At 2DayLanguages we sometimes use literature from Latin America in order to learn the difference among pretérito imperfecto and pretérito indefinido tenses . If you come to our school in Valencia, you will be able to experience that. In addition, you will have an opportunity of reading about it in our blog since we have started a new series of lectures adapted to different levels for Spanish learners.

The author of today’s article is Pablo Neruda from Chile (1904 – 1973). This article is specifically adapted for students learning Spanish whose levels are A2 or higher. Read both versions of the story.

The swan I

That happened (pasó) near the sea, on the coast of Chile. One day I went (salí) to work as always. That day the swan was brought to me (me trajeron), it was almost dead.

I washed (llevé) its wounds and I put (metí) some bread and fish into her throat. Little by little it healed (se curó) and we became (nos hicimos) friends.

I brought (llevé) the swan to the river but it didn’t want (quería) to go. This is why I brought (traje) it back home. That happened (pasó) many times.

One evening the swan was more thoughtful than usually and it swam (nadó) towards me. I took (cogí) it to my arms to bring it home and at that moment I felt (sentí) something around me. This is how I learnt (aprendí) that swans do not sing when they die.

Singing of the swan, Pablo Neruda (adapted)

The swan II

That happened (pasó) near the sea, on the coast of Chile. One day I went (salí) to work as always. I was working (trabajaba) in the Budi Lake, over there the people who were in the boats used to chased (perseguía) the swans. The swans couldn’t (no podían) escape because they do not fly fast enough. The people would beat (pegaban) them and kill (mataban) them. That day the swan was brought to me (me trajeron) it was almost dead. It was (era) a wonderful bird; it had a long neck, an orange beak and red eyes.

I washed (llevé) its wounds and I put (metí) some bread and fish into her throat. The swan was returning (devolvía) everything. However, little by little it healed (se curó) and we became (nos hicimos) friends.

It used to swim (nadaba) a little, close to me, trying to fish but it couldn’t (no podía). I brought it to the river but it didn’t want (no quería) to go. The swan always used to look (miraba) at me with a sad face. This is why I brought (traje) it back home. That happened (pasó) many times; I used to bring (llevaba) it to the river, but we always used to come back (volvíamos) home.

One evening the swan was more thoughtful than usually and it swam (nadó) towards me. Once again, I wanted (quería) to teach it how to fish, but it was (era) impossible. I took (cogí) it to my arms to bring it home and at that moment I felt (sentí) something around me. It was (era) its long neck that was falling (caía). This is how I learnt (aprendí) that swans do not sing when they die.

Singing of the swan, Pablo Neruda (adapted)

As you could have noticed in the first version all the verbs appear in pretérito indefinido tense (pasó, salí, trajeron), meanwhile in the second one, together with indefinido you can find pretérito imperfecto tense (trabajaba, pegaban, tenía). In the first article all the actions appear (salí a trabajar, poco a poco se curó, nadó cerca de mí) and we are able to understand the story completely, however, the details are missing. Whenever we want to add more information about the action in the past we use imperfecto (trabajaba en el lago Budi, todo lo devolvía, no quería irse).

To sum it up, we use pretérito indefinico (comí) tense to talk about the actions in the past that are finished; meanwhile with pretérito imperfecto (comía) tense we describe objects, persons and situations.

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