How to decide between the Spanish Preterite and the Imperfect.

clocks Preterite ImperfectAny student of the Spanish language will know that when it comes to deciding between the Spanish Preterite or the Imperfect past, there’s always a moment of confusion in which we have to trawl through our lists of rules and regulations to know which tense to use.

What makes it worse is that some text books bombard us with enormous lists of rules written in a language clearly designed to either confuse or strike fear into the average learner.

So, with that in mind, let’s see if we can demystify these two tenses a bit.

NOTE: I’m not going to talk about the structure or conjugations of these tenses, so if you are not sure, take a look at them now and then join me again.

A Useful Metaphor.

Imagine you were in a theatre watching a theatre production. As you sat there you listened to the music playing from the orchestra, you watched the lights changing place and colour and highlighting the background scenery.  Meanwhile, all the extras were dancing in the background.


Then, the two main characters came on stage, they stared at each other, and began to speak. The real action had begun.


When we tell a story about the past, we use the Imperfect to set the scene and then we use the Preterite to recount the action.





The Preterite Past is what we could call a ONE OFF tense., like: ‘I ate’, ‘I went’, ‘we spoke’, ‘they arrived’ etc.

The Preterite Past is TOTALLY MEASURABLE and is as though the speaker is wrapping the past event inside a BUBBLE OF TIME.


To know whether what you are about to say is Preterite then all you do is ask TWO SIMPLE QUESTIONS about the event.





If you can answer these questions with some certainty the the past WILL BE PRETERITE.



The Imperfect Past in Spanish is everything that the Preterite isn’t. It’s pure description. It does absolutely no measuring. We use it to SET THE SCENE in the lead up to providing the Preterite action.

The Imperfect Past is immeasurable like an EVENT IN A LONG UNBROKEN LINE.


To know when to use the Imperfect Past, you need to look out for the following in your English sentence:


WAS    …… ING




e.g.                                                       I was talking to Pedro.          We were looking at clothes.         I used to live in Spain.


Sometimes, none of the above appear in the sentence in English. So what do you do?

You can simply apply the Preterite questions and if you can’t reasonably measure it, then it will be Imperfect. Also, you can try and add the words “USED TO” to the sentence. If it still makes sense, then it will be Imperfect.


When I lived in Spain, I ate breakfast on the patio.

We could put ‘used to’ into this sentence and it will make sense. So this sentence will be Imperfect.

Of course, you can choose the tense according to what you want to say, too. By changing the tense, you will change the understanding of your listener. However, if there is any question of measuring the past, it will be the Spanish Preterite.

Hopefully this will help you begin to order your thoughts in a more simplistic way. Watch out for the up and coming video on this important subject.

How to Roll your Rs in Spanish Pronunciation

spanish-rOne of the greatest challenges for you as a Spanish Language student is knowing how to roll your Rs. Spanish speakers are renowned for the strength of their ‘R’. You can notice just how strong it is when you hear them speak English.  (I RRRRReally like this!)

Getting the ‘R’ sound right is not for the feint hearted, yet worry not. There are some things that you can do to strengthen up that R and really learn how to roll your Rs, even if you have what is known in the trade as a ‘Jonathan Ross R’.

It’s all about strengthening the muscle that is used to produce the sound and one which is often rarely put into action.


This is how you do it.

STEP 1. Start by pretending to be cold. Really force out the sound: ‘BRRRR’. This has the effect of beginning to strengthen the muscle needed to roll the ‘R’.

STEP 2.  Once you can get some ‘clicks’ of the tongue going, albeit exaggeratedly, then change the ‘BRRRR’ to a ‘DRRRR’. Pretend to be a motorbike or a man digging the road. This not only works to strengthen the necessary muscles but also helps put the mouth into the correct shape and position.

STEP 3. After a while you will notice that you can hold the R’s for a little longer. (This can take weeks or days, depending on you and the effort you put into it.)

AVISO. At this stage, even though you can get the roll, you may find that you still struggle to get the sound into speech. This is normal. The first three steps are just to get the muscle working.

The fact is that the R’s in any Spanish word either roll onto a vowel or roll off a vowel.  Thus, this is what you are going to practice now to how to roll your R’s in an authentic way.

You go through the vowels this way:


Then you turn them round:


The more you practice this, the better your Spanish Pronunciation will be. You can do this when you’re driving, walking, in the bath or wherever, but be sure that you are ALONE! Check out our podcast on the R to help you along the way.

Do this every day and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can get a real authentic sound. And, finally, it’s very difficult to be ‘over the top’ with the ‘R’, so don’t hold back. ¡A por ello!

Gordon 🙂

What Does Hispanic Mean to You?

what-does-hispanic-meanAll of us referred to as “españoles, latinos, hispanos, centroamericanos or sudamericanos” are united by a common language: Spanish. But, as well as the other names, what does Hispanic mean, en reality? Firstly, let’s look at the diversity of the Spanish language.

The Spanish language is the second most spoken language in the world (even more than English), right after Mandarin Chinese. It is spoken in Spain, Spanish America, some parts of USA, in the occidental part of the Sahara, Equatorial Guinea and some parts of the Philippines. Spanish is also one of the most phonetic languages in the world!

As one can imagine, with such a vast expansion, the Spanish language enjoys many different accents along with varied vocabulary and expressions. But which one should you use?

The answer to that question is found in the answers to the following questions:

Where do you spend your holidays?

Which Spanish-speaking country do you enjoy the most?

Where do you own your holiday home?

Where are your Spanish-speaking friends from?

Or, simply, which one is nicer to your ears?

That’s the vocabulary, expressions and accent you need!


