Spanish Verbs. Lesson 3

Free Course: Spanish Verbs - Lesson 3

Spanish verbs
Course on verb tenses and forms

Lesson 3: ¡Cuando éramos jóvenes! When we were young!

In this lesson we will learn:

  • how the imperfect past tense is formed (Pretérito imperfecto)
  • what situations and indicators help us to choose the imperfect past tense

Does it seem to you that there are so many Spanish tenses that you will never master them? Don’t worry. The secret of success is to create a clear matrix in our head where each tense has its special place. First, stop trying to remember all the tenses at once. Remember the situations and the time markers for each tense. You will see that at the end of the course all the tenses will take their place in a logical and beautiful system of verb forms.

Spanish vocabulary


In lesson we will practice the following vocabulary. Read the words, listen to the audio and remember them:


calm, calmness, peace




anxiety, concern, worry


dawn, sunrise





hora extra

extra hour, overtime




silly thing, foolishness

mercado laboral

labour market


queue, line

puesto (de trabajo)

work place, post




worker, employee

subida de sueldo

salary increase, pay rise

con antelación

beforehand, in advance


funny, amusing, fun



compartir piso

to share an apartment, to live with somebody


to complain

hacer ruido

to make noise

dejar en paz a algien

to leave someone alone


to quarrel, to argue

refrescar la memoria

to refresh one’s memory

oler bien/mal

to smell good/bad


to mature, become adult


to put on weight

Spanish dialogues


Listen carefully to the following Spanish dialogues. They will help you understand the grammar of this lesson:

Spanish grammar

Spanish grammar

Read carefully the explanation of the grammar of this lesson:

How the imperfect past tense is formed (Pretérito imperfecto)

Pretérito imperfecto is used to describe processes and states. That’s exactly why it is called “imperfecto”, which means “incomplete” or “unfinished” tense. This tense is easy to use as it has few exceptions. Let’s see its forms:

person -ar: hablar (to speak) -er: aprender (to learn) -ir: vivir (to live)
yo hablaba aprendía vivía
hablabas aprendías vivías
él, ella, usted hablaba aprendía vivía
nosotros hablábamos aprendíamos vivíamos
vosotros hablabais aprendíais vivíais
ellos, ustedes hablaban aprendían vivían

Only three verbs form an irregular Pretérito imperfecto. Let’s memorize them:

person ser (be) ir (go) ver (see)
yo era iba veía
eras ibas veías
él, ella, usted era iba veía
nosotros éramos íbamos veíamos
vosotros erais ibais veíais
ellos, ustedes eran iban veían

When should we use Pretérito imperfecto?

Try to memorize the situations in which the imperfect past tense is used:

  1. Repeated or regular actions in the past. In English “used to” or “would” are used quite often in these situations. Look at these examples:
  2. Antes me regalabas flores muy a menudo. – Before you used to give me flowers very often.
    Cuando vivía en Madrid iba a trabajar en metro. – When I lived in Madrid, I used to take the underground to get to work.

  3. The description of a state in the past (the state of people and things):
  4. Pedro estaba muy triste y no quería hablar con nadie. – Pedro was very sad and didn’t want to talk to anyone.

  5. In introductory phrases, referring to the past in general:
  6. Me parecía que aquí tratabamos bien a nuestros trabajadores. It seemed to me that here we treated our employees well.
    Sabía que Marta estaba embarazada. I knew that Marta was pregnant.

  7. Simultaneous actions in the past. In English, continuous verb forms are used in these situations quite often. Look at these examples:
  8. Mientras Laura tocaba la guitarra Luis hablaba por teléfono. While Laura was playing the guitar, Luis was speaking on the phone.
    Mi madre cocinaba y escuchaba música. My mother was cooking and listening to music.

  9. An ongoing action in the past that served as background for another completed action:
  10. Miguel hablaba por teléfono cuando viniste. Miguel was speaking on the phone when you came.
    Cuando salí a la calle llovía mucho. When I went out it was raining heavily.

Your choice of tense may completely alter the meaning of a phrase.

Let’s look at some examples where the tense changes the meaning drastically:

  • Laura tenía una hija. – Laura had a daughter.
  • Laura tuvo una hija. – Laura gave a birth to a daughter.
  • Conocía a este hombre. – I knew this man.
  • Conocí a este hombre ayer. – I met (I got to know) this man yesterday.

The following are indicator words for this tense:

  • siempre, todos los días, tres veces a la semana (and other words denoting frequency)
  • Todos los sábados comíamos juntos. Every Saturday we had lunch together.
    Siempre me regalabas flores. You always gave me flowers.

  • mientras, cuando (links denoting simultaneous actions)
  • Mientras veíamos la tele comíamos pizza. – While we were watching TV, we were eating pizza.
    Cuando llovía nos quedabamos en casa. – When it rained, we stayed at home.

What is the difference between“hacía” and “estaba haciendo”?

As you know, the construction “estar + gerundio” is used to express actions that are happening at the moment, that is to say, which are in progress. We can use the same construction in the Pretérito imperfecto, talking about a process in the past. In English this usually corresponds to the continuous verb form. Look at these examples:

  • Estaba comiendo cuando me llamaste. – I was eating lunch, when you called me.
  • Cuando salimos de casa estaba lloviendo. – When we left the house, it was raining.

In many situations hacía and estaba haciendo mean the same thing and are interchangeable. However, the construction “estar + gerundio” meaning “an interrupted action” or “an action in the background” is used more often:

  • Estaba trabajando cuando vino Pablo. – I was working, when Pablo came.
  • Los niños estaban viendo la tele cuando escucharon un sonido raro. – The children were watching TV, when they suddenly heard a strange sound.

Sequence of tenses in Spanish

There is a special phenomenon in Spanish which is called the sequence of tenses. It’s very similar to the mechanisms in English: If the verb in the main clause is in the past tense, the subordinate clause should also be in the past tense. Examples:

  • que hablas inglés. – I know that you speak English.
  • In this sentence we use the present tense in both parts of the sentence, because the main clause (Sé) is in the present tense.

  • Sabía que hablabas inglés. – I knew that you spoke English.
  • Here we have the same phenomenom.

Let’s try to visualize this process. Every time you use the past tense, in your imagination you should see a stone falling on the main clause, rolling downhill and crushing all other tenses. Have you imagined this? Let’s look at more examples:

  • ¿No decías que engordabas por culpa de mi comida? – Didn’t you say, you put on weight because of my food?
  • We say “No decías” and Boom! The past tense stone rolled all over the sentence and turned the verb “engordas” into “engordabas“.

  • Ya sabía que ibas a empezar a quejarte. – I knew you would start complaining.
  • In this sentence the fallen stone crushed even the future tense under itself and turned it into the past (“ibas a empezar”).

So far, the sequence of tenses doesn’t seem so difficult, does it? However, be prepared. Once you get to know all the tenses, you’ll see that choosing the correct tense will be more difficult. Then you’ll see that our imaginary stone will be even more useful.

Spanish test


Check what you remember from this lesson:

1. Antes ____ de viaje cada mes.
nos ibamos
nos fuimos
nos vamos

2. Cuando salí de casa ____ .
estaba lloviendo
estuvo lloviendo

3. Ya sabía que la conversación ____ en esta dirección.

4. ____ a las 8 de la mañana y desayuné.
Me levanté
Levanté me

5. El Pretérito perfecto simple se usa ____ .
para hablar de lo que está pasando ahora
para hablar de lo que pasó ayer
para hablar de lo que va a pasar mañana




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