The Preterit and the Imperfect

Verbo:             Imperfecto:                             Pretérito:   

Conocer:          Conocía a Laura.                  Conocí a Laura.

                        I knew Laura.                          I met Laura.

 

Saber:              Sabía la verdad.                    Supe la verdad.

                        I knew the truth.                      I found out the truth.

 

Poder:              Podía terminar.                     Pude terminar.

                        I was able to finish.                 I managed to finish.

 

No poder:        No podía hablar.                   No pude hablar.

                        I was not able to speak.          I failed to speak.

 

Querer:            Quería salir.                           Quise salir.

                        I wanted to go out.                  I tried to go out.

 

No querer:       No quería dormir.                 No quise dormir.

                        I didn’t want to sleep.             I refused to sleep.

 

Tener:              Tenía una idea.                      Tuve una idea.

                        I had an idea.                          I got an idea.


It is common to have both imperfect and preterit conjugations together in the same sentence.

The imperfect can be used to give background information or to explain what was happening when a preterit action happened:

 

Yo cocinaba la cena cuando el teléfono sonó.

I was cooking dinner when the phone rang.

 

Cuando abrieron la puerta hacía mucho frío.

When they opened the door it (the weather) was very cold.

 

Él rompió el vaso mientras que estaban jugando.

He broke the glass while they were playing.

 


 Let’s remember the rules for the To be verbs, ser and estar, as we consider which to use in the imperfect and the preterit. Remember that the rules for imperfect and preterit as well as for ser and estar are still true, we just have to examine them so we can choose which one to use:

  Imperfecto: Pretérito:
Estar: Background info of a location or condition, when the exact time frame or number of times is not known or is not relevant. Location or condition with a specific time frame, it may no longer be true or is now irrelevant.
Ser: Background info describing an inherent characteristic, when the exact time frame or number of times is not known or is not relevant. Info describing an inherent characteristic in a specific time frame, no longer true or is now irrelevant

Some examples:

 

María estaba enojada.

María was angry.

(We don’t know or it doesn’t matter if she is still angry.)

 

María estuvo enojada.

María was angry.

(We know that María is not angry anymore.)

 

Ricardo era un buen estudiante.

Ricardo was a good student.

(We don’t know or it doesn’t matter if Ricardo is still a good student.)

 

Ricardo fue un buen estudiante.

Ricardo was a good student.

(We know Ricardo is either no longer a good student, or that he is no longer a student. He could have become a bad student, graduated, or even died.)

 

[Note that in English, the translations are the same and we may have to submit more information. In Spanish, we know that the event is over (María is no longer angry).]

 

As a general rule, you’re more likely to use the imperfect forms of ser and estar, so if you’re not sure, go with the imperfect. If you’re talking about something with a definite beginning, end or duration, choose the preterit.


 

Timelines and visualizations

When we know with any certainty when the action happened or the number of times it happened, we should be able to identify that point on a timeline:

We will use red arrows to indicate preterit events that occurred. For example:

El viernes, fuimos al cine.
(On Friday, we went to the movies)

 

 

 

A Little Bit of Spanish Phonetics

Each Spanish vowel makes its own unique sound, and it will always make that sound:

A                      E                      I                       O                     U

Ahh                 Ehh                  Eee                  Ohh                 Ooh

Water              Never             Even                Whole             Loofa

Certain letters change their sound when paired with other letters:
(Key: G= sounds like the g in girl, but somewhat softer. H= sounds like the h in hurry, but a little more forceful. K= sounds like the C in cat, but somewhat softer. S= like an S!).

Combo:           Example:         Sound:             Combo:           Example:         Sound:

Ga-                  Garganta         Ga                    Gua-                 Guardia             Gwa
Ge-                  General            He                   Gue-                 Guerra                Ge
Gi-                   Gigante            Hi                    Gui-                  Guillermo         Gi
Go-                  Gordo               Go                    Guo-                Antiguo              Gwo

Ca-                  Cada                 Ka                    Cua-                  Cuadro              Kwa
Ce-                  Cerrar              Se                    Cue-                   Cuerpo             Kwe
Ci-                   Ciego               Si                      Cui-                   Cuidado            Kwi
Co-                  Como               Ko                    Cuo-                   Cuota               Kwo

Note: To make the [ke] or [ki] sounds:

Que-                Querer             Ke
Qui-                 Quinto             Ki

