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Published on: Grammar Bites

Time phrases: Mientras, cuando, hasta que and more

Let’s take a look at some key time phrases that we need to talk about the past in Spanish:

1. MIENTRAS:

We use this time conector to talk about actions that are taking place at the same time in the past:

  • Mientras tú estabas en la reunión, yo estaba en hablando con el cliente. While you were at the meeting, I was talking to the client.
  • Mientras ustedes terminaban la tarea, Juan estaba preparando la cena. While you were finishing your homework, Juan was making dinner.
2. ANTES:

Time marker that refers back to a non-specified time prior to the moment of speaking:

  • Antes, viajábamos todos los veranos a algún lugar nuevo. Before, we used to visit a new place every summer. (We used to do this in the past, but we don’t know exactly when in the past.)
  • Antes, ellos vivían en Madrid. Before, they used to live in Madrid. (They lived there in the past, but we don’t know exactly when.)
3. CUANDO:

Time marker that we can use with all past tenses:

a) Cuando + imperfecto indicativo + imperfecto indicativo:

We use it to talk about simultaneous actions that happened frequently in the past or over a long time:

  • Cuando éramos niños, íbamos siempre a la casa de la abuela los domingos. When we were kids we would always go to Grandma’s hourse every Sunday.
  • Cuando ellos estaban en la universidad, iban al gimnasio de lunes a viernes. When they were in college, they would go the gym from Monday to Friday.
b) Cuando + imperfecto indicativo + pretérito indefinido.
  • Cuando estábamos en el parque, empezó a llover. When we were at the park, it started to rain.
  • Cuando él viajaba por Francia tuvo la idea para su nuevo negocio. When he was travelling through France he got the idea for his new business.
c) Cuando + pretérito indefinido + pretérito pluscuamperfecto.
  • Cuando llegamos al cine, la película ya había comenzado. When we arrived at the movie theater, the movie had already started.
  • Cuando salimos de la clase, ya había comenzado a llover. When we left the class, it had already started to rain.
4. TAN PRONTO COMO:

We use this time marker to talk about an action that happens at the same moment of speaking; we use it to discuss the immediate past:

  • Tan pronto como llegué a casa, mi teléfono empezó a sonar. As soon as I got home, my phone started ringing.
  • Tan pronto como terminó la reunión, salimos de la oficina. As soon as the meeting was over, we left the office.
5. HASTA QUE:

We use this phrase to mark the end of an action in the past; we use it with el pretérito indefinido:

  • Todos nos quedamos mirando la película hasta que terminaron los créditos. We all stayed watching the movie until the credits were over.
  • Los estudiantes hicieron ejercicios de conjugación hasta que terminó la clase. The students did conjugation exercises until the class ended.
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