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Can somebody please tell me how these sentences change meaning when using preterite vs. imperfect? And maybe give some example sentences that illustrate the difference?? It is very hard, this concept, for a native English speaker.

Yo estaba en escuela

yo estuve en escuela

ella estaba en colorado

ella estuvo en colorado

yo estaba corriendo

yo estuve corriendo

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    You better show some effort: what did you try? what problems did you encounter? Voting to close with the reason "asking for translations". – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Nov 18 '15 at 21:44
  • This question has been asked here already, and has answers. And here is a list of questions about "fue" and "era", which is the same sort of difference as between "estuve" and "estaba". – Jacinto Nov 20 '15 at 10:06
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    "Estaba" usually implies that the action didn't finish; normally is accompanied with the action which interrupted the previous one; "estuve" can be used as a standalone sentence: "Ayer estuve en el cine" (period. I'm just telling the fact that yesterday I was at the cinema). "Ayer estaba en el cine" (okay, what happened next?) "cuando me di cuenta de que había dejado la lavadora en marcha". – Luis Nov 23 '15 at 2:17
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There is a pretty simple thing to remember this:

Estaba is used somewhat like the Past Progressive in English.

"Estaba en la calle cuando me llamaron."

Means that at this time, when I have been called, I was on the Street / outside. The call interrupted that action, but it later continued. An action could be finished, but that´s not necessarily the case.

Estuve however indicates something that has indeed terminated. Pretty much like the past tense in English.

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  • Do you see?. This is why I said that the difference is very subtle. What about if I say "Ayer estuve pintando la casa pero no alcancé a pintarla toda." The action was not finished and may continue some other time, and "Ayer estaba pintando la casa cuando me llamaron" also means the action was interrupted, so it is not absolutely about finished and unfinished tasks. We need a better answer than this and than mine. "Estar" is one of the most complicated verbs in every language so I guess the answer should be as well long and complex. – DGaleano Nov 19 '15 at 13:01
  • well another thing is that many people - even natives don't use the correct form. :) And ideed estar is very difficult. – BenjB Nov 19 '15 at 13:58
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    Well I'm sure I'm one of the natives that uses it correctly :-) . To make sure I made a short research and found this link ESTAR with a hundred sentences in Spanish using the verb Estar and their translation to English. I think it will help you a lot – DGaleano Nov 19 '15 at 14:16
  • That's a great link! Thanks. We should work on a bettr answer though to publish here... :) – BenjB Nov 19 '15 at 15:00
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Yo estaba en la escuela = I was in the school

Yo estuve en la escuela = I was in the school

ella estaba en colorado = She was in Colorado

ella estuvo en colorado = She was in Colorado

yo estaba corriendo = I was running

yo estuve corriendo = I was running.

There is another set of sentences that could help you better express different times like these:

Yo he estado en la escuela = I've been in the school

Ella ha estado en Colorado = She has been in Colorado.

Yo he estado corriendo = I've been running.

The difference between Estaba y Estuve is very subtle. Both are past but Estaba usually means that the action has finished and with Estuve the action could still be incomplete.

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    Es al revés: estuve es para una acción completada, y estaba para una acción incompleta. – Alejandro Nov 18 '15 at 22:54
  • "Donde estabas ayer?. Yo estaba en mi casa". Eso no es una acción incompleta. Como lo dije en el otro comentario... Estar es uno de los verbos mas complicados en todos los idiomas y creo que necesitamos una respuesta más completa que la mía y que la de BenjB. – DGaleano Nov 19 '15 at 13:07
  • Que diga 'estaba en mi casa' no implica que sea completo, puede ser una interrupción de la acción 'estar en la casa,' algo así como 'estaba en mi casa pero salí a pasear.' – Alejandro Nov 19 '15 at 13:10
  • "Donde estuviste ayer? Ayer estuve en mi casa." Es la misma pregunta y la misma respuesta e igualmente es una acción completa. Español es mi idioma nativo y estoy 100% seguro de que se usar estaba y estuve pero aparte de ejemplos como este no se explicar la diferencia claramente. Definitivamente la diferencia no esta en si la acción es completa o incompleta – DGaleano Nov 19 '15 at 13:17
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The problem with this debate (here and in linguistics) is that we are discussing phrases that nobody would say. They may seem grammatically correct, but they are unacceptable and unnatural without extra elements in the sentence or a clear context. This is not just a matter of "use" but a semantic issue. Some of the sentences above NEED more elements to be correct and there is a reason for that.

