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Preterite vs. Imperfect

nohablo

nohablo

I'm still finding it very hard to figure out when to use the preterite vs. the imperfect when talking about the past. I've gone through Rocket Spanish and Learning Spanish Like Crazy, but just when I think I understand how to deal with the past, I find I don't. :( The most recent example comes from the Pimsleur Spanish III (which I was able to get from my public library). The speaker says *"He aprendido español en estados unidos, pero no fue fácil."* I have two questions. The main one is why *fue* rather than *estaba*? The Rocket Spanish Advanced Spanish book explains that the imperfect should be used when talking about past action that is "indefinite (no definite start or end date" or is "continuous or repeated" or that "took place over a period of time." All of those seem to describe "no fue fácil." But *fue* is the preterite, not the imperfect. I'd really appreciate it if someone could explain why it's "no fue fácil" rather than "no estaba fácil." The other question about that statement is more trivial. All through Pimsleur, they say "estados unidos" rather than "los estados unidos." Both Rocket Spanish and Learning Spanish Like Crazy use "los estados unidos," and that's what I've heard elsewhere as well. Why does Pimsleur drop the "los"? Is that correct? De antemano, muchas gracias por la ayuda que pueda darme.
Hombre

Hombre

I'm no expert, so I looked it up in a book. It appears that this should be Preterit, since the action was totally completed in the past. "The imperfect tense is used to narrate past actions, but unlike the preterit, the imperfect tense does not refer to the specific time an action took place or when the beginning or the end of an action occurred". "The imperfect tense describes the ongoing duration of an action or how frequently the action took place" I'm guessing that since he refered to a specific time (when he was in the U.S.), the speaker deemed it preterit. I personally have no idea and am probably loco to even attempt to answer a question like this!!
(deleted)

(deleted)

Another way to think of it is that the process of learning Spanish EITHER was difficult OR was easy. The fact that it was easy or not is timeless. So what you must do is distinguish the* process of learning Spanish* (imperfect) from the statement about whether it was easy or not (preterite). I do want to mention that the sentence you quoted: *"He aprendido español en estados unidos, pero no fue fácil."* sounds ridiculous even in English. Think about it: _I have learned Spanish in United States, but it wasn't easy._ Perhaps they were just illustrating a grammatical point, because I can't think of any instances in which you'd actually HEAR that sentence spoken. Instead, the natural way I'd say that is: *Aprendía español en los Estados Unidos, pero no fue fácil.* _I learned Spanish (over a period of time) in the United States, but it wasn't easy._
nevjohnson

nevjohnson

I would say you use fue instead of estaba. Firstly your comparison would be fue vs era as fue(ser) estaba(estar). In this context SER would be used as it is a description. Think about it in the present tense es facil but you have never heard esta facil. Secondly it depends on what you are trying to imply. Has the process of learning spanish terminated or are you still continuing to learn Spanish. The statement tends to imply that someone has asked you Where did you learn Spanish? (Now it seems as the the context puts you in another country as you say in the States, if you were in the US at the time you would probably reply in school or in college) Hence since you can assume that you are reply whilst in another country I would say its up 2 you whether the reply is fue facil or era facil. Only you know whether the action is complete or continuing. Thoughts and comments welcome as always Nev
nohablo

nohablo

Thanks very much, Hombre, Amy, and Nev! Your responses have really helped. Hombre, your last sentence really made me smile. It's exactly the way I often feel when I'm trying to answer someone's question about Spanish! But I figure that I learn something in trying, and that if I'm wrong, someone will correct me, and I'll learn more. I don't think it's ever loco to contribute (as you can probably tell, from the number of postings I've made :) ). Nev, thanks very much, especially for pointing out that once again I've mixed up my confusions :oops: . Yes, I should have said that I thought it should be *era* (not *estaba*) rather than *fue*. Amy, I found much of your response very helpful, but I think I may have muddied things by saying *estaba* when I meant *era.* Still, if (to quote you) "the fact that it was easy or not is timeless," why isn't that a reason to use the imperfect? It had no definite start or end date. Arrgh. :cry: And yes, Amy, you're right--the Pimsleur lesson was probably trying to reinforce learning the present perfect tense, and that's why they used "he aprendido." It leads to some rather contrived conversation, as both you and Nev have pointed out. That's one of the reasons I'm not so enthusiastic about Pimsleur. It does a good job of drilling you and helping you to remember, but some of the conversation seems to me less useful than what I've heard on Rocket Spanish and on Learning Spanish Like Crazy. But it's hard trying to find ways to learn Spanish if you're not in a Spanish-speaking country and/or do not have a Spanish-speaking amigo/novio/esposo. It's just me and my CDs :D. Again, muchas gracias a todos.
Hombre

