The Spanish Preterite (Past) Tense

Uses

The preterite is the simple past tense and expresses an action in the past that has a definite ending, as in the English simple past (I ate, you ran etc).

  • Anoche, ella me llamó por teléfono.
  • Last night, she called me on the phone.
  • Caminaron a la tienda.
  • They walked to the store.
  • Me sentí mal la semana pasada.
  • I felt ill last week.

It is not used to express actions in the past that are habitual, or continuous, with no set ending (e.g. I used to play tennis every summer). For this this Spanish imperfect tense is used.


Conjugations

-Ar Verbs

To conjugate regular -ar verbs in the preterite tense, drop the ending and add the following:

yo
-aste
él/ella/Ud.
nosotros -amos
vosotros -asteis
ellos/ellas/Uds. -aron
Note

The nosotros form is the same in the present and preterite tenses. The meaning has to be worked out from the context on the sentence.

Example - llamar / to call
yo llamé I called
llamaste you called
él llamó he called
nosotros llamamos we called
vosotros llamasteis you (all) called
ellos llamaron they called

-Er and -Ir Verbs

In the preterite tense the verb endings are the same for -er and -ir verbs.

yo
-iste
él/ella/Ud. -ió
nosotros -imos
vosotros -isteis
ellos/ellas/Uds. -ieron
Example - aprender / to learn
yo aprendí I learned
aprendiste you learned
él aprend he learned
nosotros aprendimos we learned
vosotros aprendisteis you (all) learned
ellos aprendieron they learned
Example - compartir / to share
yo compartí I shared
compartiste you shared
él compart he shared
nosotros compartimos we shared
vosotros compartisteis you (all) shared
ellos compartieron they shared

Irregular Verbs

Some verbs are irregular in the preterite form, here are the most important ones to learn.

Serto be (permanent quality)
Estarto be (temporary states, locations)
Tenerto have
Hacerto do, to make
Poderto be able (can)
Decirto say
Irto go
Verto see
Darto give
Saberto know
Quererto want
Llegarto arrive
Ponerto put

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