Uses of the preterite: (snapshot-like qualities)

  1. Describes an action which advances a story (main events):
  2. Ex: They arrived at 7:00, washed the dishes, vacuumed the living room, .

    and left by 7:30.

  3. An action limited in time (considered a main event as well; often accompanied by a number or duration of time)
  4. Ex: I called him 5 times yesterday.

    I studied all night long.

    We watched television for 3 hours.

  5. An action begun or completed in the past .
  6. Ex: I closed the book.

    It began to rain at 8am.

    He left immediately.

    Class started at 10am.

  7. Beginning or end of an action (like above):
  8. Ex: The play started at 7pm.

    The concert ended at 3pm.

    He started to study last night.

  9. A physical, mental, or emotional change (a reaction)…which is NOT a description of a condition or state:
  10. Ex: Everyone was happy when they heard the good news.

    She became pale when she found out the bad news.

    I got angry when I couldn’t find my keys .

  11. Arrivals or departures:
  12. Ex: The plane arrived at 7:30am.

    She went out last night at midnight.

    My boyfriend picked me up around 8:00pm.

  13. Interruptions:

Ex: I was sleeping (imperfect) when the phone rang (preterite).

I was crossing the street (imperfect) when a car hit me (preterite).





Uses of the imperfect: (moving picture-like qualities)

  1. Describes a situation or paints a picture in which the action takes place :

Ex: It was 9pm when I arrived at the house.

The windows were dark, and it was very windy.

2. A continuous action that is interrupted by another action:

Ex: We were eating dinner when the doorbell rang.

He was sleeping when he heard a loud crash.

3.A repeated action in the past, without time limits:

Ex: When I was young, I used to go to the market with my grandma on


On Fridays we always ate pizza.

We would go to Florida every summer.

4.Description of an emotion, physical or mental state:

Ex: I wanted to marry him even though he was gravely ill.

He always believed in God.

5.Anticipated actions:

Ex: We were going to have a party last Friday, but we didn’t.

Since we were going to have an exam that Monday, we didn’t go out that weekend.

6.Simultaneous actionsà two or more actions occurring at the same time:

Ex. While I was studying, she was watching television.

My mom was setting the table while my father finished fixing the

washer. (key word: mientras= while)

Test yourself with an Online Preterite vs Imperfect Exercise!