How and When to Use the Spanish IMPERFECTO (Learn through Chunking)

How & When to Use the Spanish IMPERFECTO (Learn through Chunking)

Holis, soy Maura de Spring Spanish (Hello, I’m Maura from Spring Spanish), and today you’re going to learn the Spanish imperfecto (imperfect). One of the tenses used in Spanish to speak about the past… but we’re going to do it as always, meaning, without having to memorize a conjugation table!

To do so, I decided to pay a visit to a friend of the past: pre-pandemic Maura, una Maura con planes y listas (a Maura with plans and lists.)

1. The planning: conjugating I and You

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
¡Ah! ¿Quién eres?
(Oh! Who are you?)

FUTURE MAURA
Soy tú, pero vengo del future.
(I’m you, but I come from the future.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
Vale. Entonces, ¿puedes decirme qué pasará?
(Ok. So, can you tell me what’s going to happen?)

FUTURE MAURA
Más o menos. Por cierto, ¿qué hacías?
(More or less. By the way, what were you doing?)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
Estaba preparando el horario de la semana que viene.
(I was preparing the schedule for next week.)

FUTURE MAURA
¡Oh, sí! Recuerdo que amaba planear.
(Oh, yes! I remember I loved planning.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
¿Amabas? ¿Por qué lo dices como si ya no pudieras hacerlo?
(You loved it? Why are you saying it as if you can’t do it anymore?)

FUTURE MAURA
Digamos que no sabía que poder planear era un privilegio.
(Let’s say I didn’t know that being able to plan was a privilege.)
Now, how does el imperfecto work in terms of conjugation?

  • When we’ve got verbs ending in -AR, such as estar (to be) or amar (to love), the conjugation is -ABA for yo and -ABAS for tú.
    • Estaba preparando el horario de la semana que viene. (I was preparing the schedule for next week.)
    • Recuerdo que amaba planear. (I remember I loved planning.)
    • ¿Amabas? (You loved it?)
  • When the verb ends in either -ER or -IR, such as hacer (to do) or saber (to know), the conjugation is -ÍA for yo and -ÍAS for tú.
    • No sabía que poder planear era un privilegio. (I didn’t know that being able to plan was a privilege.)
    • ¿Qué hacías? (What were you doing?)

Let’s continue! By the way, I know these grammar topics can seem daunting, so make sure to stick till the end for a little recap!

When to use the Imperfecto

So, when do we use el imperfecto? In this conversation, you can see three different uses:

  • To describe an action that was taking place until another one interrupted it.
    • ¿Qué hacías? (What were you doing?) — It is not explicitly said, but this question is implying that pre-pandemic Maura was doing something before future Maura appeared.
  • To describe an action whose beginning and end are unknown.
    • Amaba planear. (I loved planning.)
  • To refer to something that happened in the past.
    • No sabía que poder planear era un privilegio. (I didn’t know that being able to plan was a privilege.)

2. An uncertain situation: conjugating He, She, and It

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
¿Un privilegio?
(A privilege?)

FUTURE MAURA
Sí, planear se convertiría en una tarea imposible. Demasiada incertidumbre.
(Yes, planning would become an impossible task. Too much uncertainty.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
¿Por qué? ¿Qué pasó?
(Why? What happened?)

FUTURE MAURA
Digamos que, a pesar de mucho planear,
Maura se la pasaba todo el día encerrada en casa, trabajando lo que podía, que no era mucho.
(Let’s just say that, in spite of a lot of planning,
Maura spent all day cooped up at home, working as much as she could, which wasn’t much)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
¿En casa? Eso no está tan mal. ¿Pero, por qué se la pasaba en casa si eso no le gusta?
(At home? That’s not so bad. But why was she staying at home when she doesn’t like that?)

FUTURE MAURA
Porque Maura se cuidaba. Maura hacía caso y colaboraba como podía. Entre esas cosas estaba quedarse en casa.
(Because Maura took care of herself. Maura listened and cooperated as best she could. Among those things was staying at home.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
Bueno, si tenía que cuidarse, entonces está bien, ¿no? Es comprensible si estaba colaborando con algo important.
(Well, if she had to take care of herself, then that’s okay, right? It’s understandable if she was helping with something important.)

¿Notas alguna similitud? (Do you notice any similarities?) The conjugation looks like the one for yo, right? So, -ABA and -ÍA, but we’re not talking about yo; instead, we’re talking about she, he, or it. Still, the conjugation is exactly the same!

  • When a verb ends in -AR, like pasar (to spend), cuidar (to take care of) or colaborar (to collaborate), the conjugation for él or ella is -ABA
  • Maura se la pasaba todo el día encerrada en casa trabajando lo que podía. (Maura spent all day cooped up at home, working as much as she could.)
  • Porque Maura se cuidaba. (Because Maura took care of herself.)
  • Maura hacía caso y colaboraba como podía. (Maura listened and cooperated as best she could.)
  • When a verb ends in -ER or -IR, like tener (to have) or poder (can), the conjugation is also -ÍA.
    • Bueno, si tenía que cuidarse, entonces está bien. (Well, if she had to take care of herself, then that’s okay.)
    • Maura hacía caso y colaboraba como podía. (Maura listened and cooperated as best she could.)

Chunk Alert!

Se la pasaba (she spent it) was the chunk I used, but we’re going to change it for me la pasaba (I spent it). This way, you’ll have a chunk in your hands that you can use to talk about yourself in the past like a true native.

Use this me la pasaba (I spent it) to say things you used to do, or places you used to be in very often. Like, if I used this to talk to you about myself it allows me to share that, as a little girl:

  • Me la pasaba corriendo en la calle con mis amigos. (I spent my time running around in the street with my friends.)
  • Me la pasaba en la playa. (I spent my time on the beach.)
  • Me la pasaba descalza. (I spent my time barefoot.)

