About past times
Lingvist graduate

In the sentence of the Spanish course "Ella ______ por ahí toda la mañana y ahora está en su casa" the right answer is "estuvo" and "estaba" is not accepted. I don't understand that example, shouldn't it be "estaba" for real, because the "action" was during the prolonged period of time? Please, help me to understand that one.
And the opposite situation, "Estaba nervioso porque sólo ________ dos horas para el examen" — the right answer is "quedaban" and "quedaron" isn't accepted. But isn't this the point in the past, where the person in this sentence looked at his/her watch and understands, that there were only two hours left? Please, help me, I'm lost in these two examples. :)

¡Hola!

Thanks for contacting Lingvist!

As you know, the main difference between the Preterite (Pretérito Indefinido: 'yo estuve'), and the Imperfect Past (Pretérito Imperfecto: 'yo estaba') is that the former is used when we refer to a completed past action – often followed by a specific time reference – whereas the latter is used to refer to past actions with no clear beginning and end.

Let us take a closer look at the example sentences you have provided:

  • Ella estuvo por ahí toda la mañana y ahora está en su casa --> The key word here is ahora. It marks that the previous period (la mañana) is now over, so the action of "being out there" the whole morning is finished.

  • Estaba nervioso porque sólo quedaban dos horas para el examen --> The key word in this example is the first verb form (estaba), which marks that the actions in this context happen at an unspecified point in the past. You do know there were two hours left for the exam to start, but both verb forms refer to actions within an unspecified past time frame (as if you could watch those events unfold).

For further information on the differences between the preterite and the imperfect past in Spanish, please check our Forum post on Past Tenses and our in-app Grammar Tips section.

¡Feliz aprendizaje!

last edited by Javier
Lingvist graduate

@Javier, thank you, now that's somewhat clearer to me! :)

You are very welcome!

Don't hesitate to post any other questions you may have in the future!

¡Feliz aprendizaje!

In my experience struggling with pret. and imperf., something that can be useful is to think of imperf. as "used to __."

Like "I used to study (estudiaba) at university" or "When I used to be (era) a kid, ..."

last edited by Kyle Goetz
Lingvist graduate

@Kyle-Goetz, thank you, that's interesting, I'll try this approach. Though, I guess, in my sentences it doesn't work that smoothly? Anyway thank you for your idea!

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