More On Spanish Past Tense Conjugation

In this article I will address the Spanish past continuous tense. There are various forms of Spanish past tense conjugation just as with English.

First of all, what is past continuous?

In the previous Spanish lesson on Spanish past tense verbs, you learned the direct past.

The direct past refers to an action that was typically undertaken one time.

For example:

I ate, yo comí
He went, él fué
We ran, nosotros corrimos
They played, ellos jugaron

Notice that all of these verbs can be used in sentences to express something that happened in the immediate past.

Yo comí lechuga.
I ate lettuce.

He went to the bank.
Él fué al banco.

We ran at the park.
Nosotros corrimos en el parque.

They played tennis.
Ellos jugaron al tenís.

Past continuous refers to something that happened in the past that continued to happen. It is expressed with the words “was” or “were” + the verb ending in -ing. In this case the word ending in -ing is acting as a verb rather than a noun, so it is not really a gerund. A gerund is formed with the verb ending in -ing acts as a noun. We will talk more about that later.

Let’s look at some examples of the past continuous tense in English.

I was eating.

He was going to the bank.

We were running at the park.

They were playing tennis.

Typically, these sentences can be translated as the following. I will show you exceptions:

Yo estuve or estaba comiendo

Él estuvó or estaba yendo

Nosotros estuvimos or estabamos corriendo

Ellos estuvieron or estaban jugando

Whether you use the direct past of estar which becomes “estuve” or the imperfect tense “estaba” tends to depend on how recently you were speaking of and to what extent something is being done.

For example, typically you hear “estaba” and its forms more often than “estuve.” However, once I had misinterpreted the meaning or intent of something that was said to me in Spanish and the person said to me, “eso no es lo que te estuve diciendo,” meaning, “that was not what I was saying.”

I wondered why “estuve” was used there instead of “estaba,” and realized that “estuve” referred to the one time we spoke on the matter, it was not an ongoing action.

To be safe, I would stick with “estaba” most of the time. I will conjugate both forms:

Estar

Yo estuve
Tú estuviste
Usted estuvó
Él estuvó
Ella estuvó
Nosotros estuvimos
Ustedes estuvieron
Ellos estuvieron
Ellas estuvieron

Yo estaba
Tú estabas
Usted estaba
Él estaba
Ella estaba
Nosotros estábamos
Ustedes estaban
Ellos estaban
Ellas estaban

So now, let us put the more common past continuous verbs together with a sentence.

Yo estaba comiendo
I was eating

He was going to the bank
Él estaba yendo al banco.

Nosotros estábamos corriendo en el parque.
We were running at the park.

Ellos estaban jugando al tenís.
They were playing tennis.

Now, there are some differences between Spanish and English. A lot of times where we put together the past or present continuous tense together in English, a single verb is used in Spanish.

For example:

He was going to the bank.

Even though the literal translation is:

Él estaba yendo al banco.

Typically when you say “I was going to do something” (or he, or she, or whatever) in Spanish, you use the imperfect tense.

So instead of saying:

Él estaba yendo

You would say:

Él iba

Él iba al banco pero se dió cuenta de que ya cerraron.
He was going to the bank but he realized that they already closed.

This tends to happen most commonly with the verb “to go” so be mindful. I personally have never really heard someone say “yendo,” I have always heard “was” + going expressed with “iba.”

Yo iba
Tú ibas
Usted iba
Él iba
Ella iba
Nosotros ibamos
Ustedes iban
Ellos iban

About Gerunds

Gerunds are not really used in Spanish. A gerund is a word that ends in -ing that can be used interchangeably as a verb or noun.

Going Yendo
Eating Comiendo
Running Corriendo
Playing Jugando

In Spanish, these words end in -iendo and -ando and they can only be used as verbs.

In these sentences the Spanish translation is correct because the words are only used as verbs:

I was running.
Yo estaba corriendo.

She was eating soup.
Ella estaba comiendo sopa.

They (feminine) were running track.
Ellas estaban corriendo en pista.

We (feminine) were going to the party.
Nosotras estabamos yendo a la fiesta.

Or

Nosotras ibamos a la fiesta

Now, let us look at how English utilizes the word as a noun as well:

Running is fun.
Going to the park is a healthy exercise.
Eating in the morning is good for you.

In Spanish, the translation can sometimes be a case by case judgment call that one comes to understand more as he continues to learn Spanish speaking patterns.

Most often you take on the infinitive of the verb. If there is a formal noun that can take the place that will work too. Let me attempt to translate the above sentences:

Running is fun.
Es divertido correr.

Going to the park is a healthy exercise.
Es ejercicio saludable ir (caminando) al parque.

Eating in the morning is good for you.
Es saludable comer en la mañana.

So as you can see, most of the time the gerund of English becomes the infinitive in Spanish. Need review on infinitives? Click here.

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or feedback. I respond quickly and am always eager to help.

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4 Comment

  1. Past tense was something that always tripped me up when I was learning Spanish, this definitely helps clear it up.

    I had never really thought about the continuos vs immediate past action.

    Great post, very informative and helpful, keep up the good work.
    Thank you for putting the time into writing this!

    1. Thank you Sam! Glad it helped!

  2. Hello,
    I enjoyed reading about Spanish past tense conjugation. I am learning a little Spanish and found this to be helpful. I also liked another link from your website about the learning Spanish videos on YouTube. You really have some good information in this article and on your site. I think anyone interested in learning Spanish would benefit from your site. Do you have a newsletter or a way for people to follow your new posts?
    Thanks,
    Xin

    1. Thank you very much Xin! At the bottom of every post you can enter in your e-mail. Thanks again!

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