To the natives here: would you say "Ayer, yo estaba en la escuela" without anybody asking you where you were (because that person was wondering where you had been all this time) or without you explaining in relation to what you are talking about (Yo estaba en la escuela cuando...)? "Ayer yo estuve en la escuela", on the other hand, may be said just like that, in a diary, for instance.

The example sentences in the question follow a mathematical formula that does not belong in natural languages. They are stripping the sentences of all what makes them sentences from Spanish. @PonyVilla, this topic is related to aspect. In English it is there and you have it at a semantic level (although not grammatical level), so may be you can read more on the topic https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_aspect It is a bit complex at the beginning, but once you understand this, it is going to change your life because aspect is everywhere in Spanish! :)

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  • This is not an answer but....it is very interesting. – DGaleano Nov 20 '15 at 19:17
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I agree partly with DGaleano, who said that "Estar es uno de los verbos mas complicados en todos los idiomas." In English, "estar" (to be) it is pretty straightforward, but English speakers (my American students are a good example) have problems distinguishing "ser" and "estar." Here are the differences, explained with two acronyms: SER (TO BE)

General rule Ser is used to classify and identify permanent or lasting attributes. This acronym will help you remember the rule: DOCTOR (Description, Occupation, Characteristic, Time, Origin, and Relationship).

1) Description. Describe him or her

YO SOY ALTA

YO SOY HOMBRE

2) Occupation or profession

YO SOY ESTUDIANTE

ELLA ES ARTISTA.

The indefinite articles un, una, unos and unas are omitted when describing an occupation after the verb ser

3) Characteristic. Define the essential qualities of a person.

ELLA ES INTELIGENTE

4) Origin. Describes the place a person is from or the material something is made from

SOY DE NUEVA JERSEY

LA MESA ES DE MADERA

5) Time. Includes days, dates, and hours. For hours, use es for 1 o´clock and son for all other hours

ES LA 1 PM Y HOY ES MIÉRCOLES

6) Relationship.

LUISA ES MI MADRE, MARCOS ES MI AMIGO

Even after someone dies or someone breaks up, relationships are described using ser. Religion are also described using ser since a religion is considered a relationship with a higher power. Relationships are a form of identity.

ESTAR (TO BE) General rule

Estar is used mainly to indicate temporary situations or conditions and locations. This acronym will help you remember the rule: PLACE (Position, Location, Action, Condition, and Emotion).

1) Position. Describes the place or posture a person or thing is in.

EL ESTÁ SENTADO

2) Location. Describes where someone or something is permanently, temporarily, actually, or conceptually

YO ESTOY EN LA CIUDAD, LA CLASE ESTÁ ALLÁ

3) Action. Describes an ongoing action and uses the present progressive tense. In Spanish, death is an ongoing action, not a permanent state

NOSOTROS ESTAMOS ESTUDIANDO, MI ABUELO ESTÁ MUERTO

4) Condition. The state of an object

EL COMPUTADOR ESTÁ DAÑADO

5) Emotion or feeling. How a person is feeling at a certain moment, physically or emotionally

YO ESTOY FELIZ, ELLAS ESTÁN CANSADAS, ÉL ESTÁ SENTADO

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  • Aunque la pregunta tiene que ver con el pasado del verbo Estar, mi voto positivo por una muy ilustrativa explicación. Tal vez la puedas editar y agregar ejemplos usado el tiempo pasado. – DGaleano Nov 20 '15 at 19:31

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