Just when I thought I had the imperfect tense down, come to find out there are a handful of other ways to use the imperfect. Many of these other uses do not necessarily follow the rule of an action being habitual or repetitive, so I realized I had to memorize a few things.
If you haven’t already, make sure you brush up on your imperfect tense knowledge. Check out our intro article on the imperfect tense to make sure you have a full understanding on how the imperfect functions and how to conjugate it.
Uses for the Imperfect Tense
1. Describing People and Things
When describing people and things in the past, the imperfect is almost always used. Any time you are time you are using the following in the past, the imperfect is used:
Let’s take a look at some examples:
Era cómica y inteligente.
She was funny and smart.
Ellos tenían cuatro años en el año 2001.
They were 4 years old in 2001.
La ciudad era vieja.
The city was old.
Me sentía feliz con mi escuela nueva.
I was happy with my new school.
2. Telling the date and time
When using the date and time in the past in Spanish, you will need to use the imperfect tense as well.
Eran las cuatro de la tarde.
It was 4:00 in the afternoon.
Eran las siente en la noche.
It was 7:00 at night.
Era el jueves, el 26 de abril.
It was Thursday, the 26th of April.
Era el 11 de junio.
It was June 11th.
3. Talking about the weather
Talking about the weather in the past can get a little tricky. Usually, if you use the preterite tense it would be perfectly acceptable. The only time you use the imperfect tense is if you can add “at that moment.”
Say you were telling a story about something that happened in regards to the weather. You might say (in English):
It was raining (at the moment) when we arrived.
For this particular sentence (In Spanish) you would need to use the imperfect because you are talking about a weather condition that occurred in the moment.
Estaba lloviendo cuando llegamos.
Let’s take a look at some other examples where you would use the imperfect tense with weather:
No podía tomar la foto porque estaba lloviendo.
I couldn’t take the photo because it was raining.
No llevé mi chaqueta porque era un día muy caliente.
I didn't’ take my jacket because it was a hot day.
Although the imperfect does have a lot of instances where it is used outside of the normal rules, the tense is pretty easy to remember and conjugate. As long as you stick to the major rule of the imperfect being a repeated action, the rest will fall into place in time.
As you practice more and have conversations with native speakers, you will pick up on when they use the imperfect and eventually incorporate it into your own speaking (or writing). As with everything in Spanish, it just takes time and diligent practice!