EL MALETIN DEL PROFESOR PRETERITE VS. IMPERFECT AND PLUPERFECT

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1 PRETERITE VS. IMPERFECT AND PLUPERFECT The distinction between these two aspects of the past tense (note that they are not tenses, but aspects of the past tense) is one of the most difficult points for learners to master. The following example summarizes the basic functions of each (the numbers in parentheses refer to the segments following the example) PRETERITE *Changed past Conditions, Reactions (2) *Actions, Single or Consecutive (3) *Habitual Actions Limited in time (5) *Repeated Actions (5) IMPERFECT * Past Conditions, Beliefs (1) *Habitual Actions (4) *Projected Action (Indirect Discourse) (6) 1) Past Conditions, Beliefs (Imperfect) Examples: The imperfect serves to illustrate a conditions or custom in the past, as contrasted with the present, explicitly or inmplicitly. - I was fifteen years old in this picture. (Yo tenía quince años en esa foto) - My mother only had two children at that time. (Mi madre sólo tenía dos hijos en esa época)

2 2) CHANGED CONDITIONS, REACTIONS (PRETERITE) The preterite is used to depict changes in beliefs, conditions or feeling in the past, typically reactions to some even. -I like the movie we saw last night. (Me gustó la película que vimos anoche) - At that instant, I thought I was going to faint (En ese instante, creí que me iba a desmayar) 3) ACTIONS, SINGLE OR CONSECUTIVE(PRETERITE) The preterite is used to depict actions or evnts, single or consecutive. Example - Yesterday we saw Juan (ayer vimos a Juan) - She ran ten miles (Corrió diez millas) ** One confusing point for many learners is the fact that it does not matter how long an action or event lasts, if it is a single event, it will be in the preterite. He studied languages all of his life (Estudió los idiomas durante toda su vida) 4) HABITUAL ACTIONS OR EVENTS (IMPERFECT) Habitual actions are started in the imperfect. - My brother used to accompany me to school (Mi hermano me acompañaba a la escuela)

3 5) HABITUAL ACTIONS LIMITED IN TIME, REPEATED ACTIONS (PRETERITE) Habitual actions limited in time or frequency are stated in preterite. -My broter accompanied me to school for six years. (Mi hermano me acompañó a la escuela durante seis años) - My broter accompanied me to school three times. (Mi hrmano me acompañó a la escuela tres veces) ***** ACTIONS (BEGINNIG, MIDDLE,END. Actions can be perceived from a variety of angles, either at the beginning, Middle or end. The preterite would be used for actions seen at their origin or at their end, or as begun and ended in the past; the imperfect is used for actions perceived in the moddle, or in progress, with no vision of their beginning or their end. 6) PROJECTED ACTIONS / INDIRECT DISCOURSE (IMPRFECT) *In Spanish, the present tense can refer to an event that is projected in the future in relation to the context, but that has not yet occurred at the moment of speech. -He says he will arrive soon ( Dice que llega pronto) *The imperfect serves as backshift of the present, and in contexts of indirect discourse, many refer to actions that are projected or planned (no yet finished) -He said he would arrive soon (Dijo que llegaba pronto)

4 * The same logic applies to modal auxiliary Ir a + an infinitive, used to denote a near future. When shifted to the past, this expression is always in the imperfect. -They say it is going to rain. (Dicen que va a llover) - They said it was going to rain. ( Dijeron que iba a llover) Note: when Ir a is used in the preterite, it is no longer an auxiliary, but becomes the verb of action to go as in :Fuimos a comer (We went to eat) *** Disconcerting to many Learners is the fact that the imperfect can be used to refer to an event that is projected beyond the actual present, to the future. -He says his flight leaves tomorrow. (Dice que su vuelo sale mañana) -He said his flight leaves tomorrow. (Dijo que su vuelo salía mañana)

5 WOULD (Contexts and Translations) In English, habitual actions can be expressed by using the auxiliaries used to or would before the verb, or simply the verb in the past: all of these can be translated by the imperfect it Spanish. Examples: -When I was a child, my parents would take me (OR: used to take me, took me) to the movies once a week. (Cuando era niño, mis padres me llevaban al cine una vez por semana) It must be noted that would has other uses in English for which the imperfect in Spanish cannot be used: one of them is the conditional, for which Spanish also uses the conditional. -If I were rich, I would buy an island. (Si fuera rico, me compraría una isla) A third use of Would is in the negative, would not, to indicate refusal, for this use in Spanish could use the preterite of querer. -He would not tell me the secret, no matter how much I insisted. ( No quiso decirme el secreto, por más que yo insistiera) This is not to be confused with a negative of a habit ( the context will indicate whether it was a habit or a refusal at one particular moment) -My brother would not tell me anything sad, ever. (Mi hermano no me decía nunca nada triste)

6 SABER/CONOCER The verbs saber and conocer change meaning when used in the preterite vs. the imperfect. Consider the following differences. Examples: SABER **Imperfect (to know) -He knew Spanish as a chid. (Sabía español cuando era niño) ** Preterite (to find out, or become informed, or realize) -He found out that that she had died.(supo que ella había muerto) Examples: CONOCER **Imperfect (to know) -We knew the Gomenezes. (Conocíamos a los Gómez) ** Preterite: To meet (for the first time, as in being introduced) -I met Martha at the party. (Conocí a Martha en la fiesta) Note: To say to meet for someone you know already, when it means to get together with that person, use encontrarse con.

7 USES PRESENT PARTICIPLE. EL MALETIN DEL PROFESOR 1) To form the progressive tenses is formed by using ESTAR plus the present participle of the main verb you are using. The progressive past is formed by using ESTAR in the imperfect indicative plus the present participle of the main verb you are using 2) To express vividly an action that occurred (pretérito + present participle) Albertito entró llorando en la casa. / Albertito came into the house crying. 3) To express the English use of by plus present participle in Spanish, we can use the gerund form, which has the same ending as a present participle explained above: Trabajando se gana dinero / by working, one earns money ( person earns) Note that no preposition is used in front of present participle even through it is expressed in English as By +present participle. Note, too, that in Spanish we use Al + infinitive Verb (not + present part) to express on or upon + present part. In English: Al entrar a la casa, el niño comenzó a llorar. Upon entering the house, the little boy began to cry.

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