Hombre

I'm always amazed when I hear fluent speakers. I cannot even imagine sorting out all the genders, tenses, etc, and THEN formulating the correct sentence structure and word endings, and THEN speaking so fast without any pause to think. I hope I get to the point someday where I can even ask the question that was asked in this thread. :wink:
(deleted)

(deleted)

The cool thing is thinking about how we ourselves speak our own language and sort out all the genders, tenses, etc. without even thinking! I remember how, when I was living with my host family in Ecuador, I would sit with them and watch cheesy American movies dubbed over into Spanish. I couldn't understand a single word and ended up feeling a bit bored while my family laughed and nodded and understood everything that was going on. Maybe, I thought, I could just pick up their comprehension by sitting with them, as though through osmosis. I remember thinking that someday it was going to be like a light switch had turned on: all this incomprehensible dialogue was going to resolve itself into language as natural as if I'd always heard it. And it did! Most language leaners who attain fluency can talk about the moment they got it, or the moment they forgot they were speaking a foreign language. Your brain works overtime when you're first learning a language, and everything feels slow and painful, but what you don't realize is that new neural connections are being formed that will eventually bring this painfully-learned information to your tongue instantaneously. You won't have to think, because the new language will be "programmed" into your brain. The best way to learn a language isn't to memorize the rules of grammar: it's to hear it over and over and over again. The more you hear someone say, "Fue fácil," the more like you are to repeat it whether or not you understand why "fue" rather than "era" was used. (Unfortunately, this can cause some serious issues when it comes to slang words, which I've been known to repeat without knowing their meaning!)
taalibeen

taalibeen

Quote: I do want to mention that the sentence you quoted: "He aprendido español en estados unidos, pero no fue fácil." sounds ridiculous even in English. Think about it: I have learned Spanish in United States, but it wasn't easy. ----------------- Just to play the bad guy's advocate, it isn't a ridiculous expression at all, depending on the circumstance. If the question was asked, "who has studied Spanish in the United States?" That would be an perfectly sound, grammatically correct response in English.
nevjohnson

nevjohnson

I beg to differ "who has studied Spanish in the United States" I would not reply I have learned but I have studied......
taalibeen

taalibeen

Ah, but I have no contention with the argument that the statement in question might not be the more normative response. I was addressing the grammatical integrity of the statement. These are two distinct issues.
Hombre

Hombre

If we really wanted to stay with the verb choice of aprender, wouldn't a better syntax be: *Aprendí Español en los Estados Unidos*? The English translation would be something like *'I learned Spanish in the U.S*.' [I hope I got this right] Not exactly high class English, but something that could probably pass with most folks. :roll:
nohablo

nohablo

Hola Hombre. If we use the guidelines that the Rocket Spanish Advanced Spanish book offers, I think Amy's choice of the imperfect (*aprendía*) works better. According to the Rocket Spanish book, past actions that are "indefinite (no definite start or end date)" or that "[take] place over a period of time" are usually expressed by the imperfect. Those sound like excellent descriptions of learning Spanish! :wink:
Hombre

Hombre

If Amy says aprendía, that's good enough for me. :P I didn't notice her post where she gave the best way to say this. It could be argued, probably unsuccessfully, that learning in the US actually did have a definite ending, adding credence to my fragile and perhaps misguided assertion that it be preterit. But, since I am probably the worst Spanish speaking person in this forum, I gladly accept yours and Amy's reasoning. Keep up the good work, and let me know what you think of Pimsleur III when you are finished with it. I just started RS, lesson 2.1 conversation. Good stuff!

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