Last Updated on July 24th, To be honest, learning the differences between the two Spanish past tenses was ridiculously difficult for me, as I had lived my whole life speaking English, where verb tenses are not nearly as clearly defined. Today, I'll make it easier for you by explaining the differences that I learned as I was mastering Spanish verb tenses. The preterite is used when referring to actions that were completed in the past. When you use the preterite, it also implies that the action had a definite beginning and a definite end. In English, you might say a sentence like Yesterday I cleaned the house for two hours—in this sentence, the timeframe is very specific.
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Two Different Past Tenses
Note: The nosotros forms for -ar and -ir verbs are the same in both preterite and present tenses: hablamos, vivimos. Generally speaking, the preterite is used for actions in the past that are seen as completed, while the imperfect tense is used for past actions that did not have a definite beginning or a definite end. The girls used to speak in English. Another way to view this is that the preterite tells us specifically when an action took place, while the imperfect tells us in general when an action took place. Note: This is not a typo; ser and ir do have identical conjugations in the preterite!
Spanish Preterite Tense
Many students have trouble knowing when to use the preterite tense or the imperfect tense , as they both refer to actions in the past. There are several general rules you can follow to know when to use one tense or another. Additionally, many Spanish phrases tend to be used only with the preterite or only with the imperfect, so memorizing them is very helpful! One way this pair of tenses is often used is to talk about an ongoing action or event that was interrupted in the past.
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