Pronominal Verbs in Spanish

There are two types of pronominal verbs: reflexive and reciprocal. Pronominal verbs must be conjugated with reflexive pronouns.  When the subject of the sentence is acting upon him- or herself, it is called reflexive. When two (or more) subjects are performing the same action upon one another, it is called reciprocal.
Here are the pronouns that we’ll use:

Singular

Plural

Me (myself) Nos (ourselves)
Te (yourself) Os (yourselves-Spain only)
Se (himself, herself, itself, yourself-formal) Se (themselves, yourselves)

(Note that these pronouns are identical to the direct and indirect object pronouns in the first and second persons, plural and singular.)

Reflexive verbs in the infinitive are typically written with ‘se’ tacked onto the end. For example: Lavar is the infinite of to wash. We call it the infinitive because it is not conjugated, there is no subject doing the action. Lavarse is the infinitive of to wash oneself. Note the slight shift in meaning. When we conjugate reflexive verbs it is a two-step process. First we remove se and conjugate the verb. Then we match the pronoun to the person doing the action and stick it in front of the conjugated verb:

Emilio se ve en el espejo  (Emilio sees himself in the mirror) (from verse-to see oneself)

Most textbooks use this opportunity to practice daily routine vocabulary, because much of it is reflexive. Here are some common vocabulary words:
acostar(se)   to put to bed; to go to bed
afeitar(se)    to shave; to shave oneself
bañar(se)     to bathe; to bathe oneself
casar(se)    to get married
despertar(se)   to wake (someone up); to wake up
dormir(se)   to sleep; to fall asleep
duchar(se)   to shower; to take a shower
lavar(se)  to wash; to wash oneself
levantar(se) to raise/lift; to get up
maquillar(se)  to put makeup on someone; to put makeup on oneself
peinar(se)  to comb someone’s hair; to comb one’s own hair
poner(se) (la ropa) to put clothes on (oneself)
quitar(se)  to take off/to remove (la ropa)(from oneself)
secar(se)  to dry; to dry oneself
vestir(se) to wear; to dress oneself

Who is doing what, to whom?
Reflexive (and reciprocal) verbs, tell you that the person(s) performing the action is/are the same person(s) receiving that action. But what does that mean?
Here are some more examples:

1.Él se cepilla los dientes. (He brushes *himself* the teeth)=(He brushes his teeth)
[Note the lack of possessive adjectives in the Spanish sentence, we don’t say sus dientes (his teeth) we say the teeth, because if it’s reflexive, we already know the teeth are his!]

2. Yo me despierto muy temprano. (I wake *myself* up very early)=(I wake up very early)
[I am waking up early, I am not waking someone else up very early! You can, but it wouldn’t need a reflexive pronoun. And it would be super mean.]

3. Tú lavas al perro (You wash the dog)
[Uh oh! This isn’t reflexive because you are not washing yourself, you are washing something else. In this case, the dog. Be careful!]

4. Yo me lavo la cara. (I wash *myself* the face)=(I wash my face)
[In this case, it is definitely reflexive because you are doing it to yourself.]

 

 

Back to Basics: Definite and Indefinite Articles

In English, a definite article refers to a specific noun. Since we don’t have gender associated with our nouns, and we don’t change the article according to number, we use only one: The.

The car. The girl. The cars. The girls.

In Spanish, nouns have both gender and number and the definite articles change to reflect that, so we have four options.

Masculine, singular: El.  Masculine, plural: Los. Feminine, singular: La. Feminine, plural: Las.

El carro = the car, since carro is masculine and singular. La niña = the girl, since niña is feminine and singular.  Los carros = the cars, since carros is masculine and plural. Las niñas = the girls, since niñas is feminine and plural. They all mean “the”.

In English, the indefinite articles refer to vague or unknown quantities of a noun, it is not specific. We use: A, an, & some.

A car. A girl. An elephant. Some cars. Some girls. Some elephants.

In Spanish, once again we need to reflect the gender and number of the noun with the article, so we have four options: Un(o), unos, una, unas. If you’re thinking that the word uno means one, you’re correct. In this case, when uno appears before a masculine, singular noun, we drop the -o on the end. So we have:

Un carro. Una niña. Un elefante. Unos carros. Unas niñas. Unos elefantes.

Make some flash cards with the 8 articles and practice with the nouns that you have already learned.