Monday, 21 January 2013

Tell Me, How Did The Accident Happened?


SCENARIO
Imagine you are with a relative, a friend or a colleague. You are talking about some past events. Maybe you are talking about a small traffic accident you were involved in. The other person says to you something like: "tell me, how did the accident happened?".

In Spanish, he/ she could choose to be less formal and say to you:
Dime, ¿como ocurrió el accidente?

On the other hand, he/ she could choose to be more formal and say to you:
Dígame, ¿como ocurrió el accidente?


OUR TIP
The question is an invitation for you to describe how the accident came about. When you say how something happened, you should not need to be concerned about the level of formality in the other person's question. Your main concern should be about describing how things happened. Maybe you want to start by setting the scene for what eventually happened.

Here are some examples of how you could reply:
  • Llovía y había* mucho tráfico (it was raining and the traffic was heavy);
  • El semáforo estaba* en rojo y estábamos* parados (the lights were red and we were stationary);
  • Había* un coche aparcado e íbamos* a adelantarlo (there was a parked car and we were about to overtake it);
  • Era* de noche y había* muy poca visivilidad (it was nighttime and visibility was poor);

Now you should practise replying to someone who says to you:
Dime, ¿como ocurrió el accidente?

*Please see grammar below

Grammar-The Imperfect
When talking about actions or events in the past in English you would use the simple past or past continuous tense, in Spanish you must choose between using the imperfect or using the preterite.

In this post we look at a number of situations in which the imperfect is commonly used. The imperfect is commonly used in the following cases:

    1. Describing What Was Happening
In Spanish, we commonly use the imperfect to describe what was happening* at the time when a particular event or action occurred.

  • Some examples of the use of the imperfect in such situations are:
    • Desayunaba cuando llamaste (I was having breakfast when you called);
    • Estaba desayunando cuando llamaste (I was having breakfast when you called);
    • Aún dormías cuando salimos (you were still sleeping when we left);
    • Aún estabas durmiendo cuando salimos (you were still sleeping when we left);
    • María leía cuando la vi (Maria was reading when I saw her);
    • María estaba leyendo cuando la vi (Maria was reading when I saw her);
    • Nevaba cuando salimos (it was snowing when we left);
    • Nos despertábamos cuando llamaron (we were wakening up when they called);
    • Aún dormíais cuando salimos (you- plural were still sleeping when we left);
    • Aún estabais durmiendo cuando salimos (you- plural were still sleeping when we left);
    • John y Ann salían cuando los vimos (John and Ann were leaving when we saw them);

*NB It should be noted that, although a continuous past tense would be used in English in these cases, the ordinary imperfect or the imperfect continuous could be used in Spanish (see examples above).


    2. Ongoing Actions In The Past
In Spanish, we commonly use the imperfect for ongoing actions/ events in the past*. These are actions which were ongoing (completion not clear) and refer to a period of time in the past which is not clearly specified.

  • Some examples of the use of the imperfect in such situations are:
  • (Yo) tomaba el sol (I was sunbathing);
  • (Yo) estaba tomando el sol (I was sunbathing);
  • Caminabas por la calle, ¿verdad? (you were walking about the street, weren't you?);
  • Estabas caminando por la calle, ¿verdad? (you were walking about the street, weren't you?);
  • Pedro comía un bocadillo (Pedro was eating a sandwich);
  • Pedro estaba comiendo un bocadillo (Pedro was eating a sandwich);
  • Llovía a cántaros (it was raining cats and dogs);
  • Estaba lloviendo a cántaros (it was raining cats and dogs);
  • Hablábamos por teléfono (we were talking on the phone);
  • Estábamos hablando por teléfono (we were talking on the phone);
  • Salíais del aeropuerto (you were coming out of the airport);
  • Estabais saliendo del aeropuerto (you were coming out of the airport);
  • John y Ann vivían juntos (John and Ann were living together);
  • John y Ann estaban viviendo juntos (John and Ann were living together);

*NB It should be noted that, although a continuous past tense would be used in English in these cases, the ordinary imperfect or the imperfect continuous could be used in Spanish (see examples above).

    3. Setting The Scene (Past)
In Spanish, we commonly use the imperfect for setting the scene and describing situations in the past*. Again, these are situations in which actions/ events are ongoing (completion not clear) and refer to an period of time in the past which is not clearly specified.

  • Some examples of the use of the imperfect in such situations are:
  • Hacía calor y tenía sed (it was hot and I was thirsty);
  • Llovía y tenías frío. (it was raining and you were feeling cold);
  • Pedro no soñaba, tenía una pesadilla (Pedro wasn't dreaming, he was having a nightmare);
  • Queríamos descansar y no había donde (we were wanting to have a rest and there was nowhere suitable);
  • Teníais sed y no había agua (you were feeling thirsty and there was no water);
  • John y Ann caminaban juntos, no querían separarse (John and Ann were walking together, they didn't want to be separated);

*NB It should be noted that, although a continuous past tense would often be used in English in these cases, the ordinary imperfect would often be used in Spanish (see examples above).

4. Habitual/ Repeated Actions In The Past
In Spanish, we commonly use the imperfect for habitual or repeated actions in the past. These actions or events correspond to English expressions such as used to, often, seldom or similar, when used in reference to the past.

  • Some examples of the use of the imperfect in such situations are:
  • Los fines de semana casi nunca tenía que trabajar (I seldom had to work weekends);
  • Los lunes entrabas a trabajar a las siete de la mañana, ¿no? (on Mondays you used to start work at 7:00 AM, didn't you);
  • Pedro iba a ver a sus padres casi todos los días (Pedro used to visit his parents almost everyday);
  • En enero antes hacía más frío (in the past, in January it used to be colder);
  • Solíamos ir a la playa los fines de semana (we often used to go to the beach at weekends);
  • En el verano ibais a España, ¿verdad? (in the summer you- plural used to go to Spain, didn't you?);
  • John y Ann casi nunca iban de paseo (John and Ann almost never went for a walk);


5. Polite Requests
In Spanish, we commonly use the imperfect in expressions referring to polite requests (expressions which often involve the Spanish verb “querer”).

  • Some examples of the use of the imperfect in such situations are:
  • Quería un café con leche (I would like a white coffee);
  • ¿Qué querías? (what would you like?- informal);
  • ¿Qué quería (usted)? (what would you like?- formal);
  • ¿Qué quería Pedro? (what would Pedro like?);
  • Pedro quería un café con leche (Pedro would like a white coffee);
  • Queríamos dos cafés con leche (we would like two white coffees);
  • ¿Qué queríais? (what would you- plural like?- informal);
  • ¿Qué querían (ustedes)? (what would you- plural like?- formal);
  • John y Ann querían dos cafés con leche (John and Ann would like two white coffees);



6. Time Expressions
In Spanish, we commonly use the imperfect in time expressions whereas in English the tense used would be the pluperfect.

  • Some examples of the use of the imperfect in such situations are:
  • Esperaba que me llamases desde hace unos días (For several days I had been hoping that you would call me);
  • ¿Desde cuando esperabas esa carta? (how long had you been waiting for that letter?);
  • Pedro quería que le llamases hace horas (Pedro had wanted you to call hours ago);
  • Teníamos ganas de ir a España hace años (we had wanted to visit Spain years ago);
  • ¿Desde cuando esperabais esa carta? (how long had you- plural been waiting for that letter?);
  • John y Ann tenían pensado salir desde que llegaron (John and Ann had planned to go out since the minute they arrived);


Now you should practise the uses of the imperfect with some examples of your own.


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