In Spanish, the Preterite is used in 5 main instances:
1. To express completed actions in the past:
For example: “el verano pasado fui a Cartagena.”
2. To express actions in the past that happened at a specific time:
For example: “ayer nadé mucho.”
3. To express actions in the past that happened between two specific dates:
For example: “Isabel I de Castilla fue reina de Castilla desde 1474 hasta 1504.”
4. To express an action in the past that happened a specific number of times:
For example: “él me llamó diez veces.”
5. To express a series of events that happened at a specific time*:
For example: “la semana pasada fuimos a Barcelona y vimos la Basílica de la Sagrada Familia. Después comimos unas hamburguesas estupendas.”
*Notebook: The Imperfect is usually used for descriptions whereas the Preterite is used for actions.
Formation: Regular verbs
The formation of regular verbs in Spanish is fairly simple. In their infinitive form, verbs end in either: -ar, -er or –ir.
To form the Preterite Tense for regular verbs in Spanish, we remove the -ar, -er or –ir ending of the verb to obtain the stem.
For example: hablar - ar = habl
Then the correct Preterite Tense ending must be added to the stem in order to indicate who/what is doing/does the action.
For example: the stem of hablar = habl, the ending for I for -ar verbs is "é", the conjugated verb becomes "hablé" (I spoke).
The endings for each person are as follows:
*Notebook: -er and -ir verbs have the same endings in the Preterite Tense.
**Notebook: the nosotros form of -ar and -ir verbs is the same as it is in the Present Tense
Therefore to conjugate the hablar, comer and vivir we follow these steps:
1. We remove the infinitive ending to obtain the stem
hablar - ar = habl
comer - er = com
vivir - ir = viv
2. We add the correct ending to the stem:
Formation: Irregular verbs
Many of the most common verbs in Spanish are irregular in the Preterite.
The following verbs change their stems in the Preterite and add the normal endings without the accents except for the -er and -ir endings in the yo form (the letter i becomes an e).
andar → anduv
caber → cup
conducir → conduj *
dar → d **
decir → dij *
estar → estuv
haber → hub
introducir → introduj *
poder → pud
pon → pus
querer → quis
reducir → reduj *
saber → sup
tener → tuv
traer → traj *
traducir → traduj *
venir → vin
ver → v **
* Notebook: the verbs whose Preterite stem ends in the letter j lose the letter i in the ieron ending.
** Notebook: these verbs have the letter i in the yo form instead of an e.
Formation: Complete irregulars
The following 3 verbs are all completely irregular:
Interestingly, ser and ir are the same in the Preterite:
Click here to continue to exercises on the Preterite Tense