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estar en el pretérito v. el imperfecto

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Grammar / Gramática Español-Inglés' started by nate703, Mar 28, 2008.

  1. nate703 New Member

    United States - English
    Yo no puedo pensar en un momento cuando usaría estar en el pretérito en vez del imperfecto. ¿Cuándo se usa estar en el pretérito v. el imperfecto?
     
  2. Magmod Senior Member

    England
    England English

    Preterit vs. imperfect

    The preterit and imperfect are both simple (i.e., non-compound or one-word) tenses indicating a past-time action or state. Sometimes a given English past-tense sentence may be translated into Spanish with either the preterit or the imperfect, but these two tenses have different meanings or implications.
    The imperfect tense may be considered the present tense backshifted into past time. It is generally used to indicate:
    1. A past action or state being viewed as in progress. In English we often use the past progressive for this: “was/were ...-ing”.
      Estabamos mirando = Mirábamos las mariposas. We were watching the butterflies. Mientras ella abría la puerta...As she opened (was opening) the door...
    2. "I went to your house yesterday, but you weren't there." "Fui a tu casa ayer, pero no estabas." ​
      Two frequent examples of states in past time which are normally viewed as in progress and thus given in the imperfect:
      1. Descriptions in past time, that is, what a person, thing, or situation was like. This also includes situations such as giving the time of day, the date, the weather, one's age, etc. (unless a change or the start/end of a state is indicated, in which case the preterit is normally used).
        Mi madre era muy baja, tenía 40 años, y trabajaba sin fin. My mother was very short, was 40 years old, and worked constantly. Eran las diez de la noche, había una tormenta terrible, y teníamos miedo.It was 10:00 at night, there was a terrible storm out, and we were afraid.
      2. Mental states (in progress) in past time.
        No lo sabía. I didn't know it/that. Creíamos que estábamos perdidos.We thought we were lost.
    3. A past action viewed as being customary or habitual. Note that English often uses “would” or “used to” to indicate this.
      En México, yo caminaba por la playa y las gaviotas hacían circulos sin terminar en el cielo. In Mexico, I used to walk along the beach and the seagulls would make endless circles in the sky.
    * * * *
    The preterit tends to “freeze” an action or state in past time, or to view it as over and done with. It is used to:
    1. Present an action or state in past time as completed or as something instantaneous. Note that expressions of time which limit the action to a more or less specific period of time —even a long period such as thousands of years— generally indicate that the action is being viewed as completed and suggest the preterit.
      ¿Quién rompió el juguete? Who broke the toy? Elena bailó toda la noche.Elena danced all night. Los Gómez vivieron allí seis años.Mr. and Mrs. Gómez lived there six years.
    2. Estuve enfermo la semana pasada. - I was sick last week (and I'm not anymore)​
      Los archivos estuvieron dañados. - The files were damaged (and now they're fixed)​
      Estuvimos hablando esta tarde. We were talking this afternoon. (and we're not anymore -- I've gone home)​
    3. Give a series of sequential actions in past time, that is, “first this happened, then something else occurred, and then...”
      Vine, vi, vencí. I came, I saw, I conquered. Trabajó un poco, fue a McDonalds a comer, y luego volvió a casa.She worked a bit, went to McDonalds to eat, and then returned home.
    4. Show the start or finish of an action or state, or indicate a change in a state in past time.
      Se puso enojado. He got (became) angry. El cielo se anubló.The sky clouded up.
      Note, however, that it is possible to view start-up and ending actions as in progress, in which case the imperfect would be used [Se ponía enojado. He was getting angry. / El cielo se anublaba. The sky was clouding up.].
    5. Indicate an action as interrupting a previously existing action or stated (usually given in the imperfect).
      Mientras los demás dormían, María se escapó. While the rest were sleeping, María escaped.
     
  3. Pablo de los EU Senior Member

    English, US
    You could use it for example if you wanted to say something like "I went to your house yesterday, but you weren't there." "Fui a tu casa ayer, pero no estuviste."

    There are more. I'll try and think of more. However, the essence is that the "being" wasn't a repitive or drawn out sort of thing; but you probably already knew that.

