I would like to know how to use past tenses with verbs like 'ser', 'estar', 'tener' 'vivir'. Specifically, I can say 'Pensaba en ti' and 'Pense en ti'. They're equivalent of english 'I was thinking about you' and 'I thought about you'. The problem is, they mean the same (I think), so I am never sure which form is better.

I can say 'Estaba en Espana' and 'Estuve en Espana' what again mean the same. Which form should I use?

I can say 'Tenia un perro' and 'Tuve un perro'. Both mean I don't own the dog now.

Look at the verb 'cocinar'. If I say 'Cocinaba una sopa' and 'Cocine una sopa' they don't mean the same. The second tense means the action is done, but first informs us that the subject started some action, but we don't know whether he had done this.

But with 'specifically' verbs there's no divison like above in logical context.

I hope you understand my problem and will explain me this, especially in my native language verbs like tener, estar, etc. don't have indefinido(past simple tense), only imperfecto(past continous), so it may be the reason of my question.

  • We have a number of questions regarding the different past verb tenses already. Have you read these to see if they answer your question?
    – Flimzy
    Jun 24, 2015 at 14:23

2 Answers 2



Estaba en España ayer.

I was in Spain yesterday, for an undetermined amount of time.

Estuve en España ayer.

I got to Spain yesterday. I arrived in Spain yesterday. I was in Spain yesterday at one point in time and then I was not.

Una vez que estuve en España me fuí a cenar.

Once I was in Spain I went out to eat. / As soon as I was in Spain...


Tenía un perro ayer

I had a dog yesterday, and it is unclear from the sentence whether I ever didn't have the dog.

Tuve un perro ayer.

I got a dog yesterday. I obtained this dog, end of sentence.


Iba al gimnasio ayer

I was going to the gym yesterday. From the sentence, you will never know whether I arrived there or not. All you know from this sentence is that I was on my way to the gym.

Fuí al gimnasio ayer

I actually went to the gym. It's not defined whether or not I went inside the gym or even worked out. I simply went TO the gym yesterday.


In Spanish, you use indefinido (~simple past) when you are referring to a single action in the sentence. You usually use imperfecto (~ past continuous) when there is another (secondary) action in the sentence. Examples:

"Pensé en tí la semana pasada" -> I thought about you last week

"Pensaba en tí mientras estaba de viaje" -> I thought about you while I was on travel

"Estuve en España dos veces" -> "I was in Spain twice"

"Estaba en España cuando llamaste" -> "I was in Spain when you called me"

"Tuve un perro cuando era niño" -> "I had a dog when I was a child"

"Tenía un perro cuando vivía allí" -> "I had a dog when I lived there"


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