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Estar - preterite/imperfect - estuvieron nerviosas toda la noche y no pudieron dormir

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Grammar / Gramática Español-Inglés' started by al.magnus, Sep 22, 2011.

  1. al.magnus New Member

    Mississippi, US
    English - America
    ¡Hola!

    I am a Spanish teacher and came across this sentence in one of our workbooks. I cannot explain to myself or my students why estar is used in the preterite in the second sentence. My understanding is that estar, when used to describe how someone was feeling, should be used in the imperfect as opposed to the preterite.

    De repente, Patricia se despertó porque oyó un ruido. Por eso, estuvieron nerviosas toda la noche y no pudieron dormir.

    So, why is the sentence not written, "Por eso, estaban nerviosas toda la noche y no pudieron dormir."? Or, if it were written that way, how would it change the meaning of the sentence?

    ¡Gracias! I will share your responses con mis estudiantes.

    -Profe B.
     
  2. _SantiWR_ Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    Hi,

    I would say that, despite what you thought, the preterite is fine. Actuallly, it's probably the only option, because if you say "estaban nerviosas toda la noche' without other context, it sounds like they would get nervous at night, I mean, as something that used to happen in a regular basis, not just once. We are talking about the completion of an action, event or state here (being nervous all night, that is, until the end of the night) so we must go for the preterite. I can't go any further without knowing exactly why you'd choose the imperfect here (makes no sense really), so hope that helps.

    EDIT: Well, here it is
    So how would you say that in English? They were nervous all night or they were feeling nervous all night? It's the same?



    Santiago.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2011
  3. gengo

    gengo Senior Member

    Here is a clip from a website discussing such things.

    You could also use the preterite to indicate something was complete. For example, estuvo lista, she was ready. Similarly, the preterite could be used to show that something had a definite beginning and/or end. Note, for example, the difference between estuvo enfermo (she got sick) and estaba enferma (she was sick).

    Hope this helps.
     
  4. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    I agree with with gengo (I didn't get the point at first)

    Sometimes we use the imperfect to refer to the present:

    Me dijo que estaba enfermo. He told me he is sick.
    Me dijo que estuvo enfermo. He told me was sick.
     
  5. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Belgium
    Dutch - Belgium
    I like this quote. Look at the words I have highlighted in bold. It says "could", not "must". That is the same with almost all so called rules for the use of the imperfect or the preterite. Unfortunately, some interpret this "could" as "must" and conclude that in some situations one must use this or that tense. This is a very common misconception, illustrated by the multitude of senseless excercises about the use of the preterite or the imperfect.

    These "rules" are guidelines and they just try to illustrate what a native speaker may consider when choosing one tense over the other. But nobody can see in the head of the speaker and tell in what context he sees the things he says. In your example, the preterite may be inspired by the fact that they are not nervous anymore (a determined end point in the past; they were only nervous that night).

    There is actually only one very clear and imperative rule in the selection of the preterite and the imperfect: the interrupting action goes in the preterite and the interrupted action in the imperfect. If the context does not make it clear there is an interrupting action and an interrupted one, then it's the speaker's choice on what tense he uses.

    (There are some exceptions: e.g. age is almost (there are counterexamples) always expressed with the imperfect: cuando tenía 15 años)
     
  6. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo Mod Chicken

    Arizona
    American English
    Another point is the second verb in that clause: no pudieron dormir. That tense can only be preterite because it's saying "they were not able to sleep that night" or "they never fell asleep that night". It's an action with a definite beginning and end. As the others have said, the author is treating the action of estar nervioso in the same way.
     
  7. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    That's exactly why you MUST use preterit here, because you have "toda la noche". If you remove that from the phrase then you could use the imperfect:

    De repente, Patricia se despertó porque oyó un ruido. Por eso, estaban nerviosas y no podían dormir.
     
  8. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    Actually, you also have to remove the "De repente" or it sounds awkward:

    Patricia se despertó porque oyó un ruido. Por eso, estaban nerviosas y no podían dormir.
     
