Spanish has 2 distinct simple past tenses, the imperfect and the preterit. These two tenses differ with regard to how the action or state relates to the flow of time. (Some linguists refer to this type of distinction as aspect.)
The imperfect tense always presents the action or state as ongoing or continuous at some past moment. Some of the things that the imperfect may describe include:
- Background context of some state, continuing action, or continuing repetitions of instantaneous or momentary actions.
- Habitual states and actions
- Ongoing and uncompleted continuous actions or states
The preterit tense always presents the action or state as a completed event or as an explictly-specific number of individual events. Some of the things that the preterite may describe include:
- One completed instantaneous or momentary action, or a specific number of instantaneous or momentary actions.
- The completion/end of a continuous action or state.
- The beginning of a continuous action or state.
- A continuous action or state as a single, unitary and indivisible event bounded in time to a specific time interval, or a specified number of such time-bounded continuous actions or states.