Spanish Past Tense Markers

Stay on the lookout for the triggers of the past - words and phrases that will hint you at what tense you'll need to use: the preterite or the imperfect!

As you know from our previous articles (tap to read the first and the second if you haven’t yet), there are two past tenses in the Spanish language. They have different uses and tense forms. But how to find out which you should use? Stay on the lookout for the time markers that trigger the use of the preterite and the imperfect!

Time Markers of the Preterite Tense

The preterite tense has several uses:

  • a singular event in the past,
  • events that have a certain start and end point, either stated or implied or that were repeated a certain number of times,
  • the point in the past when a certain event started or finished,
  • chains of events that took place in the past.

So, in order to find out whether you should speak about a certain past event in the preterite, you need to look for the mention of a specific point in the past or a wider time frame, which still sets a specific limit to the past. Here are the preterite time markers:

Learn the indicators of the Spanish preterite tense

Time Markers of the Imperfect Tense

The Spanish imperfect tense is used when there is a need to speak about:

  • the actions that took place on a regular basis or were part of a past routine (used to do or would do),
  • the actions that served as a preparation stage or a background for another action that is referred to in the preterite,
  • the time and one’s age at a certain point in the past.

For these actions, except for the last one, of course, you are more likely to mention how often, not when exactly, you performed them. So, think if one of these time markers can be applied to your situation:

Learn the indicators of the Spanish imperfect tense

Now that you have the two lists, you can print them out to keep handy or hang them up somewhere you spend much time (you know what I mean). Learn the time markers by heart to always be sure that you are using the correct Spanish past tense!

And now, let’s check what you have memorized today!

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