  9. gengo

    gengo Senior Member

    Very nice post by Peterdg. I think it's safe to say that many or most non-native speakers of Spanish struggle with this issue, and often struggle even to grasp the difference between the two tenses in certain contexts. I know that I have chosen the wrong tense numerous times, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life, despite my efforts to the contrary.
     
  10. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Belgium
    Dutch - Belgium
    I don't believe you:D.

    You should check some threads about the use of the imperfect or the preterite. Some native speakers say: "this should definitely be the imperfect" and two posts later someone else says: "I'd use the preterite there". And both are right. They just see the same sentence in a different context; so don't let too many people tell you you chose the wrong tense. If you follow the only one important and imperative rule I mentioned in the previous post (interrupting and interrupted action), there is not really much you can do wrong.:)
     
  11. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    It's true what Peredg says, however I think everyone will agree that Por eso, estaban nerviosas toda la noche y no podían dormir. doesn't make sense in any context.
     
  12. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Belgium
    Dutch - Belgium
    Why not?

    Son dos citas del CREA de la RAE.
     
  13. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    A no confundir gordura con hinchazón, esas dos citas funcionan perfectamente porque el circunstancial no especifica la duración de la acción sino que simplemente la ubica en un contexto temporal. Si usáramos circunstanciales más parecidos a los de la frase Por eso, estuvieron nerviosas toda la noche y no pudieron dormir:
    Carlos Dorada estuvo nervioso toda la mañana.
    El miércoles de la semana pasada Santiago Medina estuvo nervioso desde que llegó hasta que se fué.
     
  14. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Chicago
    Spanish - Uruguay
    Check how we change back and forth:

    El miércoles de la semana pasada Santiago Medina estaba nervioso y no dejaba de morderse las uñas. Le pregunté qué le pasaba y me dijo que el debate de los candidatos republicanos siempre lo ponía mal y que esta vez fue terrible.
     
  15. _SantiWR_ Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    ¿Mande? :eek:
     
  16. inib

    inib Senior Member

    La Rioja, Spain
    British English
    In post 8, you gave an example yourself in which you defended the imperfect, if I haven't misunderstood your intention.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2011
  17. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    Yes but in that example I removed the "toda la noche".
     
  18. inib

    inib Senior Member

    La Rioja, Spain
    British English
    True. Sorry, I hadn't noticed that.
     
  19. fesesito Junior Member

    Colima, México
    Mexican Spanish
    Let me change it a little bit:

    De repente, Patricia se despertó porque oyó un ruido. Por eso, estuvo nerviosa toda la noche y no pudo dormir.

    "toda la noche" estuvo and pudo
    meaning the writer that happened in the past.

    De repente, Patricia se despertó porque oyó un ruido. Por eso, estaba nerviosa durante la noche y no podía dormir.
    "durante la noche" estaba and podía
    meaning the writer that there was a continuous process
     
  20. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    I'm not sure I get the point but if you're saying that you have to use imperfect with "durante", think again: "Durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, los Estados Unidos se vieron ante una situación sin precedentes: tenían que luchar simultáneamente contra enemigos en dos frentes." (borrowed from http://www.laporthistory.org/spanish/bethlehem_product_2.html)
     
  21. fesesito Junior Member

    Colima, México
    Mexican Spanish
  22. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    I know that's the way we usually introduce the imperfect to non-native speakers, and that's precisely why they get confused when they see a phrase like "estuvieron nerviosas toda la noche y no pudieron dormir".

    If they "were nervous all night" we're talking about a "continuous action", however, we use preterite, and it does not depend on the speaker, I never heard a native speaker using the imperfect with a complement that delimits the duration of the action, whether or not it's a continuous one.
     
  23. fesesito Junior Member

    Colima, México
    Mexican Spanish
    What about:

    I was walking in the park yesterday when the plane crashed. (Estaba caminando ayer en el parque cuando el avión se estrelló)

    I walked in the park yesterday with my mom (Caminé ayer en el parque con mi mamá).