There’s a link in the description that’ll give you access to our free Essential Spanish Chunking kit, which is filled with chunks like this one! Don’t hesitate to check it out!

3. Everything has been cancelled: conjugating We

FUTURE MAURA
Sí, claro, pero al final tanto planear fue en vano.
(Yes, of course, but in the end all that planning was in vain.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
¿En vano? Pero se supone que iba a empezar un montón de proyectos nuevos.
(In vain? But supposedly I was going to start a lot of new projects.)

FUTURE MAURA
Tú lo dijiste: iba.
(You said it: I was.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
Pero es que no me has dicho por qué trabajaba desde casa.
(But you haven’t told me why I was working from home.)

FUTURE MAURA
Pues, porque se desató una pandemia. Todos pensábamos que iba a durar quince días, pero estábamos muy equivocados.
(Well, because a pandemic broke out. We all thought it was going to last two weeks, but we were very wrong.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
¡Una pandemia! ¿Y cuánto duró?
(A pandemic! And how long did it last?)

FUTURE MAURA
Depende de cómo lo veas. Ya parecemos haber pasado la crisis, pero ahora lidiamos con las consecuencias.
(It depends on how you look at it. We seem to be past the crisis, but now we are dealing with the consequences.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
¿Qué? Pero, ¿y el corto, y el curso, y los viajes?
(What? But what about the short film, and the course, and the trips?)

FUTURE MAURA
¡Cancelados! Pero eso no fue lo peor. No, no.
En casa, creíamos que la íbamos a pasar bien teniendo más tiempo para nosotros, pero la gente no pararía de enfermarse.
(Cancelled! But that wasn’t the worst of it. No, no.
At home, we thought we were going to have a good time having more time to ourselves, but people wouldn’t stop getting sick.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
A ver, espera. ¿Y mi familia? ¿Mi mamá, mi papá, mi hermana?
(Alright, wait. What about my family? My mom, my dad, my sister?)

Now let’s check the conjugation of el imperfecto for more people or pronouns:

  • When a verb ends in -AR, like pensar (to think) or estar (to be), the ending for nosotras/nosotros (we) is -ÁBAMOS, with an accent mark. Pensábamos (We thought). Estábamos (We were).
  • Todos pensábamos que iba a durar quince días, pero estábamos muy equivocados. (We all thought it was going to last two weeks, but we were very wrong.)

When a verb ends in -ER or -IR, such as creer (to believe), the ending for nosotras/nosotros (we)  is -ÍAMOS, with an accent mark. Creíamos (We believed.)

  • En casa, creíamos que la íbamos a pasar bien. (At home, we believed we would have fun.)

4. A light at the end of the tunnel: Conjugating You (plural) and They

FUTURE MAURA
Todos bien, afortunadamente. Mi hermana y mi cuñado sí se enfermaron, pero fue leve.
(Everyone was fine, fortunately. My sister and brother-in-law did get sick, but it was minor.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
¿Y qué les pasó
(And what happened to them?)

FUTURE MAURA
En resumen, se sentían súper mal.
(In short, they felt pretty bad.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
Pero supongo que los cuidábamos y ya, ¿no?
(But I guess we took care of them and that was it, right?)

FUTURE MAURA
Pff, ojalá. Pero no, no se podía.
(Pff, I wish. But no, it was not possible.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
Claro, no nosotras, pero ¿no los cuidaban mis papás?
(Sure, not us, but didn’t my parents take care of them?)

FUTURE MAURA
De lejos, porque si no se contagiaban.
(From a distance, otherwise they would be infected.)

PRE-PANDEMIC MAURA
Entonces, ¿cómo hacían?
(So, what did they do?)

FUTURE MAURA
Pues entre ellos se cuidaban. Ahora ya parece haber pasado lo peor, así que lo que queda es reconstruir y usar lo aprendido, que no es poco.
(Well, they took care of one another. Now the worst seems to be over, so what remains is to rebuild and use what we have learned, which is not little.)

Now, when it comes to ustedes and ellas/ellos, things get pretty easy because these pronouns share the same conjugation.

  • When verbs end in -AR, such as cuidar (to take care of), the ending in both cases is -ABAN
  • Pues entre ellos se cuidaban. (Well, they took care of one another.)
  • Pues entre ustedes se cuidaban. (Well, you guys took care of one another.)
  • When a verb ends in -ER or -IR, such as sentir (to feel) or hacer (to do), the ending in both cases is -ÍAN
  • Se sentían súper mal. (They were feeling pretty bad.)
  • Entonces, ¿cómo hacían? (So, what did you guys/they do?)

Recap

Okay, pretty intense, huh? Let’s do a bit of a recap. I’m going to show you a conjugation table, but please remember, there’s no point in memorizing it! It’s better if you use context, meaning chunks, to learn conjugation! So, just listen to the dialogue several times and learn the chunks from there.

Also, if you become a member in our Inner Circle, you can get the flashcards with all the chunks from this lesson and all the other lessons. Link is in the description, as you well know!

Pronoun-AR-ER-IR
Yocuidabaseríasentía
cuidabasseríassentías
Ella & Élcuidabaseríasentía
Nosotras / Nosotroscuidábamosseríamossentímos
Ustedescuidabanseríansentían
Ellas / Elloscuidabanseríansentían

The imperfect is one of the two most frequently used past tenses. The other one is called the pretérito in Spanish. So, in the next part of this video series, let’s have a look at when you should use the pretérito and when the imperfecto here.

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