CSEC Spanish: The Imperfect Tense

In this lesson we will discuss:

  1. How to conjugate a verb to the imperfect tense

  2. When the imperfect tense is used

The imperfect tense is used to say someone was doing something or a group were doing something.

Every tense in Spanish is formed first by finding the stem. This stem is usually found by removing the -ar/-er/-ir ending of the infinitive form of the verb (exceptions being irregular verbs and the subjunctive) and adding the correct ending based on the subject.

In that way, (regular) verbs are sort of like open-faced sandwiches, with the stem being the bread and the ending being the topping.

Above is the open-faced sandwich for the verb lavar. The stem, our bread, is lav-, and the ending is -ar, since it is in the infinitive. But considering that this is only a lettuce sandwich, it wouldn't really have a flavour at all.

However, when we form the imperfect tense, we switch out this lettuce so that we can add something a bit more tasty.

There are a different set of endings for -ar and -er/-ir verbs.

The endings for the imperfect tense are as follows for -ar verbs:

Yo -aba


él/ella/usted -aba

nosotros -ábamos

vosotros -abais

ellos/ellas/ustedes -aban

The endings for the imperfect tense are as follows for -er/-ir verbs:

Yo -ía


él/ella/usted -ía

nosotros -íamos

vosotros -íais

ellos/ellas/ustedes -ían

For example, the verb lavar again. When we remove the ending (our flavourless lettuce topping) we're left with the stem, lav-. So, all we need then is a subject to know which ending to use.

This translates to I was washing. (Yo lavaba).

In this sandwich, we used the subject yo, and switched out the infinitive ending (lettuce) for the imperfect tense ending for yo (cheese). Again, cheese on bread might not seem very appetizing to you, but, you have to admit, it's better than just lettuce.

Now, we can do the same with an -ir/-er verb. For this sandwich, we will use the verb decir (to say/tell) and conjugate it to the 2nd person singular in the imperfect tense (tú).

This translates to: You were saying (Tú decías) .

Here, we have the infinitive decir. So, we remove the -ir ending (lettuce) and that leaves us with our stem dec- (a slab of white bread). Then, we add the 2nd person singular ending in the imperfect tense, -ías (the non-descript slab of 'meat' on the right).

This formula remains the same for basically every verb except for these three: ver, ir and ser.

These three are the only irregular verbs in the imperfect tense.


yo veía


él/ella/usted veía

nosotros veíamos

vosotros veíais

ellos/ellas/ustedes veían


yo iba


él/ella/usted iba

nosotros íbamos

vosotros íbais

ellos/ellas/ustedes iban


yo era


él/ella/usted era

nosotros éramos