    I was nervous yersterday, but today I´m ok (estaba nervioso ayer, pero hoy me siento bien) or (estuve nervioso ayer, pero hoy me siento mejor)

    As a native speaker, both are correct and it depends of the one who is talking.
    I guess it is also confusing because we are using an adjetive.

    La mamá de Ana estaba enferma. La mama de Ana estuvo enferma.
    El papá de Oscar estaba feliz en la fiesta. El papá de Oscar estuvo feliz en la fiesta.

    you decide which one to use

    have a good day
     
  24. inib

    inib Senior Member

    La Rioja, Spain
    British English
    I recommend that we all re-read Peterdg's post 5. Guidelines can be very helpful, rules are hard to come across, and even when they do exist, you have to learn the list of exceptions along with them.
     
  25. _SantiWR_ Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    You must have heard it when talking about something that used to happen in the past, so when you said "in any context", you're obviously not thinking about all the possible contexts. For example:

    Se pasaba toda la noche llorando.


    Now, if we are talking about something that happened only once, the preterite is clearly better suited, like with the sentence in the OP. For example:

    El miercolés se pasó toda la noche llorando.


    I hope it's clearer now.


    Santiago.
     
  26. XiaoRoel

    XiaoRoel Senior Member

    Vigo (Galiza)
    galego, español
    O también: estuvieron nerviosas toda la noche y no podían dormir.
     
  27. Irma2011 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Spanish - Spain
    A mí me gustaría saber si al.magnus ya tiene claras las cosas. Parece que los demás endendemos perfectamente cuándo se utiliza cada uno de estos dos tiempos. Sólo falta saber si las explicaciones han sido suficientes o hay que seguir dándolas.
     
  28. fesesito Junior Member

    Colima, México
    Mexican Spanish
    Bueno ella solo tenía la duda de porque el autor usó estuvieron y no estaban.

    al igual hay un pudieron que pudiera haber sido podían.

    ambos casos estarían bien.
     
  29. Irma2011 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Spanish - Spain
    Pero, ¿por qué complicarle las cosas? La frase es "De repente, Patricia se despertó porque oyó un ruido. Por eso, estuvieron nerviosas toda la noche y no pudieron dormir".
    al.magnus parece entender que se haya utilizado 'pudieron'. Sólo necesita saber que se ha empleado 'estuvieron' por la misma razón, ¿no?

     
  30. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    The original question was why estar is used in preterite, and I think a lot of people are missing that point, that's why this discussion keeps on going. The phrase that _SantiWR_ proposed:

    Se pasaba toda la noche llorando.

    is absolutely perfect but it doesn't use estar.
     
  31. juandiego

    juandiego SE modera

    Granada. España
    Spanish from Spain
    Hi autremoi.
    I agree with you. "Toda la noche" makes the action perfected in the past hence it blocks the imperfecto. However, I disagree that to alter the first sentence is necessary if the second sentence were using the imperfecto: "Por eso, estaban nerviosas y no podían dormir"; after all, that "Por eso" is standing for the whole first sentence and it's irrelevant for its plausibility whether it's referring to a punctual past fact or to a then ongoing process.
     
  32. juandiego

    juandiego SE modera

    Granada. España
    Spanish from Spain
    But that's a different context, other meaning of "toda la noche" since it's not about one precise night but all the nights of the period considered. To express the same intended only for one night long, one must use the perfect: "Se pasó toda la noche llorando".
     
  33. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    Very true!
     
  34. _SantiWR_ Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    Different from what? I'n not sure where I stand now. I was replying to this statment:

    And this one:

    in neither of which I think we're necessarily referring to a single night, and even if we were, journalist language is riddled with such usage just for starters, so you can diminish that as if it was impossible or non-existent. The thing is that we're making a bit of a mess out of this thread, and that considering that we all seem to agree on the use of the preterite in the OP. We can't help ourselves :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2011
  35. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    could you please give me some examples?
     
