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Spanish Preterite Tense

How to Form and Use the Spanish Preterite Tense

Spanish preterite tense and the imperfect tense are probably the hardest tenses to use in Spanish for language learners. Remembering which cases to use for each one or their conjugations is not simple.

We want to make it easier for you by providing you this guide with all the conjugations and uses of the preterite tense.

In addition, you’ll find plenty of examples with audios files to help you better understand the concepts and practice your listening skills.

Let’s get started!

The Spanish Preterite Tense

The same as imperfect, the preterite tense in Spanish is used to talk about the past.

Unlike the imperfect, we use the preterite to talk about completed actions. Are you still confused about these two sentences? Our article preterite vs imperfect provides you with the key differences between the two.

This tense is similar to the simple past in English.

How to Form the Preterite Tense

Abreviations: Subject pronoun (SUBJ. PRON.).

Regular Verbs

The only thing you need to learn to conjugate the regular verbs are the endings.

There are two groups: -ar verbs, and -er/-ir verbs.

In this way, you just add the following endings to the infinitive form of the verb.

SUBJ. PRON.- Ar VERBS- Er/Ir VERBS
Yo
-aste-iste
Él/ella/Ud.
-ió
Nosotros/as
-amos-imos
Vosotros/as
-asteis-isteis
Ellos/as/Uds.
-aron-ieron

Examples

Subj. Pron.CantarComerVivir
Yo
Canté
Comí
Viví
Cantaste
Comiste
Viviste
Él/ella/Ud.
Cantó
Comió
Vivió
Nosotros/as
Cantamos
Comimos
Vivimos
Vosotros/as
Cantasteis
Comisteis
Vivisteis
Ellos/as/Uds.
Cantaron
Comieron
Vivieron

Stem-Changing Verbs

Verbs ending in -ar and -er, and salir

The stem-changing verbs ending in -ar and -er follow the same pattern as -ar and -er regular verbs.

Salir also follows a regular verb pattern.

Examples
Subj. Pron.PensarEncenderSalir
Yo
Pensé
Encendí
Salí
Pensaste
Encendiste
Saliste
Él/ella/Ud.
Pensó

Encendió
Salió
Nosotros/as
Pensamos
Encendimos
Salimos
Vosotros/as
Pensasteis
Encendisteis
Salisteis
Ellos/as/Uds.
Pensaron
Encendieron
Salieron

Verbs ending in -ir

Stem-changing verbs ending in -ir change in the preterite. They change e→i and o→u in the third person, singular and plural.

Examples
Subj. Pron.PreferirDormir
Yo
Preferí
Dormí
Preferiste
Dormiste
Él/ella/Ud.
Prefirió
Durmió
Nosotros/as
Preferimos
Dormimos
Vosotros/as
Preferisteis
Dormisteis
Ellos/as/Uds.
Prefirieron
Durmieron

Spelling Changing Verbs

Verbs ending in gar, -car, and -zar

Verbs that end in -gar, -car, and -zar undergo spelling changes in the first person singular.

EndingExamplesChangeToExamples
-garPagar
gguPagué
-carBuscar
cquBusqué
-zarComenzar
zcComencé
Examples
-gar VerbsEnglish-car VerbsEnglish-zar VerbsEnglish
Apagar
To turn offAparcar
To parkAbrazar
To hug
Colgar
To hangArrancar
To start upAlmorzar
To have lunch
Despegar
To take offBuscar
To look forComenzar
To start/to begin
Entregar
To hand in/overClasificar
To classifyCruzar
To cross
Jugar
To playChocar
To crashDestrozar
To destroy
Llegar
To arriveIdentificar
To identifyEmpezar
To start/to begin
Madrugar
To get up earlyJustificar
To justifyLanzar
To throw
Negar
To denyPracticar
To practiceOrganizar
To organize
Pagar
To paySecar
To dryRechazar
To reject
Regar
To waterTocar
To play/to touchTropezar
To stumble/to
fall over

Verbs Ending in -uir, -aer, -eer, and -oír

The third person singular and plural of verbs that end in -uir, -aer, -eer, and -oír show a spelling change.

Examples
Subj. Pron.ConstruirLeerOírCaer
Yo
Construí
Leí
Caí
Construiste
Leíste
Oíste
Caíste
Él/ella/Ud.
Construyó
Leyó
Oyó
Cayó
Nosotros/as
Construimos
Leímos
Oímos
Caímos
Vosotros/as
Construisteis
Leísteis
Oísteis
Caísteis
Ellos/as/Uds.
Construyeron
Leyeron
Oyeron
Cayeron

Irregular Verbs

These are verbs whose conjugations you have to memorize. 😕

Ser and ir

Both verbs are conjugated the same way.

Subj. Pron.Ser/Ir
Yo
Fui
Fuiste
Él/ella/Ud.
Fue
Nosotros/as
Fuimos
Vosotros/as
Fuisteis
Ellos/as/Uds.
Fueron

Decir and traer

Other similar verbs are:

  • Like decir (to say): traducir (to translate) and producir (to produce).
  • Like traer (to bring): atraer (to attract) and contraer (to contract).
Subj. Pron.DecirTraer
Yo
Dije
Traje
Dijiste
Trajiste
Él/ella/Ud.
Dijo
Trajo
Nosotros/as
Dijimos
Trajimos
Vosotros/as
Dijisteis
Trajisteis
Ellos/as/Uds.
Dijeron
Trajeron

Dar and ver

They are conjugated similarly to -er and -ir verbs in the preterite.

