How to use the imperfect conjugation in Spanish
Published on May 16, 2023
The imperfect conjugation in Spanish (imperfecto or pretérito imperfecto) is one of two main ways to speak in the past tense. The Spanish imperfect conjugation
is used to express either past habits or past situations that were continuous over time. The imperfect tense can also express permanent qualities, so a solid understanding of the difference between ser and estar is helpful when learning this conjugation.
The correct imperfect conjugation in Spanish depends on the verb ending: –ar, –ir or –er. We’ll cover both regular verbs and irregular verbs in this guide. On that note, here’s how to use the imperfect conjugation in Spanish.
Let’s begin with how to conjugate imperfect verbs in Spanish. Like the preterite tense, imperfect conjugation in Spanish depends on two qualities:
Here’s a table of how to conjugate regular Spanish verbs in the imperfect tense:
|estar (to be)
|leer (to read)
Unlike the preterite form, Spanish imperfect conjugation only has three irregular verbs: ir (to go), ser (to be) and ver (to see). Thank goodness.
|ver (to see)
|ser (to be)
|ir (to go)
Spanish language learners who speak English shouldn’t have too difficult a time understanding the imperfect tense. It’s used to indicate that the subject:
Note: There are two more uses of this tense in Spanish that don’t exactly translate into English. One is for expressing permanent qualities. The other is for expressing a moment in time (with preterite) by contrasting a completed time period (using imperfect). We’ll explain this in more detail later on.
The imperfect conjugation in Spanish is often used to express past habits or actions that the subject performed repeatedly. This may include a hobby, work or school. A few examples:
Notice that many of these sentences talk about something that the subject “used to do” but no longer does.
Also note that these sentences often use adverbs of frequency or time words such as:
Imperfect conjugation in Spanish also expresses past situations that hadn’t finished at that time/moment.
The imperfect tense is often used together with the preterite to provide background information for another event:
The imperfect conjugation in Spanish is used to express static or permanent qualities of a person. We use imperfect to describe a person or thing from the past up to now.
Imperfect is also used for age and time in the past:
Imperfect conjugation in Spanish isn’t so bad. If you used to be confused about how to use it, don’t worry. Generally speaking, you should use the imperfect tense to describe a process or a moment in time or to give background information. Apart from that, past habits, permanent qualities, dates and times are also expressed with the imperfect.