the preterite or imperfect, since the phrase ‘todos los días’ has been used). Fue una experiencia maravillosa (it was a wonderful experience. ‘Ser’ is in the preterite because it describes an event that has finished/ been completed- the idea is that the person is looking back on the experience after it is over, and saying that it was wonderful from start to finish).see more
With some exceptions, Spanish nouns tend to follow these rules to become plural:
a) If the noun ends in a vowel: la casa- las casas (house- houses); el libro- los libros (book- books); el café- los cafés (café- cafes)
b) To most foreign nouns ending in a consonant: el chalet- los chalets; el jersey- los jerseys (jumper- jumpers).
a) If the noun ends in a consonant other than s: la flor- las flores (flower- flowers); la ciudad- las ciudades (city- cities).
b) If it ends in a stressed vowel followed by s: el inglés- los ingleses (Englishman- Englishmen)
When es is added to make a noun plural, any accent on the last vowel of the singular disappears: el melocotón- los melocotones (peach- peaches);
But if the singular contains the combination of aí or aú, the accent is kept in the plural: el país- los países (country- countries); el baúl- los baúles (trunk- trunks).
When es is added to a noun ending in z, the z becomes a c in the plural: la cruz- las cruces (cross- crosses).
a) If the noun ends in an unstressed vowel followed by s: la crisis- las crisis (crisis- crisis); el virus- los virus (virus- viruses)
b) For some foreign nouns: el test- los test.
Some nouns change their stress in the plural:
El carácter- los caracteres (character- characters); el régimen- los regímens (regime- regimes); el/la joven- los jóvenes (young person, young people).see more
The basic rule is that ‘para’ expresses purpose or destination, and ‘por’ expresses cause or motive.
In a spatial sense, to mean ‘around’ or ‘through,’ or to suggest approximate location:
a) Anduvimos juntos por la plaza- we walked around the square together.
b) Pasaron por la calle con armas- they came through the street with guns; tienes que pasar por la túnel si quieres llegar a tu destino- you have to go through the tunnel if you want to arrive at your destination.
c) ¿Por dónde andaba? “No sé. Por aquí, creo.”- whereabouts was he? “I don’t know. Around here I think.”
In a temporal sense:
a) to mean ‘in’, but in an approximate manner:
Debió ser por mayo- it must have been some time in May
Por aquellos días nadie comía nada- in those days nobody was eating anything
b) to mean ‘for’, in order to express provisional duration:
Estuve en Inglaterra por cuatro meses- I was in England for four months. (Here, ‘durante’ is also possible, or often no preposition at all will be used: Estuve cuatro meses en Inglaterra).
Voy a Argentina por (or para) dos semanas- I’m going to Argentina for two weeks.
c) to mean ‘in the morning/ afternoon/ evening’, or ‘at night’:
Nos vemos por la mañana- we will see each other in the morning
Por la tarde me gusta dar un paseo- I like to go for a walk in the evening
(por la noche= at night)
d) to express something that is repeated on a regular basis:
Salgo con mi novio dos veces por semana- I go out with my boyfriend two times a week
a) to mean ‘by means of’: La alarma funciona por rayos infrarrojos- the alarm works by means of infra-red rays; Me enteré por un amigo- I found out by means of (through) a friend.
b) to mean ‘because of’: no pude concentrarme por el ruido- I couldn’t concentrate because of the noise; recibió una multa por aparcar en el centro- he received a ticket for parking in the centre.
c) to express the object/ receiver of a feeling, attitude or mental state: siento mucho cariño por ese chico- I feel a lot of affection for/ towards this boy; nuestro amor por nuestros hijos- our love for our children
d) to mean ‘in exchange for’ or ‘on behalf of’: compró un coche por dos mil euros- she bought a car (in exchange) for two thousand euros; Él dará las clases por mí- he will give the classes on behalf of me.
e) to mean ‘by’ when used in passive constructions: Fue descubierto por una joven de veinte años- it was discovered by a twenty year old girl.
In a spatial sense, to express final destination/ direction after verbs of motion:
Íbamos para la playa cuando nos encontramos con David y terminamos en su casa- we were heading for the beach when we met David and we ended up in his house.
In a temporal sense, to mean a) ‘by’, i.e. a deadline: estaré lista para las cinco- I will be ready by five o’clock; b) ‘for’ a specified period of time in the future: tenemos ropa para tres días- we have enough clothes for three days.
To express purpose, object or destination: estudia para ser abogado- he is studying to become a lawyer; este regalo es para ti- this present is for you; una mesa para dos, por favor- a table for two, please.
To mean ‘considering’ or ‘in view of’: ha conseguido mucho para lo joven que es- he has achieved a lot considering how young he is.
To express opinion: para mí esta asignatura no es muy fácil- in my opinion this subject is not very easy.see more