So what about the differences between these Spanish-Speaking people:

We have all heard the terms “español latino, hispanos and sudamericanos” but do we know what they refer to?


Latino:  refers to those people from Europe or America whose mother tongue comes from the Latin language. Is it hardly ever used for the French, Portuguese, Italians, Rumanians, Belgians or Swiss, although their language is also derived from Latin.

Hispano/Hispanic: refers to those people born in Hispania (Spain), in Spanish America, or in Spanish America living in the USA. Strictly speaking we could add also Portuguese people, since they were born in “Hispania” although, typically, it is used to refer to people from Spain and Spanish America.

Sudamericano: refers to those people only from South America. Brazilians may or may not want to include themselves in this group. (Another group would be Centroamericanos, which includes Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belice, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador).

You may hear some people claiming they are not Latinos, but rather Sudamericanos, or that they are not Hispanos, but rather Iberoamericanos. The connotations and ties that some of these terms bring with them could make them appealing or not for different individuals to use.

My advice? It’s probably best to refer to them as Spanish, Mexican, Puerto Rican, etc.

… Cynthia Durán.


The Redundant Use of Spanish Pronouns

For IOP redundantFor any self respecting student of Spanish, knowing that there are certain verbs that require the redundant use of the Indirect Spanish Pronouns is ‘imprescindible’ (vital). Without having this information in your pocket, believe us, you will find understanding the use of the Spanish pronouns an insurmountable challenge.

First of all, we had better start by answering the question:

What on earth are the Spanish Indirect Object Pronouns?

To help you grasp the answer, perhaps it would be wise to look at what they are in English first. We like to call them the Furniture Remover’s List.

That’s because in English, they normally sound like this:

To me…To you…To me…To you… Often heard as two men struggle to get your sofa through the front door whilst talking the paint off the walls!

Indirect Object Pronouns, then, are found in sentences like this:

He gave it to me.

We sold it to them.

She sent it to us.

¡AVISO! These pronouns also appear in other forms such as being preceded by ‘for’ or even on their own like ‘me’, ‘you’ ‘he’ ‘she’.

So now we have an idea of what the indirect Spanish pronouns are, we are able to answer the question:

What are the Indirect Object Pronouns in Spanish?

The answer is:

ME (to me)                                        NOS (to us)

TE (to you)                                        OS (to you all)

LE (to him, her, it, usted)               LES (To them, ustedes).


If you are familiar with these already, great! If not, we suggest that you take a look at our podcast on IOP’s and for those new to the concept of the Redundant Indirect Object Pronouns then we recommend the following podcast.

Here’s an example of the way that IOP’s normally work. Their job is to quicken up speech.

Vestí a los niños. = I dressed the kids.

However, for speed, you can say.

Les vestí. = I dressed them.

And so, normally, that’s what they do.

However, there are certain Spanish verbs that require the pronoun whether you mention the person or not.

Here’s an example:


I sent John a letter= Le mandé a Juan una carta.

Notice that even though we mentioned Juan’s name, we still had to put the pronoun in. Strange eh?

Of course, if you knew who you were talking about you could say:

Le mandé una carta. = I sent him a letter.

But, you can NEVER say: Mandé a Juan una carta. (PROHIBIDO)

As we said, to use these IOP’s correctly, we must understand this concept and know exactly which verbs need them. The full list can be found in our Helpsheets, but one tip is that the verbs that need these Spanish pronouns normally have to do with sending, giving, preparing or talking to others.

Buena suerte con vuestros estudios, chicos.

Must-Use Important Spanish Sayings – VERGÜENZA AJENA

veguenza-ajenaLet’s take a look at one of the important Spanish sayings that describes feeling shame or embarrassment but not for oneself; vergüenza ajena,  Who hasn’t felt vergüenza (shame) before? In particular ourselves as language students, as we test our newly acquired Spanish skills only to find out, all too often, that we’ve said something terribly rude, risqué or both! ¡Todos hemos estado allí!  It’s certain that each of us have experienced our personal shame, another of the popular Spanish sayings, which is-“verguenza propia” or, simply “vergüenza”.

But, did you know there’s another type of shame?  One in which you do not feel shame for something you’ve done, but rather shame on behalf of someone else?  To describe this you would use; “vergüenza ajena”.  This vergüenza can be experienced as pure shame or embarrassment, making you laugh or irritated, or it could be experienced as “pena” (pity/sorry) for the other person.

Not sure you’ve ever experienced it? If you’re familiar with Ricky Gervais’s sitcoms you’ll be very familiar with this feeling.  Or if you’ve ever watched one of the programmes in which people clearly think they know how to sing, dance… only to find out they are terrible at it. How did you feel when they were giving their best? Yes! There! You felt vergüenza ajena, or “Spanish shame”!

This is a normal emotion for any human being who feels empathy: you put yourself in their shoes and you can feel it too as it if were happening to you. Check out this funny sketch from Fawlty Towers, another series that causes ‘mucha vergüena ajena’.

So, what does “ajena” mean? Something “ajeno” is something outside of us or something belonging to someone else. It’s the opposite of “propio”, which means your own.

Sentir vergüenza ajena” is a phrase commonly used in the Spanish speaking community, so it’s good to know it exists!

I will show you some examples:

–        El protagonista actuaba tan mal que sentí vergüenza ajena.

–        The main character acted to badly that I felt ashamed on his behalf.


–        Me dio vergüenza ajena cuando todos se rieron de él.

–        I felt embarrassed on his behalf when they all laughed at him.

Empatía. Qué regalo más bonito para el corazón humano.

Empathy. What a beautiful gift for the human heart!

For more interesting looks at nuances of the Spanish language, why not join us in the LightSpeed Spanish Facebook group?