Spanish Preterite Tense

Spanish Preterite Tense - Conjugations and Uses

Here, you will learn about the conjugations and all the uses of the Spanish preterite tense.

In addition, there are plenty of examples with audios to help you better understand the concepts and to practice your listening skills.

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. Click here to learn more about preterite vs imperfect.

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 know 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
YoCanté
Comí
Viví
Cantaste
Comiste
Viviste
Él/ella/Ud.Cantó
Comió
Vivió
Nosotros/asCantamos
Comimos
Vivimos
Vosotros/asCantasteis
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
YoPensé
Encendí
Salí
Pensaste
Encendiste
Saliste
Él/ella/Ud.Pensó

Encendió
Salió
Nosotros/asPensamos
Encendimos
Salimos
Vosotros/asPensasteis
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
YoPreferí
Dormí
Preferiste
Dormiste
Él/ella/Ud.Prefirió
Durmió
Nosotros/asPreferimos
Dormimos
Vosotros/asPreferisteis
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
YoConstruí
Leí
Caí
Construiste
Leíste
Oíste
Caíste
Él/ella/Ud.Construyó
Leyó
Oyó
Cayó
Nosotros/asConstruimos
Leímos
Oímos
Caímos
Vosotros/asConstruisteis
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
YoFui
Fuiste
Él/ella/Ud.Fue
Nosotros/asFuimos
Vosotros/asFuisteis
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
YoDije
Traje
Dijiste
Trajiste
Él/ella/Ud.Dijo
Trajo
Nosotros/asDijimos
Trajimos
Vosotros/asDijisteis
Trajisteis
Ellos/as/Uds.Dijeron
Trajeron
Dar and ver

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

Subj. Pron.DarVer
YoDi
Vi
Diste
Viste
Él/ella/Ud.Dio
Vio
Nosotros/asDimos
Vimos
Vosotros/asDisteis
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
YoAnduve
Estuve
Tuve
Anduviste
Estuviste
Tuviste
Él/ella/Ud.Anduvo
Estuvo
Tuvo
Nosotros/asAnduvimos
Estuvimos
Tuvimos
Vosotros/asAnduvisteis
Estuvisteis
Tuvisteis
Ellos/as/Uds.Anduvieron
Estuvieron
Tuvieron

Uses of the Preterite Tense

The Spanish preterite tense describes past actions that are completed. However, there are other specific uses of the preterite.

COMPLETED ACTIONS

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

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

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

REPEATED EVENTS

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

EVENTS IN A SEQUENCE

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

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

The verbs that you will use here are: empezar (to begin), comenzar (to begin), acabar (to finish) o 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

Below you have 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

Final Thoughts

I hope you are now able to understand better the use the Spanish preterite tense.

I recommend you to practice with the examples here and try to make some others on your own. Additionally, do as many grammar exercises as you can to get used to this verb tense. In addition, practice the language in general. One day, you will get to the point that you will know what tense to use just because it sounds “well”.

If you are interested in learning more and practicing these concepts, here are a couple of books I recommend. They have simple explanations and a lot of grammar exercises.

Additionally, If you want, I can help you practice with this tense by using it while having a conversation during my online Spanish conversation classes.

Finally, we can practice in the comment section below by answering the following questions:

  • ¿Qué hiciste la semana pasada?
  • ¿Cuándo empezaste a estudiar español?
  • ¿Te levantaste y te fuiste al trabajo ayer?

Hola and hi, I am Inés and I am the author of all the posts in the ConvoSpanish blog. My goal is to offer free content for people to practice their Spanish. Creating and maintaining the blog takes a lot of my free time however, due to my love of sharing Spanish with you, I will keep adding and updating the content in the blog. If you like the content of this post and believe that it helps you, please consider donating. I need coffee to keep me going while creating the posts. Aren´t they worth at least a cup of coffee? 😛 Any amount is appreciated. Donations will be used to support the free blog.


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