A story is a succession of events that we tell using the preterite. We move the story forward with each new fact we present.
In each event, we can “stop the action” and “look” at the surrounding circumstances. To do this, we use the imperfect past tense.
The Preterite vs Imperfect
The preterite is used to relate past actions that occurred at a specific time in the past:
• Anoche cené con unos amigos.
• Last night I had dinner with some friends.
• Hace dos semanas descubrí un restaurante genial.
• Two weeks ago I discovered a great restaurant.
• Mi hija nació en 2015.
• My daughter was born in 2015.
We use the imperfect to describe people, objects or situations in the past.
• Ayer vi a Marta a las 10. Estaba cansada y llevaba la ropa del trabajo.
• Yesterday I saw Marta at 10:00 a.m. She was tired and wearing her work clothes.
• La casa de mis abuelos era enorme y tenía muchas habitaciones.
• My grandparents’ house was huge and had many rooms.
Also, with the imperfect tense, we describe the circumstances surrounding an event in the past.
• Como estábamos cansados, volvimos pronto a casa.
• Since we were tired, we went home early
• Ayer no tenía ganas de estar en casa y me fui al cine.
• Yesterday I didn’t feel like being at home and went to the movies.
We also use this tense to talk about customs in the past.
• De niño, siempre iba a visitar a mis abuelos al campo.
• As a child, I always went to visit my grandparents in the countryside.
• En mi época de estudiante, dormía muy poco.
• When I was a student, I slept very little.
• De joven, en verano, me levantaba muy tarde e iba directamente a la playa
• When I was young, in the summer, I would get up very late and go straight to the beach.