The Imperfect / El imperfecto

 A. REGULAR AND IRREGULAR IMPERFECT FORMS

1. Regular:
ayudar ~ ayudaba, ayudabas, ayudaba, ayudábamos, ayudabais, ayudaban (used to help)
atender ~ atendía, atendías, atendía, atendíamos, atendíais, atendían (used to pay attention to)
asistir ~ asistía, asistías, asistía, asistíamos, asistíais, asistían
 (used to attend)

2. Only three verbs have irregular forms in the imperfect:

ir: iba
ibas
iba
íbamos
ibais
iban
ser: era
eras
era
éramos
erais
eran
ver: veía
veías
veía
veíamos
veíais
veían

 B. USES OF THE IMPERFECT / USOS DEL IMPERFECTO

1. To describe in the past: the background or setting, situations, conditions, and actions that were in progress (was/were …ing):

Eran las seis. Tenía doce años. Estaba enfermo y leía en cama. Afuera llovía. De pronto… It was six. I was twelve. I was sick and was reading in bed. It was raining outside. Suddenly…

2. To describe habitual, customary actions, or things that used to happen in the past without specific reference to a beginning or end (imperfective, incomplete) (used to, would):

Iban al cine todos los viernes.
Iba mucho al parque cuando era joven.
Estaba informada porque leía mucho.
They used to go to the movies every Friday.
I would to go the park a lot when I was young.
She was (and stayed) informed because she (habitually) read a lot.

This means that time expressions conveying repetition are often clues for selecting the imperfect: con frecuencia, cada semana, siempre, a veces, etc.

Tip:  Whenever you could say used to or was/were…ing in English, you need the imperfect in Spanish.

 

Practice

Fill in the blanks with the correct form of the imperfect.

It was Tuesday, November 12. It was six in the morning. Few people were walking by the street. Some pedestrians were heading work, still half-asleep. It was cold, but it wasn’t raining or snowing. There were some cars, but the traffic wasn’t heavy. We were in winter already. From my window, I was seeing people walk by. Usually, when I took my morning coffee, I was serene, content, alert. Nothing bothered me. There was magic in the fresh air. Both people and nature seemed a bit lazy in the morning. The sky was gray, but I wasn’t feeling melancholic.
_______ el martes doce de noviembre. _______  las seis de la mañana. Poca gente _______  por las calles. Algunos peatones _______  hacia el trabajo, todavía medio dormidos. _______  frío, pero no _______  ni _______ . _______  algunos autos, pero el tráfico no _______  pesado. Ya _______  en invierno. Desde mi ventana _______ pasar a la gente. Generalmente, cuando _______  el café matutino, _______  sereno/a, contento/a, alerta. Nada me _______ . _______  magia en el aire fresco. Tanto la gente como la naturaleza _______  un poco perezosas por las mañanas. El cielo _______  gris, pero no _______  melancolía.

(source)