Friday, 9 March 2012

Tell Me, What Were You Doing When I Called?


SCENARIO
Imagine you have just met a relative, a friend or a colleague. In fact, the person you have just met had called you earlier . Now that person wants to know what you were doing at the time he/ she called you. So he/ she decides to say to you something like: "tell me, what were you doing when I called?".

 In Spanish, he/ she could choose to be less formal and say to you:
Dime, ¿qué hacías cuando llamé?

On the other hand, he/ she could choose to be more formal and say to you:
Dígame, ¿qué hacía (usted) cuando llamé?



OUR TIP
You could think of the question you are asked as a typical prompt to talk about what you were doing in the past.  When talking about what you were doing in the past, you DO NOT need to be concerned about levels of formality. You just need to concentrate on saying what you were doing. In this case, perhaps you want to say that you were:
  • Reading something.
  • Writing something.
  • Listening to something.
  • Talking to someone.
  • Studying something.
  • Looking for something
  • Getting dressed.
  • Putting some makeup on.
  • Combing your hair.
  • Eating something.
  • Brushing your teeth.
  • Turning an electrical appliance on.
  • Turning an electrical appliance off.
  • Having a meal.
  • Having a drink.
  • Buying something.
  • Going to bed.


Here are some examples of how you would say what you were doing:
  • Leía* un libro cuando me llamaste (I was reading a book when you called).
  • Estaba leyendo un libro cuando me llamaste (I was reading a book when you called).
  • Escribía* una carta cuando me llamaste ( I was writing a letter when you called)
  • Estaba escribiendo una carta cuando me llamaste (I was writing a letter when you called).
  • Escuchaba* la radio cuando me llamaste (I was listening to the radio when you called).
  • Estaba escuchando la radio cuando me llamaste (I was listening to the radio when you called).
  • Hablaba* con Pedro cuando me llamaste (I was talking to Pedro when you called).
  • Estaba hablando con Pedro cuando me llamaste (I was talking to Pedro when you called).
  • Estudiaba* español cuando me llamaste (I was studying Spanish when you called).
  • Estaba estudiando español cuando me llamaste (I was studying Spanish when you called).
  • Buscaba* las llaves cuando me llamaste (I was looking for my keys when you called).
  • Estaba buscando las llaves cuando me llamaste (I was looking for my keys when you called).
  • Me vistía* cuando me llamaste (I was getting dressed when you called).
  • Me estaba vistiendo cuando me llamaste (I was getting dressed when you called).
  • Me ponía* maquillaje cuando me llamaste (I was putting makeup on when you called).
  • Me estaba poniendo maquillaje cuando me llamaste (I was putting makeup on when you called)
  • Me peinaba* cuando me llamaste (I was combing my hair when you called).
  • Estaba peinándome cuando me llamaste (I was combing my hair when you called).
  • Comía* un pastel cuando me llamaste (I was eating a cake when you called).
  • Me estaba comiendo un pastel cuando me llamaste (I was eating a cake when you called).
  • Me cepillaba los dientes cuando me llamaste (I was brushing my teeth when you called).
  • Estaba cepillándome los dientes cuando me llamaste (I was brushing my teeth when you called).
  • Enciendía la tele cuando me llamaste (I was turning on the television set when you called).
  • Estaba encendiendo la tele cuando me llamaste (I was turning on the television set when you called).
  • Me tomaba* el desayuno cuando me llamaste (I was having breakfast when you called).
  • Estaba desayunando cuando me llamaste (I was having breakfast when you called).
  • Tomaba* un café cuando me llamaste (I was having a coffee when you called).
  • Me estaba tomando un café cuando me llamaste (I was having a coffee when you called).
  • Compraba* sellos cuando me llamaste (I was buying stamps when you called).
  • Estaba comprando sellos cuando me llamaste (I was buying stamps when you called).
  • Me iba* a la cama cuando me llamaste (I was going to bed when you called).

Now you should practice talking about the past to someone who says to you:
Dime, ¿qué hacías cuando llamé?

*Please see grammar below

Grammar-The Imperfect
These are examples of expressions using the imperfect to talk about the past. Remember that in Spanish we use the imperfect in the following situations:

1. When talking about habitual ongoing actions in the past. Some examples of expressions of this type are:
  • Antes me gustaba jugar a tenis (I used to like playing tennis).
  • Tú casi nunca madrugabas (you almost never got up early).
  • Pedro tenía muchos amigos (Pedro used to have many friends).
  • Siempre estábamos contentos (we used to be always happy).
  • A veces llegábais tarde (sometimes, you -plural were late).
  • Mis compañeros de trabajo apenas me conocían (my work colleagues hardly knew me).
2. When talking about repeated ongoing events in the past. Some examples of  expressions of this type are:
  • Yo iba a la playa lo domingos* (on Sundays I used to go to the beach).
  • Todos los días te levantabas temprano (you used to get up early everyday).
  • Pedro trabajaba de lunes a viernes (Pedro used to work from Monday to Friday).
  • Nos gustaba ir a nadar los lunes (we liked going swimming on Mondays).
  • Los fines de semana íbais al campo (you -plural used to go to the countryside at the weekends).
  • Mis amigos venían a visitarme una vez a la semana (my friends used to come to visit once a week).
3.  When describing the past. Some examples of  expressions of this type are:
  • Yo era amigo de Sofía (I was Sofía's friend).
  • Tú eras muy joven (you were very young) .
  • Mi coche era nuevo (my car was new).
  • Éramos como hermanos (we were like brothers).
  • Erais compañeros de trabajo de mi hermano (you -plural were work colleagues of my brother).
  • Mis padres eran muy mayores (my parents were very old).

4.  When talking about ongoing past actions which were occurring at the same time as a completed action. Some examples of  expressions of this type are:
  • Yo comía cuando me llamaste (I was eating when you called).
  • Dormías cuando llegamos (you were sleeping when we arrived) .
  • Llovía cuando salí (it was raining when I left).
  • Llegabamos a Barcelona cuando amaneció (we were arriving in Barcelona when dawn broke).
  • Cuando os ví, salíais del bar (when I saw you -plural you were leaving the bar).
  • Cuando llegamos, mis padres salían (when we arrived, my parents were leaving).

5.  When asking someone directly, what would you like?/ how can I help you? When replying to that type of question indicating, what I/ we would like/ are looking for. Some examples of  expressions of this type are:
  • ¿Qué  querías(what would you like?/ what are you looking for?/ how can I help you?).
  • ¿Qué  quería (usted)(what would you like?/ what are you looking for?/ how can I help you?).
  • ¿Qué  queríais(what would you like?/ what are you looking for?/ how can I help you? - you plural).
  • ¿Qué  querían (ustedes)(what would you like?/ what are you looking for?/ how can I help you? -you plural).
  • Quería una lata de sardinas (I wanted/ I am looking for/ could I have a tin of sardines?).
  • Queríamos una habitación doble (we wanted/ we are looking for/ could we have a double room?).

Now you should practice using the imperfect with some examples of your own.



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