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The (easy) imperfect tense

This is the easiest tense in Spanish. It is easy because there are only three exeptions in the entire Spanish language.
This form is made by removing the last two letters of the verb and adding the endings. One set for verbs that end in -ar and another for the rest of the verbs:

Subject pronoun AR verb Not AR
yo -aba -ía
(familiar) tú -abas -ías
él / ella / usted -aba -ía
nosotros -ábamos
(familiar) vosotros -abais
ellos / ellas / ustedes -aban -ían
Notice that the stress is always on the same place on the endings. Also there is a pattern with verb tenses in general. The tú form ends in 's', the nosotros form always ends in -mos and the ellos / ellas / ustedes always ends in 'n'.
So if you know those three exceptions, then you can take any verb and put it in to this imperfect tense. The exceptions are with ir (to go), ser (to be) and ver (to see):

Subject pronoun ir ser ver
yo iba era veía
(familiar) tú ibas eras veías
él / ella / usted iba era veía
nosotros íbamos éramos veíamos
(familiar) vosotros ibais
erais veíais
ellos / ellas / ustedes iban eran veían
Again, the stress is in exactly the same place

Uses of the imperfect tense

This is a describing tense. You do not know whether the action has finished. In English it is often used when you say was ...-ing or were ...-ing but not all of the time. When selecting which tense to use, think about what you MEAN and not which words that you have used. If the action is definitely finished, you will not use the imperfect tense (and you probably might use the preterite or perfect tense again, depending on what you mean).

Used to
It is used to express 'used to' which is an action that is habitual:
Cuando vivía en Inglaterra, patinaba mucho = When I lived (used to live) in England, I used to skate a lot.
Cuando era joven, me levantaba muy temprano = When I was young, I used to get up early

A background action
It is often used as a background to something that happened (which is usually in the preterite tense). Note that time is in the imperfect tense because you are describing the time:
Eran las cinco cuando llegué = It was 5 o'clock  when I arrived
Eran (imperfect tense) las cinco cuando llegué (preterite tense because it is something that had a start and end)
Cuando salí, nevaba = When I left, it was snowing (or nevaba cuando salí)
Be careful with the word 'cuando'. If the event has not happened, then you would use the subjunctive tense because it is not a fact that the event happened.
This tense also denotes what was going to happen (same as iba a ...)
Ella se marchaba cuando sonó el teléfono = She was leaving (just about to leave) when the phone rang.

You can use the imperfect continuous (like estaba barriendo = I was sweeping) when you are stressing 'at that time' meaning the event was happening at a specific point of time:
Mis amigos se estaban hablando cuando llegué = My friends were talking to each other (at that time) when I arrived.
Estaba escribiendo un correo electrónico cuando sonó el teléfono = I was writing an email when the phone rang

Note that the use of 'I am used to the heat' means something completely different. This is what I mean about having a feeling of what you want to say. You are saying 'I am accustomed to the heat'.

Describing a state or condition
As I mentioned before, this is a describing tense so if you are describing something, you will automatically use the imperfect tense:
El coche era nuevo y tenía una radio = The car was new and had a radio
Here, it is not clear if the car still is new or if it still has a radio - it is a description so the imperfect is used.

Reporting what someone said
When describing what someone said with verbs like decir and escribir, these verbs will be in the preterite tense (someone said or written something and that event had a definite start and end) and the describing will be in the imperfect tense:
Me dijo (preterite tense) que estudiaba (imperfect tense) = She told me that she was studying
Le escribí (preterite tense) que pensaba hacerlo = I wrote to him that I intended to do it

Just to clarify...

If you are describing something at a certain point like how many children someone had e.g. "she had a daughter" implying "She had one daughter when I met her ten years ago; she may have more now" then you would use the imperfect tense:

Tenía una hija = she had a/one daughter

but if you are talking about an event with a definite ending such as a birth, you would use the preterite in this case:
Tuvo una hija = "she had a daughter"

Another example:
Había una persona que estaba mirando los CDs. ¿Quién era? = There was a person who was looking at the CDs. Who was it?
Here you are describing an event in the past so the second verb also is in the imperfect. There was a person looking... he may still be looking or may look again but:
Alguien cogió mis CDs. ¿Quién fue? = Someone took my CDs. Who was it?
Here you are referring to a definite action with a start and end - someone took my CDs. You use the preterite in both tenses here.

One more:
Tuve que decírselo = I had to tell him (and the action is completed - I had to tell him and I did) - you use the preterite tense here
Tenía que decírselo = I had to tell him - here you are describing that you had to tell him and you are not saying that event happened so you use the imperfect tense

[ENGLISH]Have you found an error or do you want to add more information to these pages?
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