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Imperfect continuous forms in Spanish

The previous pages have concentrated on present continuous forms of the verb such as estoy trabajando = I'm working. You'll note that in English, many different continuous forms are possible, such as I was working, he will have been waiting etc. The same is generally true in Spanish, but possibly the next most common form after the present continuous is the imperfect continuous form.

The imperfect continuous is generally equivalent to English forms was/were ...ing (e.g. was walking, were waiting). That is, it is generally used to describe the "background" to another action or event (cf English I was cooking when he arrived). The Spanish imperfect continuous is formed as follows:

imperfect continuous = imperfect form of estar plus gerund

Even if you haven't learnt the imperfect tense yet, there's little to stop you beginning by learning the imperfect of estar, which we give below.

Full example

Here is the imperfect continuous of the verb trabajar in full, formed with the appropriate imperfect form of estar as shown:

Imperfect continuous of the verb trabajar
PersonImperfect of estarImperfect continuous form
yoestabaestaba trabajando
I was working
estabasestabas trabajando
you were working
él/ellaestabaestaba trabajando
he/she was working
nosotros, -asestábamosestábamos trabajando
we were working
vosotros, -asestabaisestabais trabajando
you were working
ellos/ellasestabanestaban trabajando
they were working

Pronunciation of the imperfect form

Note that throughout the imperfect tense in Spanish, the stressed syllable is always "anchored" on the first syllable of the endinges.ta.ba, es.ta.bais1— even when this is not shown with a written accent.

Practise the imperfect continuous

Fill in the grid below with the appropriate imperfect continuous form in each case:

Use of the imperfect continuous

For more information on when— and when not— to use the imperfect continuous vs the simple imperfect tense, see the following pages:

1. The actual ending is of course -aba, -abais etc, but we consider at least the preceding t to fill the first part of the syllable, giving the syllabification: es.ta.ba etc.

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