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Compound Spanish Sentences: Preterite & Imperfect

Instructor: Elena Sacramento Lechado

Elena has a PhD in linguistics from University of La Laguna (Spain). Currently, she teaches Spanish as a foreign language and creates teaching resources.

What did you do last weekend? What did you for fun when you were a child? Learn how to express these ideas in Spanish through compound sentences. We'll review the differences between the preterite and the imperfect through useful examples.

What's a Compound Sentence?

We don't normally express our ideas through single unrelated phrases - we tend to link them together forming longer sentences. That's why it's important to know how to form compound sentences in any language you're learning.

A compound sentence is a sentence that has two or more independent clauses which are linked by a comma, a semicolon or a conjunction. For example, let's say you're describing what you did on Sunday. You could say something like this:

  • El domingo me levanté a las diez, desayuné y fui al centro comercial. (On Sunday I got up at ten, I had breakfast, and I went to the mall.)

This is a compound sentence because it's formed by three independent clauses: El domingo me levanté a las diez, desayuné and fui al centro comercial. They could be uttered on their own, since they don't depend on each other, but we join them to enumerate the things we did.

Translation: On Sunday I got up at ten and I went to the mall.
clothes

In compound sentences, clauses can be joined with:

  • Una coma (OO-nah KOH-mah): a comma (,)
  • Un punto y coma (oon POON-toh ee KOH-mah): a semicolon (;)

Or conjunctions such as:

  • Y (ee): and
  • Ni (nee): nor
  • O (oh): or
  • Pero (PEH-roh): but
  • Aunque AH-oon-keh): although
  • Así que (ah-SEE keh): so

Talking About the Past in Spanish

We're going to practice compound sentences in the preterite and the imperfect forms. To do that, let's have a quick reminder of the formation and usage of each tense. Then we'll see how to use them through real-life examples.

The Preterite Tense

We use the preterite to talk about finished actions in the past that happened once and were completed.

To form the preterite in Spanish, we need to take the stem of the verb (by getting rid of the -AR/-ER/-IR), and add the following endings:

Subject
Pronouns
-AR verbs -ER verbs -IR verbs
yo
-aste -iste -iste
él/ella
usted
-ió -ió
nosotros/
nosotras
-amos -imos -imos
vosotros/
vosotras
-asteis -isteis -isteis
ellos/ellas
ustedes
-aron -ieron -ieron

Note: The conjugation for -ER and -IR verbs is the same.

If we go back to our initial example, you'll see that one of the verbs doesn't follow this pattern (fui). This is because the verb 'to go' (ir) is irregular. Here are the preterite forms of some common irregular verbs:

  • Hacer (to do/make): hice, hiciste, hizo, hicimos, hicisteis, hicieron.
  • Ir (to go): fui, fuiste, fue, fuimos, fuisteis, fueron.
  • Ser (to be): fui, fuiste, fue, fuimos, fuisteis, fueron.

Examples

Let's listen to Nuria and her friend Carla talking about what they did the day before. Pay attention to the use of the preterite in these compound sentences.

Nuria: ¿Ayer saliste o te quedaste en casa? (Did you go out yesterday or did you stay at home?)

Carla: Hizo mal tiempo, así que me quedé en casa y horneé galletas con mi hermana. (The weather was bad, so I stayed at home and I baked cookies with my sister.)

Nuria: Yo salí a pasear, pero empezó a llover, así que fui a tomar un café a la nueva cafetería del centro, y después compré tarjetas de Navidad y un regalo para mi madre. (I went out for a walk, but it started raining, so I went to have a coffee at the new coffee shop downtown, and then I bought Christmas cards and a present for my mom.)

Translation: I stayed at home and I baked cookies with my sister.
bake

The Imperfect Tense

We use the imperfect tense to talk about past routines or actions that used to happen repeatedly in the past. We normally use the imperfect to describe childhood habits. For example:

  • De pequeño siempre iba al parque o quedábamos en la casa de algún amigo los viernes por la tarde. (When I was a child, I always used to go to the park or we met at some friend's house on Friday afternoon.)
  • Normalmente jugábamos a juegos de mesa y comíamos golosinas. (Usually, we would play board games and eat candy.)

To form the imperfect of regular verbs, we have to add these endings to the verbal stem:

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