    Try googling "estuve" or "estuviste" or any other preterite form of the verb and see what the context of the results are. That might help.
     
  4. NewdestinyX

    NewdestinyX Senior Member

    PA, USA|Do work in Spain
    American English
    You'd find the preterite of estar popping up mostly in scenarios of 'location' or 'temporary state change'.

    Preterite, as you probably know, captures a moment in past time.

    You weren't at school yesterday when I came to see you.

    That would surely be - estuviste (found out later in thread this is wrong -- estaba is used here)

    The preterite of 'estar' with state of being contexts or progressive past syntaxes -- carries the idea 'and not anymore'

    Estuve enfermo la semana pasada. - I was sick last week (and I'm not anymore)

    Los archivos estuvieron dañados. - The files were damaged (and now they're fixed)

    Estuvimos hablando esta tarde. We were talking this afternoon. (and we're not anymore -- I've gone home)

    Estar, in the preterite, shows its 'finite' moment in the past by carrying this notion of 'and not anymore in the present'.

    I hope that helps a bit. You won't find that in any grammar book -- but several years of talking to natives
    and getting their thoughts have taught that little insight.

    Good luck,
    Grant
     
  5. San Senior Member

    Spanish
    You'd better use the imperfect there :)

    Cheers.
     
  6. Magmod Senior Member

    England
    England English
    :arrow: Could you remind us of the reason, especially when ayer is being used? :(
     
  7. Pablo de los EU Senior Member

    English, US
    No sé, realmente no estaba pensando en ninguna regla sino en lo que he oído. Estoy casi seguro que he oido a hispanohablantes usarlo así en ese contexto. La verdad, las dos palabras me suenan bien.
     
  8. San Senior Member

    Spanish
    I've got no idea really, maybe it has to do with the durative aspect of estar, but the more you define the time frame, the more necessary is the imperfect, for example:

    Ayer a las cinco y diez no estabas en casa.

    The same phrase with the past tense is possible but weird, or it even suggests a different thing like you (not) coming round instead of me going to your place.
     
  9. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I agree with your post, except for one thing:

    Among other uses, the preterite of estar can give the idea of "having ever/never been" to some place.

    - Creo que te vi el verano pasado en Ibiza.
    - No es posible, porque el año pasado yo estaba en Francia.


    "I think I saw you last summer in Ibiza."
    "That's not possible, because I was in France last year."

    - ¿Alguna vez fuiste a Ibiza?
    - No, nunca estuve allá.


    "Have you ever been to Ibiza?"
    "No, I've never been there."

     
  10. ChocolateLover Senior Member

    English
    Hola:

    ¿No se usaría el preterito aquí?

    No es posible, porque el año pasado yo estaba en Francia:arrow:estuve

    Porque se dice "Cuando estuve en Francia, siempre iba a los museos" ¿no? ¿es porque es una explicacion?

    Tampoco entendí este ejemplo. ¿Alguien me lo podría explicar, por favor?

    A las cinco "no estabas en casa" ¿Es que pide a gritos una explicacion.? Por ejemplo, No, porque estaba visitando con un amigo.

    Muchas gracias

    Creo que se usa el imperfecto en este ejemplo porque no estabas antes de que llegara la otra persona

    Cuando fui a tu casa, no estabas o Fui a tu casa, pero no estabas
     
  11. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    El pretérito también es posible en ese caso, sí. Da un matiz muy subtilmente diferente a la frase; apenas se nota la diferencia entre los dos tiempos, en este caso.
     
  12. San Senior Member

    Spanish
    Yeah, I suppose it is because you not beeing at home was an ongoing situation when I got there.
     
  13. ChocolateLover Senior Member

    English
    Muchas gracias a los dos

    Regards
     
  14. NewdestinyX

    NewdestinyX Senior Member

    PA, USA|Do work in Spain
    American English
    Claro... To be in a location does have the 'durative' quality. Funny-- when I speak Spanish I would never have made that error. But when I tried to boil it down to the grammar -- I blew it. And thanks for the 'ever/never have been' aspect. That makes so much sense.

    Grant
     

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