estabas ayer / estuviste ayer

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Grammar / Gramática Español-Inglés' started by SraV, Jan 30, 2013.

  1. SraV New Member

    English - American
    ¿Dónde estabas a las dos de la tarde ayer? Why is the imperfect used here instead of the preterite? If a specific time is used and the speaker wants to know where someone was at a specific time on a certain day, then why is the imperfect used?

    Mil gracias,
    Sra. V
  2. kayokid

    kayokid Senior Member/Moderator

    English, USA
    Hello. The choice of preterite vs. imperfect is extremely difficult for English speakers (at least as far as I am concerned), especially with verbs such as 'to be' where we don't see a clear difference in aspect (such as 'spoke' and 'was speaking').

    See if this helps:
    The question is really asking, "Where were you (being) at 2 PM?" and compare it to "What were you doing at 2PM?" Both of these are imperfect. Estaba en la cocina. and Lavaba los platos. The action is ongoing.

    You can say, ¿Dónde estuviste ayer? This asks for (all) the places you were yesterday. I was at the dry cleaners. I was at the park. I was at the bar. These are places that you visited and describes, in your mind, the locations where you were and then left. The action (really a state in this case) is finished. This is the preterite.

    A: Where were you at 2 PM yesterday?
    B: I was in the kitchen washing dishes. I remember because I looked at my watch after I sneezed. It was exactly 2 PM.
  3. manxo Senior Member

    Galego y Castellano de España
    Kayokid lo tiene bastante claro. Cuando preguntas con un verbo de conducta o de situación sobre un tiempo concreto del pasado, normalmente usas el imperfecto: ¿Dónde estabas cuando te llamé? // ¿Qué hacías a aquella hora en la calle?.
    Mientras que si preguntas refiriéndote a un tiempo inconcreto, usas habitualmente el indefinido: ¿Dónde estuviste ayer? // ¿Qué hiciste la semana pasada?
  4. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    The choice between the imperfect or the preterite is a contextual choice. Apart for some specifics, it is almost always the speaker's choice on which tense to use. There is only one important rule: the interrupted action goes in the imperfect and the interrupting one in the preterite.

    In this case, the speaker considers the presence at 2 o'clock as something cirmumstancial to something else (= something that can be interrupted by an interrupting action). Look at Manxo's example: ¿Dónde estabas cuando te llamé?: "Llammar" interrupts the "estar".

    The same is true with your sentence: ¿Dónde estabas a las dos de la tarde ayer?

    The speaker might have been thinking: ¿Dónde estabas a las dos de la tarde ayer? (cuando te llamé): he doesn't have to say it; it's enough he considers it this way.
  5. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    Another way to say it:
    Being two o'clock, technically, takes no time at all, no duration.
    So a two-o'clock "sampling" of activities (or states of being, like being located somewhere)—a still photograph snapped at exactly 2 p.m.—
    will find almost all actions and states "in progress" (unless it's like a sneeze, which takes almost no time).
    "Where were you at 2?" is like (pardon my sentence-final preposition) "What location did 2 o'clock find you in the middle of being at?"
    (and I'm not asking when you began or finished being there).
  6. juan082937 Banned

    Qustions with the IMPERFECT implies a long answer, with the simple past a short one, of course it depends on the interest of the questioner to know more or not
    ¿ qué hiciste a las dos p.m? short answer because you are not interested to find out further.
    ¿ qué hacías a las 2p.m? you want a more detailed and longer information about your activities around 2 p.m. up to now.
  7. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    Hola Juan,

    This is a very interesting point of view. I like it very much.

    The question for the long answer (the imperfect) asks for the circumstances. The question for the short answer (the preterite) asks for the fact.

  8. srb62 Senior Member

    British English
    I agree, a very interesting way to look at it! I also liked your suggestion, Petrdg. I'm going to keep them in mind when I have such problems to resolve.

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