"Ellos iban en silencio."
Translation:They were going in silence.
The preterite would be talking about a one time trip where you were silent. The preterite always talks about something in the past with a clear beginning and ending point. The imperfect is used to talk about routine or repeated action in the past (what everyone wants to add used to for, although used to would literally be translated with the imperfect of the modal verb soler), to set the scene (like the preferred past progressive here) or when the action doesn't have a clear start and end point. That last rule means that some verbs tend to be more comfortable in the imperfect and some, like saber and conocer, actually have a somewhat different meaning depending on whether it is preterite or imperfect.
You are right. Demonstrating the correct use of certain tenses is somewhat of a challenge to Duo because they stick to short sentences with no context. So whenever you see the past or future perfect or the past progressive on Duo your first impression will often be that the sentence doesn't make sense.
But for anyone who is still struggling with translating the English past progressive into Spanish, let me try to clarify a little. English doesn't use the past progressive nearly as often as the present progressive, but it is certainly not uncommon. The way you translate it into Spanish depends varies a little by the function in the sentence.
One of the reasons we use the past progressive is to set the scene. It is used to describe what was happening at the same time or perhaps interrupted by the main action of the sentence. In Spanish that function is performed by the imperfect. So a sentence like I was going to work when I had the accident would use the imperfect followed by the preterite. Yo iba al trabajo cuando tuve el accidente. That is essentially this usage here, so in a real word situation the listener would understand that this was just background information and the real point was still pending.
The other use of the English past progressive is actually much like the use of the Spanish past progressive. In this case the action described is the real point, and you are emphasizing that it was happening at that particular time. A friend says to you, "Mark said he saw you on the street yesterday. Why didn't you stop and speak to him? You could reply Lo vi, pero corrí para el autobús. But if you wanted to emphasize that you were actually running and could not stop to talk you might also say, Lo vi, pero estuve corriendo para el autobús
I think DL's and geoffbroad's answers are equally good. Dl"s answer"They were going in silence" captures a process that was ongoing and may or may not have ended. "They used to go in silence" is an equally good translation. What is meant in a specific case would depend upon the context. I think the point of the sentence is that the imperfect can convey these two meanings, neither of which are properly conveyed by the preterite. IMHO
If you are asking if your suggestion is a correct translation, it isn't. Because the wording implies a particular event it is a better example of the preterit tense "Salieron en silencio", where you refer to one event that happened at a known/understood time. The subject of the lesson, and the verb conjugations given, are imperfect and imply that the action was habitual or continuous (so: fuzzy time). They didn't just leave once in silence, they were leaving (as they usually did/had done before) in silence. This is why I would argue that geoffbroad's answer is better than the one given.
Yes 'ir'. They were going/used to go. The imperfect instead of preterite because the action did not have a definite end.
A mnemonic I recently learned on how to choose preterite vs imperfect:
Ask two questions about the sentence. 1. Can it be put on a calendar? 2. Is there a termination?
If the answer is YES to both > preterite If not > imperfect
Spanish uses two terms for the past tense (Preterit and Imperfect) Preterit is used to express the fact that the action happened in the past and is now complete. In order to use Preterit you switch out the verbs ending if the verb ends in ar:
Hablar Yo (I) hablé Tu (you) Hablaste El, Ella, Usted (he, she, you) habló Nosotros (we) Hablamos Ellos, Ustedes (they, you all) hablaron
Different endings are used for verbs that end in - er and - ir
Yo - í Tu - iste Usted - ió Nosotros - imos Ustedes - ieron
A participle on the other hand emphasizes that an action is in motion or that something is being done in a specific moment in time, it is not only used when talking about the past. It is much like the English - ing
- ar verbs Hablar
Estoy hablando I am speaking
Estaba Hablando I was speaking
(it can be past or present)
- er and - ir verbs
It's a bit long winded but hope it helps.
You only discussed the present participle which is used in the progressive tenses. Since Spanish uses the progressive tenses much less frequently than English, I suspect that it is not the participle that the question was about. I suspect the question was about the past participle which is used in all the perfect tenses. The present perfect is a past tense most English speakers don't have many problems with as it is really similar in both Form and function to the English. The only strange part is really that Spanish uses a special verb Haber as the auxiliary instead of tener. Interestingly enough, the verb Haber is the one that is actually related to the Latin verb to have which is the cousin of the existing verb to have in French and Italian. Tener actually comes from the Latin to hold.
The perfect tenses are formed by taking the appropriate tense and mood of haber (present, past, future, conditional, subjunctive etc) and the past participle. He comido, I have eaten. Habías trabajado you had worked. Habrán visto they will have seen, etc. The past participle is also quite often used as an adjective for many verbs. Los soldados heridos, the wounded soldiers. If used as an adjective, it does agree in gender and number, but in the perfect tenses it always ends in o.
I think They were going in silence might not simply be setting the scene so you have to include Ellos estuvieron yendo en silencio. And then, of course, you have the three Ellas versions of these three sentences. If you made this a clause in a longer sentence, you could have this in the subjunctive as well. Yo esperaba que ellos estuvieran iban en silencio. I hoped that they were leaving in silence.
There are a couple of problems here. First ir in all its forms means to go. Irse is what is used for to leave, so for that translation you are missing the se. There is also the issue of the imperfect. There are three reasons for using the imperfect, but only two are particularly appropriate for some verbs like ir. Verbs like ser, sentir, pensar, saber etc are ones that we can easily understand as not having clearly defined beginning and ending points. That is why these verbs are quite comfortable in the imperfect. But verbs like ir, trabajar, mirar, and comprar generally have an assumed finite duration, so that reason for using the imperfect isn't applicable. The other two reasons can apply. The one used here is the scene setting one. That is what we generally use the past progressive in English for. Spanish does have a past progressive tense as well, but it is not used to create a background. It is only used to discrimination a significant co-occuring action. The last use of the imperfect is for repetitive or routine actions in the past. That is where Duo and others like to add used to. Now I have ranted against the use of used to here quite a bit because we don't always have to say it. But there is nothing in this sentence that suggests you are talking about a repeating event so here I would see the need for adding used to. So the possible translations are They were going in silence or They used to go in silence. They went in silence would be Ellos fueron en silencio. They left in silence would be Ellos se fueron en silencio.
That's actually pretty much the point. This is not a sentence you are particularly likely to look at someone and say, unless you were telling a story. One of the uses of the imperfect in Spanish is to "set the scene". You are saying what was happening in the past when the main event you were talking about occurred. We generally use either the past progressive or the past perfect for this in English. Ellos iban en silencio. Cada uno pensaba sus proprios pensamientos. De repente, apareció una luz extraña y misteriosa. They were going in silence. Each one was thinking his own thoughts. Suddenly a strange and eerie light appeared. That's not quite how we tend to use the verb to go, but it works.