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Tuesday
May182010

The 2 Most Essential Spanish Verbs Part 'Dos': 'Ser' and 'Estar' in the Past Tenses

If you missed 'Part Uno', which covers “ser” and “estar” in the present tense, feel free to read it here:
The 2 Most Essential Spanish Verbs: ‘To be’ or ....‘to be’? That is the question.

Just when “ser” and “estar” start to make sense in the present tense, you need to learn how to use them in the past. Since there are two past tenses in Spanish, the preterit and the imperfect, it’s like a quadruple challenge; the duality is squared if that is possible. Navigating “ser” and “estar” in the past reminds me of my only experience flying an airplane: you not only have to steer left and right, but keep the nose and tail even as well as the wings balanced. There’s more going on than meets the eye.

The verbs “ser” and “estar” mean “to be,” so in the past you would use them to communicate “was” and “were” depending on the subject. Observe how often you use these common verbs in English. Using “ser” and “estar” in the past requires a basic understanding of how to apply the preterit and the imperfect past tenses. To review when to use them, here is a link that I had posted earlier that provides excellent strategies to choose between the preterit and the imperfect.

The University of Minnesota's Center of Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)
Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project: The Preterit and The Imperfect

Remember that the preterit past tense is used when there is a reference to a point of time in the past that has a definite beginning and/or ending. It’s complete, finite, a chunk of time sliced out of the past. While using the imperfect past tense you can communicate both “ser” and “estar” as “used to be.”

The following summary chart from The Spanish Verb Conjugator compares “ser” and “estar” in the present, preterit, and imperfect tenses with English equivalents. I needed a reference like this as a beginner, and honestly speaking–I could still use it to this day.

I suggest that you make as many mistakes as possible when trying out “ser” and “estar” in both past tenses. Like my classroom motto, “You have to make mistakes to learn from them.” As you ask yourself which verb and tense to use, don’t hesitate to also ask an available native Spanish speaker which tense or verb is correct. As I have mentioned before, native Spanish speakers are pretty forgiving as you are learning their language.

One of the most effective ways to learn language is through modeling. Just like when you were a child, your family modeled to you how to use your native language. Be aware, observe, and apply. But don’t worry about being perfect. “Perfection is a perfect waste of time” (author unknown).

I posted the Latin Grammy nominated song “Me fui” by the Spanish artist Bebe recently as an example of the verb “irse.” I made a mental note of the way the verb “estaba” clearly stood out in the song. It’s a good example of how “estar” is used in the imperfect past tense. Take another listen and this time pay attention to the lyrics “Dónde estaba cuando te llamaba?” (Where were you when I was calling you?) It models the imperfect tense “perfectly” in context. Here’s the link to that post where you will find the link to the YouTube video and the lyrics in Spanish with the English translation at the end of the article (We’re all connected: )

Spanish Verb Mastery Blog Post Including Links for the YouTube 'Video Official' of The Latin Grammy Nominated Song: "Me fui" by Bebe


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