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Using the Spanish imperfect tense to refer to a present action/future action

El Pretérito Imperfecto is used sometimes to express something that is/may be happening at the time of speaking or might/will be happening in the future. 

How to use El Pretérito Imperfecto for a present action

For example, in a conversation, if someone says:

Vaya, Alberto no está en casa...
Oh! Alberto is not at home...

The other speaker could reply:

No, Alberto tenía un partido de rugby, ¿no te lo dijo ayer?No, Alberto has a rugby match, didn't he tell you yesterday?

This reply is referring to a present action, i.e. Alberto is now at a rugby match.

Despite using El Pretérito Imperfecto (tenía) instead of El Presente (tiene), this is referring to what is happening in the present, at the moment of speaking, i.e. Alberto is at a rugby match at this moment. This use of El Pretérito Imperfecto shows that the speaker is trying to avoid some of the responsibility for what is said. It is as if the speaker is thinking: "This is the information I had / I heard / I've been told, so I assume that is what is happening."

How to use El Pretérito Imperfecto for a future action

The same way as with the present, El Pretérito Imperfecto can also be used to refer to something that will happen. For example:

Elena estará aquí esta noche, su avión aterrizaba a las nueve y media.Elena will be here tonight, her flight lands at half past nine.

Él se reunía con el abogado mañana.He is meeting the lawyer tomorrow.

In both sentences above using El Pretérito Imperfecto, they are referring to future events, not past events.

Other examples for present and future events using El Pretérito Imperfecto:

Present event

- Marina, tú eras vegetariana, ¿verdad? - Sí, soy vegetariana.- Marina, you are a vegetarian, aren't you? - Yes, I am a vegetarian.

Los nuevos inquilinos se mudaban hoy.The new tenants are moving today.

Present/future event

Mi madre iba al médico esta mañana.My mother is going to the doctor this morning.

 

See also Using ir in the imperfect tense in Spanish to express was/were going to [do something]

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Examples and resources

Él se reunía con el abogado mañana.He is meeting the lawyer tomorrow.
Mi madre iba al médico esta mañana.My mother is going to the doctor this morning.
No, Alberto tenía un partido de rugby, ¿no te lo dijo ayer?No, Alberto has a rugby match, didn't he tell you yesterday?
Elena estará aquí esta noche, su avión aterrizaba a las nueve y media.Elena will be here tonight, her flight lands at half past nine.
Los nuevos inquilinos se mudaban hoy.The new tenants are moving today.
- Marina, tú eras vegetariana, ¿verdad? - Sí, soy vegetariana.- Marina, you are a vegetarian, aren't you? - Yes, I am a vegetarian.
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