Preterite vs Imperfect
Difference between preterite and imperfect is must-learn grammar fact, if you are learning Spanish. If you are a Spanish national, you know that Spanish language makes use of two simple past tenses namely Preterite and Imperfect. However, to those who are not Spanish and trying to master the language, finding which one of the two tenses to be used in a sentence is a difficult task. The factor that decides in favor of either of the two tenses preterite and imperfect is the characteristic of the verb being used in the sentence. This is not something that English speakers do while using a tense. Let us find out more about this aspect through examples.
What is Preterite Tense?
Preterite is simply an action that has happened in the past and has a definite finishing time. It is used as a tense, to describe an act in the past, which is now over and not happening. It is also used where there is a specific beginning and a specific ending of an act. It is easy to identify preterite when time indicating phrases are used. For example, at that time, last night, the night before last, this morning, etc. All these phrases give a specific time. Therefore, when such phrases are used in a sentence they are indicating the use of preterite tense. Look at the following examples.
Last night, he went to bed early.
Here, we are given a specific time by the use of last night. Then, this action of going to bed is already over. So, a completed action with a specific time uses preterite tense.
I did yoga from four o’clock to five o’clock in the evening.
In this instance, we have an action that specifically indicates the beginning and end of the action. So, we use preterite tense.
I went to the post office, bought a stamp, put it on my letter and posted it.
Here, a chain of past events is given. Since, all these actions are finished and completed, we use the preterite tense.
Actions that were repeated a very specific number of times also uses the preteriste tense in Spanish. For example,
The teacher called Simon’s name three times.
What is Imperfect Tense?
Imperfect tense is used to speak about actions in past that do not have a specific beginning or end. Take for example a simple sentence “he was playing”. The sentence does not tell us anything about the time when he started playing or when he stopped playing. What the sentence tells us is that, at a point of time in the past, he was playing. The focus of the sentence lies in the action which is imperfect in this sentence. Thus, it comes as no surprise that, in Spanish language, such a verb is associated with imperfect tense. Imperfect tense is used in Spanish to speak about actions that were repeated habitually, to describe people, to set stage for another past tense. Look at the following examples.
It was raining.
Here, no specific start or end time is given; therefore, imperfect tense is used.
It was raining when I came home.
Here, was raining is setting stage to preterite tense indicated by came.
The library used to open every Sunday.
Here, we are speaking about actions that were repeated habitually.
He was wearing a green cap.
So, for description in the past, imperfect tense is used.
What is the difference between Preterite and Imperfect?
• While both preterite and imperfect are used for past tenses, preterite is used to indicate actions that took place in the past and have been completed, so that the reader knows the specific beginning and ending.
• On the other hand, imperfect is a past tense that is used for actions from the past that are not seen as completed.
• Imperfect stresses on a state of being while preterite focuses on completed actions.
• Imperfect tense is used in Spanish to speak about actions that were repeated habitually, to describe people, to set stage for another past tense.
Image Courtesy: Night via Pixabay