Getting to know the Spanish verbs can drive you round the bend.
First, there are all the endings you have to master. Then, the irregular verbs that don’t follow any of the rules you’ve just learned.
And then there are what feels like a myriad tenses, all of which you need to crack from day one.
Or do you?
When my students come to me feeling like the Spanish verbs are ruling their existence, I remind them of my golden hack.
You see, I love finding learning hacks. Little tricks that save me huge amounts of time and effort, and keep up my motivation.
I came up with this one when I was learning the French and German verbs.
Like all great hacks, it’s really neat and simple.
Spanish verbs: Maria’s golden hack
Many courses and teachers out there want you to go for the subjunctive from lesson 3. And the reflexive verbs. And the passive voice. Just like that.
But that’s going to leave you utterly confused.
And it’s going to kill your motivation. Because you’ll be making snail’s pace progress. If any at all.
Instead, my approach to the Spanish verbs is this:
Learn the easiest and most frequently used tenses first. Get comfortable using them. And then tackle the more difficult ones. One at a time.
Going through the Spanish tenses that way will boost your motivation. And it will help you feel you’re making constant progress.
Why is that so essential?
Because the faster your progress, the more energy you’ll have to learn other, more difficult tenses.
That’s why, on my list of when to learn the Spanish verbs and tenses, the imperfect is near the top.
The Spanish imperfect tense has some of the easiest endings. And there are a few fairly painless rules that’ll help you use it correctly.
In today’s lesson, I’m going to focus on those rules. In other lessons, we’ll go through how to build the different forms of the imperfect tense.
Spanish verbs – When to use the imperfect
The imperfect tense is used to narrate past actions. There are five main rules for when to use the imperfect in Spanish.
This tense is used to indicate:
1. Actions that happened with a certain frequency
The imperfect tense refers to past actions that occurred on a more or less regular basis, or were habitual or ongoing:
Cuando vivía en Madrid, iba mucho al cine
When I lived in Madrid, I used to go to the cinema a lot
In this case, you could also translate the imperfect as:
When I lived in Madrid, I would go to the cinema a lot
The imperfect tense is often used to describe how things or people were, their professions or roles.
La casa era pequeña
The house was small
3. Feelings, mental actions and physical sensations
To refer to states of being in the past, Spanish tends to use the imperfect tense:
Estaban muy cansados
They were very tired
4. Time and age
When referring to the time of day, months, seasons, or someone’s age in the past, the imperfect tense is used:
Eran las tres y cuarto
It was quarter past three
5. Past actions that in English are said with an ‘-ing’ form
In this case, we usually talk about two simultaneous actions that occurred in the past, with no mention of a specific time:
Mientras ellas dormían, yo hacía la cena
While they slept, I was making dinner
Spanish verbs – Using the imperfect
To help you master this tense, here are two drills.
Spanish verbs – Drill 1
How would you translate these sentences into English?
- Ricardo estaba soltero
- Cuando era pequeño, tenía muchos amigos
- Estábamos en primavera
- Luis no quería estudiar matemáticas
- Unos salían y otros entraban
Spanish verbs – Drill 2
How would you translate these sentences into Spanish?
- He was painting and I was reading
- When I was a student, I used to travel by bus
- My arm hurt
- The cars were red
- When I was ten, I used to go to that school