Spanish Preterite Tense – Conjugation and Use

The Spanish Preterite Tense («Pretérito Indefinido») is one of the several verb tenses in Spanish to talk about past actions.

In this post we will first study how to conjugate verbs in Spanish Preterite. After that, we will learn the cases when we use this very important tense, with Example Sentences to illustrate each use.


Conjugation

For the purpose of this lesson, we will group verbs into 2 types, regarding their conjugation in Preterite:

  1. Regular and Almost-Regular verbs.
  2. Very Irregular verbs




Let’s study each type in detail:

1. – Regular and Almost-Regular Verbs

All verbs in this first category present a graphical accent at least on the first and third person singular («yo» and «él»), with the exception of «ver», which is regular but has no accents.

1.2. – Regular Verbs

If a verb is Regular in Preterite Tense, it will conjugate just by adding to its stem the suffixes shown in this table:

 HablarBeberPartir
yohablébebípartí
hablastebebistepartiste
élhablóbebpart
nosotroshablamosbebimospartimos
vosotroshablasteisbebisteispartisteis
elloshablaronbebieronpartieron

Observation: Notice that verbs whose Infinitive ends in «-er» and «-ir» conjugate in the same way, adding the same suffixes. 

1.2 – Almost-Regular Verbs, with a small irregularity for some persons

These are verbs that are conjugated adding the same suffixes as the regulars, but they also present a small irregularity for some of the persons. The following are the 3 possible small irregularities:

  • In the stem for the first and third person singular, a vowel “e” becomes “i”. Some examples:
 PedirRepetirSentir
yopedírepetísentí
pedisterepetistesentiste
élpidrepitsint
nosotrospedimosrepetimossentimos
vosotrospedisteisrepetisteissentisteis
ellospidieronrepitieronsintieron
  • In the stem for the first and third person singular, a vowel “o” becomes “u”. Examples:
 DormirMorir
yodormímorí
dormistemoriste
éldurmmur
nosotrosdormimosmorimos
vosotrosdormisteismoristeis
ellosdurmieronmurieron
  • In the suffix of the first and third person singular, an “y” replaces the «i». Also, in this case, all persons except «ellos» have a graphical accent somewhere:
 CreerCaerLeer
yocreícaíleí
creístecaísteleíste
élcrecale
nosotroscreímoscaímosleímos
vosotroscreísteiscaísteisleísteis
elloscreyeroncayeronleyeron


2. – Very Irregular Verbs

Verbs that are Very Irregular don’t have any graphical accent in their Preterite Tense conjugation, for any person.

2.1. – «Dar»

Although it ends in “-ar”, the verb «Dar» conjugates by adding the regular suffixes for verbs ending in “-er, -ir” (but with no accents):

 Dar
yodi
diste
éldio
nosotrosdimos
vosotrosdisteis
ellosdieron


2.2. – «Ser»,  «Ir»

The verbs “Ser” and “Ir” have exactly the same conjugation in Preterite Tense:

 Ser / Ir
yofui
fuiste
élfue
nosotrosfuimos
vosotrosfuisteis
ellosfueron


2.3. – Rest of Very Irregular Verbs

The rest of Very Irregular Verbs all conjugate in the same fashion. For each of these verbs, there is a new stem that must be learned. Then, we attach to it the proper suffix depending on the person. These suffixes are not the same as the regular ones and you can see them at the right side of this table: 

VerbNew StemList of Suffixes
Andaranduv--e
-iste
-o
-imos
-isteis
-ieron / *-eron
Estarestuv-
Hacerhic-
Poderpud-
Ponerpus-
Quererquis-
Sabersup-
Tenertuv-
Venirvin-
Decirdij-*
Producirproduj-*
Traducirtraduj-*
Traertraj-*

Notice the asterisk!: For most of these irregulars, the suffix for the person «ellos» is “ieron”. However, for verbs whose new stem ends in the letter «j», the suffix for «ellos» is “eron”.

Finally, here are two examples of Very Irregular Verbs fully conjugated in Preterite following the system we just described:

New StemFull conjugation
Ponerpus-puse, pusiste, puso, pusimos, pusisteis, pusieron
Decirdij-dije, dijiste, dijo, dijimos, dijisteis, dijeron




Use of the Preterite

The Spanish Preterite is a tense for actions. We use it to talk about completed actions which happened in the past. Its main uses are: 

– Past actions which happened once or a stated number of times (no matter how long they take):

Juan compró una lavadora nueva ayer = Juan bought a new laundry machine yesterday.

Estudié Medicina en la universidad de Madrid = I studied medicine in the University of Madrid.

El año pasado estuve enfermo dos veces = Last year I was sick twice.

Ana y María fueron al cine la semana pasada = Ana and María went to the movies last week.


– A series of past actions, one after another:

Ayer, Laura se levantó a las siete de la mañana. Luego se duchó, desayunó, se vistió y se fue a hacer la compra. = Yesterday, Laura got up at 7 A.M. Then she showered, had breakfast, got dressed and went to do the shopping.

Primero estudié en un colegio público. Más tarde mis padres me metieron en uno privado. = I first studied in a public school. Later my parents put me in a private one.


– Past actions whose duration is explicitly mentioned (no matter how long they take):

Viví diez años en Perú = I lived in Peru for ten years.

Lola y Pablo fueron amigos durante toda su infancia. = Lola and Pablo were friends during all their childhood.


Preterite VS Imperfect

Click here to learn the differences between Preterite and Imperfect Tense.

Or Click here to see all our Grammar Lessons.