The imperfect (abbreviated IMPERF) is a verb form that combines past tense (reference to a past time) and imperfective aspect (reference to a continuing or repeated event or state). It can have meanings similar to the English "was walking" or "used to walk." It contrasts with preterite forms, which refer to a single completed event in the past.
Traditionally, the imperfect of languages such as Latin and French is referred to as one of the tenses, although it actually encodes aspectual information in addition to tense (time reference). It may be more precisely called past imperfective.
English has no general imperfective and expresses it in different ways. The term "imperfect" in English refers to forms much more commonly called past progressive or past continuous (e.g. "was doing" or "were doing"). These are combinations of past tense with specifically continuous or progressive aspect. In German, Imperfekt formerly referred to the simply conjugated past tense (to contrast with the Perfekt or compound past form), but the term Präteritum (preterite) is now preferred, since the form does not carry any implication of imperfective aspect.
Imperfect meanings in English are expressed in different ways depending on whether the event is continuous or habitual.
For a continuous action (one that was in progress at a particular time in the past), the past progressive (past continuous) form is used, as in "I was eating"; "They were running fast." However certain verbs that express state rather than action do not mark the progressive aspect (see Uses of English verb forms § Progressive); in these cases the simple past tense is used instead: "He was hungry"; "We knew what to do next."
Habitual (repeated) action in the past can be marked by used to, as in "I used to eat a lot", or by the auxiliary verb would, as in "Back then, I would eat early and would walk to school." (The auxiliary would also has other uses, such as expressing conditional mood.) However, in many cases the habitual nature of the action does not need to be explicitly marked on the verb, and the simple past is used: "We always ate dinner at six o'clock."
Conjugation of the imperfect indicative:
In Romance languages, the imperfect is generally a past tense. Its uses include representing:
A common mistake of beginners learning a Romance language is putting too much emphasis on whether the time the action occurred is known. This generally does not affect how the imperfect is used. For example, the sentence "Someone ate all of my cookies." (when translated) is not a good candidate for the imperfect. Fundamentally, it is no different from the sentence "We ate all the cookies." Note this fails the repeatability requirement of the imperfect, as it is only known to have happened once. On the other hand, the sentence "I used to have fun in the 1960s." is a good candidate for the imperfect, even though its period is known. In short, knowing when an action occurred is not nearly as important as how long it occurred (or was and still is occurring).
To form the imperfect for French regular verbs, take the first person plural present tense, the "nous" (we) form, subtract the -ons suffix, and add the appropriate ending (the forms for être (to be), whose "nous" form does not end in -ons, are irregular; they start with ét- but have the same endings). Verbs that terminate in a stem of -cer and -ger undergo minor orthographic changes to preserve the phonetic sound or allophone. Verbs whose root terminates in the letter "i" maintain the letter despite the consecutiveness in the "nous" and "vous" forms.
It is used to express the ideas of habitual actions or states of being; physical and emotional descriptions: time, weather, age, feelings; actions or states of an unspecified duration; background information in conjunction with the passé composé; wishes or suggestions; conditions in "si" clauses; the expressions "être en train de" and "venir de" in the past.
Conjugation of the imperfect indicative:
Conjugation of the imperfect indicative:
In Spanish, the imperfect can be called the imperfecto or the copretérito. Conjugation of the imperfect indicative:
In Portuguese, the imperfect indicative, called "pretérito imperfeito", is quite similar to Spanish:
There are four irregular verbs: "pôr" (to put), "ser" (to be), "ter" (to have) and "vir" (to come). Unlike in Spanish, the verbs "ver" (to see) and "ir" (to go) are regular in the Portuguese imperfect.
Like in Italian, it is also commonly formed by combining the imperfect of the verb estar (estava, estavas, estava, estávamos, estáveis, estavam) with the gerund (for example, "falando", the gerund form of "falar", to speak, to talk). In Brazilian Portuguese, both in informal oral speech and informal written language (for example, online or phone texting), it is more common to use the composite "estava falando" (commonly reduced to "tava falando"), than to use the synthetic "falava", which is more common in formal written forms.
Both in European and Brazilian Portuguese, the synthetic pluperfect ("eu falara" "I had spoken") is considered old-fashioned and never used in spoken communication - it is substituted by the composite "eu tinha falado", which is formed with the imperfect form of the verb "ter" (to have) (tinha tinhas tinha tínhamos tínheis tinham) plus the past participle ("falado").
Similar to the closely related Portuguese, as well as to Spanish, but often called "copretérito" (from co-, same particle found in English "collaboration" and "coexistence", plus "pretérito", which is "past tense", in reference of it being a second past tense that exists along the regular one). Same as with them, in formal usage "ti" and "vós/vosoutros" change to "vostede" and "vostedes" and are followed by the third person. In verbs ended in -aer, -oer, -aír and -oír, the first and second person of the plural show the presence of a diaeresis.
Hindi, an Indo-Aryan language, has indicative imperfect tense conjugation only for the verb ? (hon?) [to be] and the rest of the verbs lack this conjugation. The indicative imperfect forms of ? (hon?) comes from Sanskrit (st?ita) "standing, situated" which are derived from the PIE root *steh?- ("to stand"). The imperfect conjugation is derived from a participle form and hence its conjugations agree only with the number and gender of the grammatical person and not the pronoun itself. So, the grammatically singular pronouns (e.g., ma?i "I" and t? "you" etc.) are assigned the singular imperfect forms (i.e. th? or th?) depending on the gender of the person or the noun they refer to, and the grammatically plural pronouns (e.g. ham "we" etc.) are assigned the plural imperfect forms ( th? and th?m?). An exception to this is the pronoun (tum) which takes in the plural imperfect form ( th?) in masculine gender but singular form ( th?) in feminine gender.
|Note: The 2P pronouns '?p' & 'tum' although grammatically plural but are used as singular pronouns, akin to English pronoun 'you'.|
In Assamese, two imperfect forms are recognised: present progressive and/or present perfect & past progressive and/or remote past. There is only one periphrastic tense which functions as both the present progressive and present perfect with reference to the setting in which is placed.
Like all other past tenses, imperfect is conjugated regularly for all verbs. Formation: [preverb] + mi- + past stem + past ending. Conjugation of the imperfect indicative for the first person singular is shown in the table below:
|raftan (to go)||kâr kardan (to work)|
|1st sg.||miraftam||kâr mikardam|
Most Slavic languages have lost the imperfect but it is preserved in Bulgarian and Macedonian. It is also officially retained in Serbian and Croatian but is considered old-fashioned and restricted to literature for poetic and stylistic reasons.
Turkish has separate tenses for past continuous and imperfect. To form the past continuous tense for Turkish verbs, after removing the infinitive suffix (-mek or -mak), take the present continuous tense suffix "-yor" without personal suffixes, and add the ending for the simple past plus the appropriate personal suffix
To form the negative of the past continuous tense, the negation suffix "-ma/-me", which becomes -mi, -m?, -mu, or -mü because of the closed auxiliary vowel and the vowel harmony, must be added before -yor.
Semitic languages, especially the ancient forms, do not make use of the imperfect (or perfect) tense with verbs. Instead, they use the imperfective and perfective aspects, respectively. Aspects are similar to tenses, but differ by requiring contextual comprehension to know whether the verb indicates a completed or non-completed action.
To make a verb in the imperfect negative, add (all) after the (ukaya) part of the ending for the "was doing" imperfect. For example, (ukayall?yirunnu) (...was not running). To do the same for the "used to do" imperfect, take off the (uma) from the ending and add (attilla) instead. For example, (attill?yirunnu) (...didn't use to run)