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Learn Spanish: The Past Tense - El Pretérito

Learn Spanish Grammar

Spanish Pronunciation
Spanish Gender and Articles
Spanish Subject Pronouns
Spanish Verb Ser
Spanish Plural Nouns and Adjectives
Calendar in Spanish
Spanish Cardinal and Ordinal Numbers
Spanish Prepositions
Telling Time in Spanish
Spanish Verb Hay
Spanish Verbs Present Tense

Spanish Verb Ir
Spanish Verb Tener

Spanish Verb Estar
Ser
vs. Estar

Spanish Possessive Adjectives
Spanish Possessive Pronouns
Spanish Stem-Changing Verbs
Spanish Prepositions Por vs. Para
Spanish Demonstratives
Spanish Direct Object Pronouns
Spanish Indirect Object Pronoun
Direct + Indirect Object Pronouns
Spanish Verb Gustar
Weather in Spanish
Spanish Reflexive Verbs (coming soon)
Spanish Verb Acabar
Spanish Verb Volver
Spanish Past Tense - Pretérito
Spanish Informal Commands
Spanish Plural Familiar Commands
Spanish Nosotros Commands (coming soon)

Spanish Past Tense - Imperfecto
Preterit vs. Imperfect
Spanish Past Participles
Spanish Present Perfect Tense
Spanish Past Perfect Tense
Spanish Formal Commands
Spanish Subjunctive Mood
Spanish Future Tense
Spanish Conditional Tense

 

 

 

El Pretérito (Preterit) - The Past Tense

 

Learn Spanish: The Spanish Verb Acabar (to end)

This learn Spanish grammar lesson is about expressing yourself in the past tense. In Spanish, there are two ways to express the past tense - the preterit (pretérito) and the imperfect (imperfecto). This learn Spanish grammar lesson will focus on the preterit, how to conjugate Spanish verbs (regular and irregular) in the preterit and the rules governing when to use it.

1) Regular Forms

In Spanish, the preterit is used to describe events and actions that took place and were completed in the past within a specific time frame:

For example: yesterday, last week, last year, etc.

¿Hablaste con tu amigo ayer? Did you talk with your friend yesterday?

Conjugating ar verbs (tomar) and er / ir verbs (comer / vivir)

Yo

tom

 

com

viv

tom-aste

com-iste

 

viv-iste
Usted/Él/Ella

tom-ó

com-

viv-í
Nosotros/as

tom-amos

com-imos

viv-imos
Vosotros

tom-asteis

com-isteis

viv-ísteis
Ustedes/Ellos/Ellas

tom-aron

 

com-ieron

viv-ieron

Verbs ending in car, gar, and zar have a spelling change in the Yo form of the preterit in order to preserve the sound of the stem.

c > qu buscar yo busqué
g > gu jugar yo jugué
z > c empezar yo empecé

The verbs leer (to read) and oir (to hear) have a change in the third person singular and plural endings. The i changes to y.

 

Subject Pronoun
Leer
Oír
Yo
Leí
leiste
oíste
Usted/Él/Ella
leyó
oyó
Nosotros/as
leimos
oímos
Vosotros
leísteis
oísteis
Ustedes/Ellos/Ellas
leyeron
oyeron

 

2) Irregulares Verbs: Dar, Ser and Ir

Dar

In the preterit, the verb dar is an ar verb that uses ir endings with no accents.

Yo di Nosotros dimos
diste Vosotros disteis
Usted/Él/Ella dio Usted/Ellos/Ellas dieron

Ser and Ir

In the preterit, the verbs Ser (to be) and Ir (to go) are conjugated the same. They have identical, but irregular endings.

Subject Pronoun
Preterite Conjugation
Ser
Ir
Yo fui I was I went
fuiste You were You went
Usted/Él/Ella fue You/He/She was You/He/She went
Nosotros fuimos We were We went
Vosotros fuisteis You were You went
Ustedes/Ellos/Ellas fueron You/They were You/They went

 

Ayer fuimos a la playa . Yesterday, we went to the beach.

Fue una fiesta fantástica.

It was a fantastastic party.

There are many expressions to describe when something occurred in the past and triggers the use of the preterite. Here are some examples:

Anoche Last night
Ayer Yesterday
La semana pasada Last week
El año pasado Last year
El fin de semana pasado Last weekend
El mes pasado Last month
Esta mañana This morning

3) Stem Changing Verbs in the Preterit

Only ir verbs are stem-changing verbs in the Preterit.

Here are some stem-changing ir verbs:

Note: This group of verbs change from o > u and e > i only in the third person singular (él/ella/Ud) and plural (ellos/ ellas/Ustedes)

Dormir to sleep Mi hijo no durmió nada. My son did not sleep at all.
Morir to die Mis tres gatos murieron ayer. My three cats died yesterday.
Preferir to prefer Ernesto prefirió no ir. Ernest preferred not to go to.
Pedir to request Ana pidió un taco. Ana asked for a taco.
Servir to serve Ellos sirvieron mucha comida. They served a lot of food

4) More Irregular Verbs in Preterit

Besides Ser, Ir and Dar, there are some other irregular verbs in the preterit.

This list of verbs share similarities between them.

With the exception of the third person plural (ellos/ellas/Uds) of verb traer, and decir (-jeron)and the third person singular of hacer (c > z) the rest of the irregular verbs all have the same endings.

Group "U"
Group "J"
Group "I"
Estar estuv- Decir dij- Hacer hic-
Poder pud- Traer traj- Querer quis-
Tener tuv- Conducir conduj- Venir vin-

 

estar

decir

hacer

estuv-e

estuv- iste

estuv-o

estuv-imos

estuv-isteis

estuv-ieron

dij-e

dij-iste

dij-o

dij-imos

dij-isteis

dij-eron

hic-e

hic-iste

hiz-o

hic-imos

hic-isteis

hic-ieron

 

Poder

traer

querer

pud-e

pud-iste

pud-o

pud-imos

pud-isteis

pud-ieron

traj-e

traj-iste

traj-o

traj-imos

traj-isteis

traj-eron

quis-e

quis-iste

quis-o

quis-imos

quis-isteis

quis-ieron

 

5) Changing Meaning in the Preterit

Some irregular verbs in the preterit change meaning:

For example, the verbs: poder, querer, tener and saber.

Poder Pude comer todo. I managed to eat it all.
No poder No pudimos terminar el proyecto. We failed to finish the project.
Querer Quise estudiar. I tried to study.
No querer No quisimos ir al cine. We refused to go to the movie theatre.
Saber ¿Supiste la noticia? Did you find out about the news?