In this learning note, we’ll discuss the pretérito imperfeito do indicativo Play normal audio , which is the Portuguese equivalent to the past continuous tense in English grammar (a.k.a. the past progressive). For simplicity, we’ll refer to it as the Imperfeito Play slow audio Play normal audio Imperfect.
This tense is used to describe something that took place in the past that was ongoing or did not have a clear endpoint. It imparts this idea of continuity that the other pretéritos Play slow audio Play normal audio past tenses don’t have, which makes it ideal to narrate past events, as well as to describe past habits.
Fui picado por mosquitos enquanto dormia. Play slow audio Play normal audio I was bitten by mosquitoes while I was sleeping.
Eu comia sopa todos os dias. Play slow audio Play normal audio I used to eat soup every day.
The first sentence mixes the Pretérito Perfeito Play slow audio Play normal audio Simple Past (fui picado) with the Imperfeito Play slow audio Play normal audio Imperfect (dormia). We’ll compare both tenses further below in this article.
Conjugating Verbs in the Imperfeito
Conjugating regular verbs in the Imperfeito:
|-ar verb ending||-er/-ir verb ending|
Three examples of irregular verbs in the Imperfeito:
When and how to use the Imperfeito
Let’s look at an example for each of the different contexts in which you can use the Imperfeito:
- When, with our thoughts, we travel to the past and describe what was then the present:
- To indicate an action that was taking place while another occurred:
- To describe a habit or actions that happened repeatedly:
- When stating past facts that can be considered permanent or constant:
- In place of the conditional, to state a consequence of an action or event that didn’t or couldn’t happen:
- Sometimes, depending on the context, the present tense might sound a bit rude. In order to sound more polite when asking for something or placing an order, you might want to use the imperfeito. In these situations, it’s sometimes referred to as the Imperfeito de Cortesia Play slow audio Play normal audio Courtesy Imperfect:
- Era um café e um copo de água. Play slow audio Play normal audio I'd like a coffee and a glass of water.
- Queria uma tosta mista, por favor. Play slow audio Play normal audio I'd like a ham and cheese sandwich, please.
- Queria falar contigo depois. Play slow audio Play normal audio I wanted to talk to you afterwards. – This sounds less severe/urgent than Quero falar contigo depois. Play slow audio Play normal audio I want to talk to you afterwards.
- At the start of folk tales and legends, to vaguely situate the story:
Adverbs used with the Imperfeito
You may notice that there are certain adverbs that are commonly used with the Imperfeito, such as:
- antigamente Play slow audio Play normal audio in the past, previously
- antes Play slow audio Play normal audio before
- às vezes Play slow audio Play normal audio sometimes
- de vez em quando Play slow audio Play normal audio once in a while
- em tempos Play slow audio Play normal audio at times
Perfeito vs. Imperfeito
- Perfeito: Eu deixei a mala no carro. Play slow audio Play normal audio I left the suitcase in the car.
- Imperfeito: Eu deixava a mala no carro. Play slow audio Play normal audio I used to leave the suitcase in the car.
The Imperfeito expresses a past continuous action, one that was ongoing. The Perfeito, on the other hand, expresses a momentary, one-time action.
- Ele estava a correr quando ouviu um acidente. Play slow audio Play normal audio He was running when he heard an accident.