Spanish Grammar Guide

Imperfect (e.g.: yo hablaba)

In this section: Description, Questions, Exercises


An Overview of the Imperfect:

The imperfect is used to describe a past action that took place over a period of time. It describes a past "situation" rather than a past "event", for example, Cuando era pequeño, me encantaban los caballos. In some cases, it is used to describe something that repeatedly happened in the past, but no longer happens in the present, e.g.: El año pasado, yo hacía ejercicios cada mañana, pero este año estoy demasiado ocupado para hacerlos ("Last year I would exercise every morning, but this year I am too busy to do it").

The main kinds of sentences that use the imperfect are:

a) repeated action in the past, e.g.: De niño cantaba con mi madre en la iglesia ("When I was young, I used to sing with my mother in church")

b) interrupted action in the past, e.g.: Desayunaba cuando recibí la notica ("I was eating breakfast when I got the news")

c) description of a past situation or scene, e.g.: El cielo era azúl y los pájaros cantaban ("The sky was blue and the birds were singing").

d) to tell the time and ages in the past, e.g.: Eran las siete de la noche cuando empezó la fiesta de Julia, quién tenía 18 años ("It was 7 o'clock at night when party started for Julia, who was 18 years old").

How to Form the Imperfect

The imperfect is formed by attaching an ending to the stem of the verb. The ending used depends on the subject and on the ending of the infinitive form of the verb. This is illustrated in the following tables:

Verbs ending in -ar (e.g.: hablar)


Imperfect Translation
yo hablaba
"I used to speak"/"I was speaking"
"you used speak"/"you were speaking"
él, ella, usted hablaba
"he, she, you used to speak"/"was speaking"
nosotros hablábamos
"we used to speak"/"we were speaking"
vosotros hablasteis "you used speak"/"you were speaking"
ellos, ellas, ustedes hablaban
"they, you used speak"/"they, you were speaking"

-note that the nosotros form is the only one to have an accent

Verbs ending in -ir and -er (e.g.: hacer or vender)

Subject Imperfect Translation
yo hacía
"I used to do"/"I was doing"

hacías "you used to do"/"you were doing"
él, ella, usted hacía "he, she, you used to do"/"was,were doing"
nosotros hacíamos "we used to do"/"we were doing"
vosotros hacíais "you used to do"/"you were doing"
ellos, ellas, ustedes hacían "they, you used to do"/"they, you were doing"

-note that all the -ir/-er endings have an accent and are quite different from the -ar endings

Irregular Imperfects

The two main irregular perfects are ser and ir, shown in the tables:


ser in the imperfect
yo era
él, ella, usted era
nosotros éramos
vosotros erais
ellos, ellas, ustedes eran



ir in the imperfect
yo iba
él, ella, usted iba
nosotros íbamos
vosotros ibais
ellos, ellas, ustedes iban

-note that the nosotros forms of both regular and irregular verbs have accents

Tags: verbs imperfect past participle tense Infinitive conditional
In this section: Description, Questions, Exercises
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