I've been reading about the differences between the two tenses. It is my understanding that Indefinido is generally for finished things in specified past, while Imperfecto may describe spans of time that might or might not be terminated, or for frequent events.

However, as I spoke with a (non-native but proficient) speaker of Spanish, they interpreted these sentences differently than I'd expect them to:

No conocí la canción. – I still don't know it

No conocía la canción. – I know it now

My guess would be the opposite. How to interpret that difference?

  • 1
    I just wouldn't say "No conocí la canción." Could you find a different verb to work with, as you're experimenting with the two types of past tense? (Note that I would say "No reconocí la canción," or "No reconocía la canción", but they're pretty interchangeable. On the other hand, there's a big difference between hablaba and hablé.) Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 21:57
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    @aparente001 "No conocí la canción" can be used to mean "No reconocí la canción" (I didn't recognize the song, or I didn't know what it was, when I heard it). "No conocía la canción" has the durative meaning that characterizes the imperfect: I didn't know it (for some time) until I got to know it.
    – Gustavson
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 2:35
  • @Gustavson - okay, but I still think there are other verbs that are more productive to work with for understanding these two tenses. Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 2:36
  • Thanks for the comments. These sentences is something that came up when I was talking and my language partner corrected me and it was weird for me, that's why this verb :) Will check out the links. Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 6:32

2 Answers 2


In order to understand your examples some context would be useful, but let's see:

No conocí la canción.

This looks like it's missing something, like a subordinate expression, for example:

No conocí la canción hasta que tuve 40 años.
= "I didn't (get to) know the song until I turned 40 years old."

In this case it's plain that you do know the song now.

No conocí la canción cuando salió.
= "I didn't (get to) know the song when it was released."

In this other case it's a matter of context. With no further information, your hearer would probably ask: "Well, do you know it now?".

Alternatively, conocer can sometimes stand for reconocer "to recognize". If so, it would be as the speaker you consulted said:

No reconocí la canción.
= "(I heard the song but) I didn't recognize the song."

As for the verb in pretérito imperfecto:

No conocía la canción.

Since the imperfect refers to an unfinished process or a non-final state, this strongly implies that you do know the song now. But it's only an implication. If you are narrating a story in the past that mentions the song, this is what you'd say. For example:

Ella quería que cantáramos juntos, pero yo no conocía la canción. Ella se aburrió y se fue. Nunca la volví a ver.

Here you have just stated that you didn't know the song at the time that the story took place. Unless you give the hearer a clue, or flat out tell them that you looked up the song after the incident, it's unknown.

  • The context was simply that somebody sent me a link to a song, and I replied that I don't know it. Thanks for you explanation, I think I get it better now :) Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 9:53

you are talking about the difference between copreterito and preterito

both are two forms to talk in the past tense, while preterito is the purest form of the past tense, the copreterito is the definition of things that "were performed in the past that might or might not have finished" that's why it is considered the "undefined" past tense.

the copreterito verbs are caraterized for finishing in "ia" or "aba".

there are no copreterito verbs in english, there are two translations from Spanish to English, the first one is transform it into the "used to" the second is to transform it into past as infinitive or undefined

"yo compre comida" this means: I bought food, past tense

"yo compraba comida" this means "i used to buy food" or can mean "I was buying food".

depending on the context you might use one form or the other.

this tense is very similar to the "post-preterito" tense, that is the tense when you say something you "would" do if things were different, Example :

"yo compraria un auto, si fuera rico" means: "i would buy a car if i were rich".

This in english we conjugate the verb "buy" with "would" to create the "post-preterito" verb, in spanish we just add an "ria" to the end of the verb

  • Thanks for your response. However, I understand the general rules governing Spanish tenses. It's that my interpretation of those rules what different from that of a fluent speaker, so I wanted to see what was wrong with my intuition =] Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 15:12

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