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Recently, I've been discussing with some fellow language learners the significance of the use of the imperfect tense in the following sentence:

Algunos eran asesinados por los soldados, mientras que otros morían de hambre, frío o enfermedades.

As I read it the sentence means,

Some were killed by soldiers, while others died of hunger, cold or disease.

Is there any difference in meaning if fueron and muerion were used instead of eran and morían?

One suggestion put forward was that the imperfect tense, which is used for descriptions, places the reader in the scene in contrast to the preterite tense which would be more of a historical accounting.

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Yes, there is a difference. Your English translation is closer to the version with the 'indefinido':

Algunos fueron asesinados por los soldados, mientras que otros murieron de hambre, frío o enfermedades.

Some were killed by soldiers, while others died of hunger, cold or disease.

The version with the 'imperfecto', on the other hand, implies that these actions were happening over a period of time. It is more like a continuous aspect (be V+ING) in English:

Algunos eran asesinados por los soldados, mientras que otros morían de hambre, frío o enfermedades.

Some were being killed by soldiers, while others were dying of hunger, cold or disease.

Of course, the actual meaning is roughly the same, but there is that subtle difference in perception between something that happened at a point in time ('indefinido') as opposed to something that was happening continuously over a period of time ('imperfecto').

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