Imperfect -vs- Perfect (daban / dieron)

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Grammar / Gramática Español-Inglés' started by ss1971, Jun 11, 2011.

  1. ss1971 Member

    United States / English

    One thing that causes me no end of confusion in Spanish is when I should use the preterit and when I should use the imperfect. I've worked through a million text book exercises on the topic and it all seems quite straight forward until I actually try to apply it (or to analyze how natives apply it) at which point I become essentially clueless. I find that I tend to want to use the preterite way too often and am frequently surprised when people I'm talking to or something I'm reading uses the imperfect where I don't expect it.

    Here's a concrete example, which is from one of the practice dialogs in the Platiquemos Spanish language series:

    Sí, estábamos bailando en la fiesta que daban los Guardias de la Infantería de la Marina de la Embajada.

    Can someone explain to me why it's 'daban' here instead of 'dieron'? In my mind the giving the party was a discrete action, with a defined beginning and end so if I were writing this from scratch I'd use the preterite. Where am I going wrong?

    Thanks in advance.

  2. fanucci

    fanucci Member

    Argentine Spanish
    I think that "dieron" would fit perfectly in that phrase. Both ways are correct. But I don't know the technical reason.
  3. ss1971 Member

    United States / English
    Thanks fanucci. Actually, I sort of expected that that was going to be the reply I'd get as it's what natives often say when I ask them a similar question. The interesting thing is that text books give the impression that there is always only one right choice or at least in those cases where they are both gramatically correct, that the sense of the sentence is changed. If you substitute "dieron" for "daban" in that example, does it have any effect on the meaning?

    How about this one:

    Ayer estaba / estuvo haciendo mucho sol.

    In that sentence can they both be used? And if so, is there any change to the sense of the sentence?


  4. marriedtoMexican Member

    San Diego, CA

    I interpreted the use of "daban" here to mean something like "they used to give". Without any other context, it's hard to tell for sure, but it sounded to me like the speaker is saying he/she was dancing at one of those parties that they used to give, putting emphasis on the fact that those parties used to be a regular thing, rather than emphasizing the party that was actually happening on that particular night.

  5. ss1971 Member

    United States / English
    Thanks. That's how I try to interpret it as well, but I don't know ... it seems like if the speaker were trying to convey that idea it would be "una fiesta que daban" instead of "la fiesta que daban" though that may just be me trying to impose English thinking on Spanish.

  6. flljob

    flljob Senior Member

    México español
    Estábamos bailando en la fiesta que daban los guardias. El sentido es el de un proceso que se desarrolla, algo que dura en el pasado.
  7. gualivo New Member

    Sí, estábamos bailando en la fiesta que daban/dieron los Guardias de la Infantería de la Marina de la Embajada.

    Both are correct... but...
    daban: you focus on the action that was performed in the moment you were dancing.
    ex: while I was dancing there was a party.
    ex2: they use to give a party.

    dieron: you focus on the past tense...
    ex: now the party is over, and I danced in that party.

    I'm not spanish, but I live in Spain and in Italian the grammar in this case is the same.
    Hope it helps...
  8. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    Look at some of my contributions on this subject:

    and here.

    If you read those, you will understand why I have added the red comment in your post.:)
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2011
  9. Lavernock Senior Member

    wales English
    "Daban" would be here "used to give " or "were giving".
  10. Lavernock Senior Member

    wales English

    The imperfect can be translated either by "used to" or "was doing" your choice of translation into English must depend on context. For example:

    "Siempre cogía el autobus en la esquina de la calle." Here we are speaking of a habitual past action, It would be possible to say: "Solía coger el autobus ..." Solía = used to

    But: "Esperaba el autobus cuando ví un accidente ." Here we are speaking about what we were doing when we saw the accident. Here "solía" is not possible, but we could say "Estaba esperando el autobus ..."

    Esperaba = estaba esperando = I was waiting.
  11. asm Senior Member

    New England, USA
    Mexico, Spanish
    This is one of the many examples you can use either tense. My advice to you is to switch from the "fill in the blank" kind of communication that many teachers enforce (I am sorry, but I have to include myself here), to a more open approach. When talking to real people, in real life, you don't have to fill in the blank, you will have to listen (if so, who cares if the tense is preterite or imperfect (assuming the person is using correct Spanish)). The other option is for you to produce (talk or write), if so, it's your choice, try to be congruent. If you see the event as a complete action, use preterite; however, if it's an ongoing action, use imperfect. Use the one you think fits best your needs.

    Remember that in real life you will __________ wri___e like fi__l in t__e bla__k.
  12. ss1971 Member

    United States / English
    I just saw all of these extra responses (I hadn't received any additional e-mail notifications, so I thought that that meant that there were no additional replies) and I just wanted to take a second to thank everyone for their help. This has been a really useful thread for me.

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