I was reading an article in the online edition of El País about the collapse of airlines when the opening paragraph puzzled me

El 15 de diciembre de 2006 cerraba la línea aérea Air Madrid tras una larga serie de cancelaciones y retrasos. Dejó 7,5 millones de euros sin devolver en billetes emitidos hasta esa fecha y miles de pasajeros en tierra. Air Comet se quedó con sus rutas. Pero Air Comet cerró también de la noche a la mañana el 21 de diciembre de 2009 dejando tirados a otros miles de viajeros a ambos lados del Atlántico.

I understand what it means, this is not a request for translation, but the first verb cerraba is in what I would call in English the imperfect whereas the following ones are in the preterite (or simple past). In fact the article goes on with airlines which cerró, quebraron, dejó de operar, and so on.

Can anyone throw any light on this? Is it a mistake? Is it what is called in English elegant variation where you change just for variety (which many people frown on)?, Is it some feature of Spanish tenses which I have not yet learned?

The full article is here if that helps.

  • In the first sentence we are setting the scene for the drama of the rest of the paragraph. Oct 7, 2017 at 3:16

1 Answer 1


You are right: the pretérito perfecto simple (indefinido) could have been used there.

However, pretérito imperfecto is used because it's indicating/describing the circumstance in which all the other events happen (this is one of the main uses of pretérito imperfecto, as you probably know), or rather the circumstance to which all the other events are related, i.e. the action cerraba itself is not stated as an action that just happened and was completed (pretérito perfecto), but as a frame for all the other events.

I hope I explained myself well enough :)

  • 1
    I would add that, for a native speaker, the use of the imperfect here suggests the process of gradual economic collapse of the airline. It's not something you'd find in spoken or informal discourse but sounds distinctly journalistic.
    – pablodf76
    Oct 6, 2017 at 16:06
  • @pablodf76 i can see that could be the case but I would have expected that most of the other airline collapses mentioned had a similar pattern: gradual economic decline followed by a sudden and immediate decision to halt all business.
    – mdewey
    Oct 9, 2017 at 14:10
  • I think this interesting discussion shows a slightly different world view as I would never have seen the first one as setting the scene for the rest of the article.
    – mdewey
    Oct 10, 2017 at 17:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.