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Practice Makes Perfect Spanish Past-Tense Verbs Up Close Book

Practice Makes Perfect Spanish Past-Tense Verbs Up Close Book

Product Summery

Overview of past tenses

Now and then

As you have studied Spanish, you have probably had the feeling that there are just too many past tenses. The frustration people encounter when they are trying to master the irregularities of the preterite can make  some want to give up, or resign themselves to being speakers of one tense—the present.
Let pop psychology gurus say what they want about living in the now; in fact, we all speak in the now, in the sense that there is no other time in which we can exist. For grammatical purposes, the present is best  viewed as a dot moving on a timeline—representing the moment or threshold of perception and utterance. Thus, the past is ever receding, with each moment of importance marked like so many telegraph poles on  a desert highway seen from a speeding car.
We humans constantly report to each other what our day was like, or where we were when a world event happened, what our first date was like, or what had already happened by the time we got home. In order  not to be misunderstood, we require an arsenal of past tenses, each with its particular relation to the present or to other moments in the past, in order to communicate background information or circumstances  surrounding events in the past, or to tell our mother, spouse, or boss what had already happened to bring about those circumstances. We also need to be able to express what might have happened if events had  been different. All of these subtleties are communicated in Spanish and English by the use of the various past tenses. Consider how much and how often we need to do this,really need to do this—to satisfy our  own need to connect with each other. Once we realize the urgency of these complexities, it becomes clear how frighteningly dull the one-dimensionality of a present-tense world would be. Worse still, in some  circumstances, if we only used the present tense the dangers of miscommunication could be truly life-threatening.
The past tenses we will examine in this book include the imperfect, preterite, present perfect, pluperfect, conditional, and conditional perfect, as well as the subjunctive forms of these tenses when subordinated to  past tenses. Thus, following the first seven chapters, which cover the indicative forms of the past, chapter eight examines the imperfect subjunctive (i.e., simple, or one-word past subjunctive), the present perfect  subjunctive, and the pluperfect subjunctive.
As with everything in foreign language learning, it isn’t enough to grasp a concept or even to know the forms. One has to learn to use them when they are needed. Just as you can know the moves of chess pieces  but miserably lose the game, you can know what you want to say, know the words and concepts you need to use, but fail to apply them all properly
A little anecdote should suffice to convince you. I once conducted an oral placement test for a student who entered my office quite eager to get control of the situation by impressing me with a list of how many  languages she could speak (as if it would matter when I listened to her try to speak the one I was there to test her in!). After a few simple questions in the present tense, which she answered quite confidently, I  asked her a question about where she was when the Berlin Wall came down. At this she stopped and, looking at me with that look that deer have when confronted with an SUV on a dark highway, gathered her  grammatical confidence and hastened to explain: “Oh, oh! I know! You need me to use the preterite and the imperfect! The imperfect is for where I was and the Berlin Wall coming down, that would be in the  preterite!” She placed in the next-to-beginner’s class—which was just fine. In such a class, her knowledge of the rules placed her in a slightly more advantageous position, but she still needed to acquire not only  the vocabulary of infinitive verbs, but also to know their forms, regular and irregular, and all the other details that probably brought you to the bookshelf and inspired you to open this book. 
So if you have been struggling to master the forms and uses of the different past tenses in Spanish, this book is for you. As you go through each section, testing yourself, reflecting on your errors, and reviewing all  the while, also remember this: explaining is not answering. The student who came to my office could explain, but she could not answer. Students who are not secure in their knowledge of the details, their  knowledge of forms and their uses, often fall into the trap of thinking that if they just grasp the rules about tense usage, they will be able to apply them when it is time to take the test. That just doesn’t happen, any  more than knowing black from white keys will help you play a piano. One symptom I have noticed, and all language teachers notice, too often, is that students who have only begun to digest their language learning  will regurgitate verb conjugation patterns (often with telling errors) in the margins of their quizzes and tests. It is tempting, and we all understand it, but we also know that when students want to know the  material in order to use it meaningfully, they will write it between their ears. I welcome you, as a reader of this book, to that category of dedicated learner.

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