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Better Call Saul #16

Context: Jimmy’s on the phone with Kim, his friend or girlfriend. They’re talking about a new client of Kim’s, the Kettleman's. The case is famous, so Jimmy is familiar with it.

Jimmy: Hey, how much exactly did the Kettleman's get away with?

Spanish Translation: Oye, ¿cuánto exactamente se llevaron los Kettleman?

Our Issue: The Imperfect & Preterite



We use the imperfect and preterite tenses together to tell stories about the past. They happen at the same time, but don’t have the same duration.

The imperfect tense gives us background information, HOW THINGS WERE.

The preterite tense tells us the focus of the story, WHAT HAPPENED.

It’s important to remember that each tense represents the action of a verb. It’s an “imperfect action” and a “preterite action”. Each with their own duration.


Before we even get started, let’s use the Get Literal Method on the one verb in this sentence:

to get away with
= to steal

In reality, the imperfect and preterite tenses work together to tell a story. There’s always an imperfect action when there’s a preterite action. And there’s always a preterite action when there’s an imperfect action.

For me, things are clearest, when there’s an imperfect and preterite action in the same sentence. But that’s often not the case. Like in this example, which only has one verb.

With this example, once we get literal and see that “get away with” is “steal” -- it’s pretty clear. How much did they STEAL? They stole money. That’s WHAT HAPPENED.

But if there were any confusion, finding the default context--the imperfect action we KNOW is there--usually clears things up quickly. No matter what happened, in reality, things were a certain way--that’s how things were--that’s the imperfect action not mentioned in the sentence.

In this case, you can’t steal money that wasn’t there, right? So here’s the story...

The money was there (imperfect action, how things were).

Then the Kettleman's stole it (preterite action, what happened).

That’s reality, right? That’s the default context.

Here’s what the timeline looks like:

Imperfect & Preterite Timeline

So the money started being there whenever it started being there. That’s HOW THINGS WERE.

Then the Kettleman's stole it. That’s WHAT HAPPENED.

In this case, both actions (the imperfect action and the preterite action) ended at the same time:

The moment the Kettleman's stole the money, the money being there ended (the imperfect action)
The moment the Kettleman's stole the money, the money-stealing ended (preterite)

Cool? Ya got this?


Oye, ¿cuánto exactamente se llevaron los Kettleman?
= Hey, how much exactly they take for themselves the Ket'leman's?
= Hey, how much exactly did the Kettleman's get away with?

Any questions? About this issue or any others? Ask away!

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