  36. juandiego

    juandiego SE modera

    Granada. España
    Spanish from Spain
    Hola Santi.
    Well, I just wanted to point out that it wasn't the same time context of the OP sentence therefore the imperfect/perfect dilemma there was different.
    However, I do agree with autremoi that in the sentence: Por eso, estaban nerviosas toda la noche y no podían dormir, the imperfect is inappropriate because that toda la noche is referring to one night in the past and the action was completed at the end of that night.
    Saludos.
     
  37. _SantiWR_ Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    Well, I can't agree with that of course. The sentence you wrote makes perfect sense to me.

    Un saludo.
     
  38. _SantiWR_ Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    You just need to open a newspaper or turn on the radio to find plenty of sentences like this.


    Santiago.
     
  39. juandiego

    juandiego SE modera

    Granada. España
    Spanish from Spain
    Hola Santiago.

    The more I read the sentence, the more I'm inclined to admit that it may be used, especially once it's without the first part and now with the second verb being also in the imperfect. However, I keep in my point that the imperfect doesn't suit the temporal frame properly and, in order to admit it, one should allow a rhetorical license that I don't see how it may improve the sentence.

    This is probably worse in the second example you've brought up (Zapatero's) in which the temporal frame is even more punctual. Here it seems as if the writer would have set an agreement between the imperfect and the preposition durante, which is not the most appropriate one here since conveys all along the morning rather than at some point in the morning, and would have forgot the temporal frame of the facts.

    I am probably being a bit strict and fussy here and now I wonder whether I also use the imperfect in similar occasions; possibly I also may do it.

    Saludos.
     
  40. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    It is true that this particular use of the imperfect is common in journalistic language, but once again you're missing the OP question. Please tell me if you think the following phrase would even make sense in a newspaper:

    José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero estaba durante la mañana en los pasillos del Congreso de los Diputados ante los medios de comunicación para confirmar que nuestro país reforzará las medidas de seguridad en las centrales nucleares.
     
  41. Irma2011 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Spanish - Spain
    Ésta es la cuestión. Es algo que hacemos continuamente en este foro. Aunque también es verdad que si quienes hacen las preguntas no vuelven a decir nada, pueden dar lugar a estos hilos interminables.
     
  42. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Belgium
    Dutch - Belgium
    I absolutely disagree with that.

    The OP asked HOW and WHY, not just, "Is this correct?". He even asks how the different tenses would influence the meaning.

    Now, in my opinion, all answers were related to this question. Most say that they would intuitively go with the indefinido "estuvieron nerviosas"; some say that only "estuvieron" is correct and others say that, given the correct context, also "estaban" could be correct. We have given examples of "durante..." + imperfect and autremoi says that these are acceptable but that it is not acceptable with the verb "estar" but you never say why "estar" would be any different than any other verb.

    That is where we are now.

    So, opinions differ and that gives rise to discussion. Isn't that what this forum is all about?
     
  43. Irma2011 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Spanish - Spain
    Puede que tengas razón en no estar de acuerdo, Peter. Es más, seguro que la tienes. Para mí está tan claro que la frase es correcta tal como está escrita (estuvieron nerviosas toda la noche y no pudieron dormir) que quizá estoy ciega a otras alternativas. A veces me parece que buscar múltiples posibilidades a una frase y no limitarse a la interpretación más sencilla puede confundir a quien pregunta. Pero estoy segura de que es culpa mía.[/QUOTE]

    Sólo añadir que creo que ha habido una serie de malentendidos a este respecto en el hilo. Lo que es seguro es que todos los foreros que hemos intervenido tenemos claro el uso de ‘estar’.
     
  44. autremoi Senior Member

    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Castellano Rioplatense
    I don't know why it would be different from any other verb, I'm speaking based on the way it sounds to me. I read the sentence out loud and it sounds odd (to me). Over the last 10+ years I've been speaking to native speakers of Spanish from all over Latin America (not Spain unfortunately), coming from different social backgrounds, and I'm very aware of regional differences. But I'm also aware of certain grammatical constructions that we all follow unconsciously and this one is one of those (methinks). So when I see a question like the OP one, I respond having current usage in mind primarily, not just what scholars wrote 50 years ago in grammar compendiums.
     

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