What is the difference between Preterite vs Imperfect in Spanish?
One of the first things that you should understand is that both are past tenses formed in Spanish. However, to try to keep it simple, today on this post we will focus primarily on examples of AR Spanish verbs using these 2 past tenses.
With these examples, you will learn what is the difference between Preterite and Imperfect so you can recognize them in conversation. For this post, we will use the Spanish verb cantar (to sing).
For conjugation of Spanish –ar verbs into the imperfect, you must drop the –ar tail and then add:
yo – cantaba
tú – cantabas
él/ella/usted – cantaba
nosotros – cantábamos
ellos /ellas / ustedes – cantaban
However, to form the Preterite of cantar you will have:
yo – canté
tú – cantaste
él/ella/usted – cantó
ellos /ellas / ustedes cantaron
Typically when considering the Preterite vs Imperfect, the Preterite is used to simply express an action that has already happened in the past. However with the Imperfect, there could be a continued action in place. In Spanish, the imperfect is used to describe something that was happening or used to happen.
To illustrate this I will give a few examples below using the very same AR Spanish verb above cantar to see the difference between the Preterite vs Imperfect.
Ayer yo canté una canción en el show. Yesterday, I sang a song in the show.
Las muchachas cantaron en el concierto. The girls sang in the concert.
Nosotros cantábamos mucho cuando estábamos en el grupo. We used to sing a lot when we were in the group.
Cuando ellos entraron en la casa, ustedes cantaban. You all were singing when they entered the house. Or, they came inside the house when you were singing.