Expressions to identify “Preterite or Imperfect”

Expressions to identify “Preterite or Imperfect”


Spanish has two past tenses as we have said before: preterite and imperfect. Most verbs can be put into either tense, depending on the meaning. The Spanish preterite shows specifically when an action took place and the imperfect tells us in general when an action took place.

Expressions that indicate specific time frames, and therefore signal the use of the preterite.

  1. Ayer...Yesterday
  2. El lunes/Martes/Miércoles/Jueves/ Viernes pasadoLast Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.
  3. Hace un tiempo atrásSome time before
  4. Ayer por la tardeYesterday in the afternoon
  5. Ayer por la mañanaYesterday in the morning
  6. Ayer a la nocheYesterday in the evening/night
  7. hace dos días, años…two days, years ago
  8. el año pasadolast year
  9. el mes pasado...last month
  10. la semana pasadalast week
  11. esta tardethis afternoon
  12. esta mañanathis morning
  13. entoncesthen
  14. en ese momentoat that moment
  15. el otro díathe other day
  16. anochelast night
  17. una vezonce
  18. Hace siglos atrascenturies before
  19. desde el primer momentoFrom the first moment
  20. anteayerThe day before yesterday
  21. El fin de semana pasadoLast weekend


As you can see, they are all specific periods of time that happened in the past. If it is one of the expressions showed above or any other specific past time, it means that is preterit. For example, if right now is 1 pm in the afternoon and I say….. Me levanté a las 12 pm (I woke up at 12pm). It is preterite because shows an specific time at 12pm.

Now let’s see some general expressions, that show that we need to use the imperfect.

  1. Mientras...While
  2. De vez en cuando...from time to time
  3. A veces...sometimes
  4. A menudooften
  5. Cada añoevery year
  6. Cada mesevery month
  7. Todos los días, cada díaevery day
  8. Con frecuencia, frecuentemente...frecuently
  9. en aquella é that time
  10. generalmente, usualmenteusually
  11. muchas veces...many times
  12. muchoa lot
  13. por un ratofor a while
  14. siemprealways
  15. tantas veces...many times
  16. todas las semanas...every week
  17. todos los díasevery day
  18. todo el tiempo...all the time
  19. varias veces...several times
  20. Algunas veces…sometimes
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