Subj. Pron.DarVer
Yo
Di
Vi
Diste
Viste
Él/ella/Ud.
Dio
Vio
Nosotros/as
Dimos
Vimos
Vosotros/as
Disteis
Visteis
Ellos/as/Uds.
Dieron
Vieron

Tener, andar and estar

There are number of verbs that follow the same pattern as these verbs. While their stems change, they all have the following endings.

Subj. Pron.Ending Verbs
Yo
-e
-iste
Él/ella/Ud.
-o
Nosotros/as
-imos
Vosotros/as
-isteis
Ellos/as/Uds.
-ieron

Below, you have the verbs with their stem changes.

InfinitiveStem Change
Andar
Anduv-
Estar
Estuv-
Caber
Cup-
Hacer
Hub-
Poder
Pud-
Poner
Pus-
Querer
Quis-
Saber
Sup-
Tener
Tuv-
Venir
Vin-
Examples
Subj. Pron.AndarEstarTener
Yo
Anduve
Estuve
Tuve
Anduviste
Estuviste
Tuviste
Él/ella/Ud.
Anduvo
Estuvo
Tuvo
Nosotros/as
Anduvimos
Estuvimos
Tuvimos
Vosotros/as
Anduvisteis
Estuvisteis
Tuvisteis
Ellos/as/Uds.
Anduvieron
Estuvieron
Tuvieron

Where to Practice How to Form the Preterite Tense

Conjugations

Written Practice

  • Spanish Demystified – Written Practice 1 and Written Practice 2 from Chapter 13 (pages 249-250).

Oral Practice

Quizzes

Gap Fill Exercises

Everything

Other Exercises

Uses of the Preterite Tense

The Spanish preterite tense describes past actions that are completed. However, sorry, it’s not as simple as this. There are various other cases when we use this tense too.

Completed Actions

We use the preterite tense when we talk about past actions are finished.

Examples

  • Fui al parque. → I went to the park.
  • Mis amigos fueron a la fiesta. → My friends went to the party.

Specific Times and Dates

If we specify the time or date for a past action, we use this tense too. Otherwise, we use the imperfect tense.

Examples

  • Tuvimos una clase a la una. → We had a class at one o´clock.
  • Me casé hace dos años. → I got married two years ago.

Single Events

To describe about a single event in the past, we use Spanish preterite tense.

Examples

  • Ayer estudié. → I studied yesterday.
  • Mis padres se fueron a las cinco. → My parents left at five o´clock.

Repeated Events

When an event took place in the past more than once, but without becoming a habit, use the preterite tense.

Examples

  • Llamé tres veces. → I called three times.
  • La semana pasada trabajé tres días. → Last week I worked three days.

Events in a Sequence

We also use the preterite tense when we want to express events that happened one after another in the past.

Examples

  • Me levanté y fui a la escuela. → I got up and I went to school.
  • Ella vino, cogió sus cosas, y se fue. → She came, took her things, and left.

The Beginning and End are Stated

If we are describing a past action and we mention the beginning and/or end, we also use this tense.

Examples

  • Trabajamos desde las nueve hasta las tres. → We worked from nine to three.
  • Mi hermano enseñó español desde el 1990 hasta el 2015. → My brother taught Spanish from 1990 to 2015.

Beginnings and Ends

When expressing the start or end of an action in the past, use the Spanish preterite tense.

:The following verbs are used for this: empezar (to begin), comenzar (to begin), acabar (to finish) or terminar (to finish).

Examples

  • Empezó a llover. → It started to rain.
  • Terminaron de cenar tarde. → They ended dinner late.

Adverbs of Time and Adverbial Phrases

Next, find a list with the adverbs of time and adverbial phrases that trigger the preterite.

SpanishEnglish
A la (una)
At (one)
Anoche
Last night
Antenoche o anteanoche
The night before last
Anteayer o antes de ayer
The day before yesterday
Ayer
Yesterday
Ayer por la mañana
Yesterday morning
Ayer al mediodía
Yesterday at noon
Ayer por la noche
Last night
Ayer por la tarde
Yesterday afternoon
Desde el primer momento
From the first moment
Durante (dos) horas
For (two) hours
El año pasado
Last year
El (lunes) pasado
Last (Monday)
El mes pasado
Last month
El otro día
The other day
En ese momento
At that moment
Entonces
Then
Esta mañana
This morning
Esta tarde
This afternoon o evening
Hace (dos) años
(Two) years ago
Hace (tres) días
(Three) days ago
Hace (cuatro) horas
(four) hours ago
Hace un tiempo o un rato
A while ago
Hoy por la mañana
This morning
La semana pasada
Last week
Una vez
One time

Where to Practice Everything

Written Practice

Gap Fill Exercises

Everything

Final Thoughts

We hope this article provides you with what you need to make the Spanish preterite tense easier to comprehend.

It might seem overwhelming at first, but don’t worry, you’ll get there sooner or later. However, this requires effort and dedication. Understanding won’t come overnight.

We recommend you go over the post more than once and practice with the examples here. Also, challenge yourself and make some others on your own! Doing as many grammar exercises as you can to get used to this verb tense is a great idea too. And of course, practice the language in general. One day, you’ll be surprised to find that you’re using a tense just because it “sounds right”.

However, if you still need extra help with this tense, we suggest you sign up for our online Spanish conversation classes. Tamara, our experienced teacher, will be more than happy to work hand in hand with you to create and practice with this tense during real-time conversations.

But for now, let’s practice a little bit in the comment section below by answering the following questions:

  • ¿Qué hiciste la semana pasada?
  • ¿Cuándo empezaste a estudiar español?
  • ¿Te levantaste temprano ayer?

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