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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:


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.

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.)

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.

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.

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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