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Spanish Preterite

(Talking about What Happened in the Past)


This is where the past tense comes in. The past tense will enable you to talk about events in the
past, actions that started and ended in the past, and actions that started in the past and
continue up until now.
The Two Major Past TensesPreterite & Imperfect
There is more than one past tense in Spanish. The two most common past tenses are the
preterite and the imperfect. Get used to these terms! These tenses are used all the time to refer
to actions that occur in the past. Just like ser and estar, you'll have to learn the difference
between the preterite and imperfect, even though we don't have that difference in English.
The preterite tense is used to describe events that happened at a definite point in the past. For
example, if you were describing a trip you had by saying, "We did this, then we did this, and
finally we did this," you would use the preterite tense quite often.
Take note that you should probably use the preterite if you come across one of the following
words or phrases:
el otro da the other day
el ao pasado last year
ayer yesterday
una vez once
anoche last night
la semana pasada last week
The imperfect tense, on the other hand, is different. It is used to describe continuous actions in
the past. These actions will not usually have a specific date associated with them. For example, if
you are talking about how old you were, or what you used to do when you were in school, or
what you were doing when something else happened, you would generally use the imperfect.
The preterite is actually the more difficult to conjugate of the two past tenses. Therefore, we'll
start on it so that you can get the hard stuff out of the way!
Starting with the Preterite
Like all conjugations in Spanish, you'll have to memorize the verb endings. I promise that they'll
all become second nature after time. The best way to memorize them is simply practice,
practice, practice!

Study the verb endings in the following table:


Subject Pronoun ar verbs hablar (to talk) er verbs comer (to eat) ir verbs vivir (to live)
yo

habl-

com-

viv-

habl-aste

com-iste

viv-iste

Ud., l, ella

habl-

com-i

viv-i

nosotros/as

habl-amos

com-imos

viv-imos

vosotros/as

habl-asteis

com-isteis

viv-isteis

com-ieron

viv-ieron

Uds., ellos, ellas habl-aron

The first thing you should notice is that there are only two sets of endings: one for ar verbs and
the second for er and ir verbs.
Notice that the verb endings for nosotros are the same as in the present tense. This means that
when you hear a sentence about something "we" did or are doing, you'll have to guess from the
context whether it occurred in the past or the present.
Another important thing to notice is that the third person singular form (Ud., l, ella) for ar
verbs looks almost identical to the first person form except for the accent mark over the 'o'.
So don't forget it!
Por ejemplo:

In the next section the confustion begins when you'll learn about Irregular Verbs in the Spanish
Preterite.