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Action Shots!. Choosing when to use the correct past tense. Background vs Foreground : El pretérito imperfecto vs El pretérito indefinido. When talking about the past, you must use the pretérito indefinido and the pretérito imperfecto , often simultaneously!.

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action shots

Action Shots!

Choosing when

to use the correct past tense

BackgroundvsForeground :

El pretéritoimperfectovs

El pretéritoindefinido


When talking about the past, you must

use the pretéritoindefinidoand the pretéritoimperfecto, often simultaneously!

The imperfectois used for ongoing

conditions and

habitual actions in the past.

Theindefinidois used for

completed eventsin the past.




The indefinidois generally translated

as the simple past in English.

  • habló= he talked, he did talk
  • hablaba= he was talking, he used to talk, he would talk & he talked

The imperfectohas several

English equivalents

(including the English simple past).





Llovíacuandosalí. =

  • (It was raining when I wentout.)

Llovíais an ongoing condition, whereas

salíis a completed action.


Caminabaindicates a continuing action

or ongoing state, the background

interruptedby an event with a

definite ending point, such as me caí.

Caminabapor la callecuandome caí. =

  • (I was walking in the street when I fell.)



Ibatodos los días, peroesedíano fui. =

(I used to go every day, but that day I didn’t go.)

The event in the pretéritoindefinidois often signaled by a

very specific time expression, such as esedía,

indicating a single completed action.

Time expressions used with the imperfecto,

on the contrary, indicate habit, repetition or

long duration.



Use the imperfectofor:

  • An ongoingor continuouspast actions
  • Settingthe scene
  • Telling time
  • Telling your age
  • Describingphysicaland mentalstates
  • Describingthe characteristicsof

people, places, things or situations



Use the indefinidofor:

  • Actions that are single, completedevents
  • Actions that happened a stated number of times
  • Actions that were part of a series /sequence/successionof events
  • To state the beginning or end of an action


Eranlasdoce de la noche y llovía. Un hombre abrióla puerta. Eraviejo y muydelgado. Llevabaropanegra y teníala caramuyblanca. Lo mirépor un segundo y corría mi casa. =

(It was midnight and it was raining. A man opened the door. He was old and very thin. He was wearing black and his face was very white. I looked at him for a second and ran to my home.)


Check Your Knowledge!

He was playing Scrabble™ with Judy.

They ate ice cream every day.

My teacher yelled (gritar)at me today.

Where did you go after school?

Jugabaal Scrabble™ con Judy.

Comíanheladotodos los días.

Mi profesor me gritóhoy.

¿Adóndefuistedespuésde la escuela?



  • The pretéritoindefinidois used in Spanish to answer the question “What happened?”.
  • On the other hand, you will usually put a verb in the imperfectoif it answers the questions “What was going on (when something else happened?)”, or “What was it like/How did things use to be?”.
  • Generally, the pretéritoindefinidois used to relate events that advance a plot/storyline while the imperfectois used to describewhat was going on in the past, states of being in the past, or past habits.
telling stories
Telling stories…
  • All this takes on special importance in narration of past actions, when both tenses often occur in the same story side-by-side.
  • Narrating a story entails both describing a setting(habitual actions, atmosphere, places and people) using the imperfectoand recounting a plot or a series of events, actions, changes of feelings or thoughts using the indefinido.
el imperfecto usually implies ongoing actions in the past
El imperfecto:usually implies ongoingactions in the past
  • Time:
    • It was 2 o’clock…
  • Date:
    • …on a sunny Saturday in May.
  • Weather:
    • It was beautiful out – a truly perfect spring day!
  • Background actions: was …ing, were …ing
    • The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, the flowers were blooming, and love was most definitely in the air…
  • Feelings/Emotions:
    • I was feeling happy, healthy, and good about life,…
  • Habitual Actions:
    • On such days, I used to go for walks in the park…
the following adverbs are commonly associated with the imperfecto to express an incomplete past
The following adverbs are commonly associated with the imperfectoto express an incomplete past:
act 1 scene 1 setting the stage w el imperfecto
Act 1, Scene 1:Setting the stage w/ el imperfecto
  • ¿Cuál era la fecha?
  • ¿Quéhora era?
  • ¿Quétiempohacía?
  • ¿Cómo era el medioambiente?
  • ¿Cuántosañostenía?
  • ¿Cómo se sentía?
  • ¿Quémás se pasaba en la escena?
act 1 scene 1 setting the stage w el imperfecto1
Act 1, Scene 1:Setting the stage w/ el imperfecto
  • What was the date?
  • What time was it?
  • What was the weather like?
  • Describe the environment?
  • How old was the person?
  • How was the person feeling?
  • Was there anything else going on in the background?
repaso el tiempo
Repaso: el tiempo
  • o:
  • (El) llover
  • (El) nevar



repaso el tiempo1
Repaso: el tiempo





act 1 scene 2 the foreground w el indefinido
Act 1, Scene 2:The foreground w/ elindefinido
  • An action on a specific date/point in time:
    • On that sunny Saturday, the 24th of May, my life changed.
  • Interrupting action:
    • As I was strolling through the park, a beautiful specimen ran right into me, knocking me both literally and figuratively on my butt.
  • Repetition of events:
    • I got up, disoriented, but fell back down again 3 times.
  • Series/sequence/succession of events:
    • When I was finally able to stand, first I brushed myself off, then I straightened out my shirt, finally I got the nerve to approach her…

The following adverbs are commonly associated with the indefinidoto express a completedaction at a specific point in time.past:


*For actions/events that never actually happened (as opposed to habitual events in the past that regularly did happen):

i.e., Siemprequiseir a Disneyworld, peronuncafui.

I always wanted to go to Disneyworld, but I never went.

1 which tense should i use
1. Which tense should I use?


AR = aba, abas, aba, ábamos, abais, aban

ER/IR = ía, ías, ía, íamos, íais, ían


  • Time
  • Date
  • Weather
  • Feelings/emotions/conditions
  • physical

2. HABITS (used to/would…)

3. ONGOING actions (was/were …ing)



AR = é, aste, ó, amos, asteis, aron

ER/IR = í, iste, ió, imos, isteis, ieron

1. EVENTSmoving the plot forward

(It usually interrupts an ongoing action in the Imparfait)

2. SUCCESSIONof events (1st, then, after, finally…)

3. REPITITIONof events (anytime you use “fois”) EXCEPT w/ “Il étaitunefois…” (once upon a time)



ahora te toca a ti
Ahora, tetoca a ti:
  • In pairs, illustrate a scene and describe it, using both past tenses.
  • The catch? You both interpret the same scene very differently…
  • Specs: Write at least 3 sentences each to describe the background (imperfecto) and at least 7 sentences each to describe the foreground/developing events (pretéritoindefinido).