Spanish Preterite – Learn and Practice this Tense!

Spanish Preterite Tense, Learn and Practice

Welcome to our grammar lesson about the Spanish Preterite, where we will learn and practice this tense.

The Preterite of the Indicative Mood (“Pretérito Indefinido” or “Pretérito Perfecto Simple de Indicativo”) is a verb tense in Spanish. We use it to talk about completed actions in the past.

In this lesson we will learn how to conjugate and use verbs in Preterite Tense, providing example sentences.

At the end you’ll find a Quiz and Exercises for practice.

Conjugation of verbs in Spanish Preterite

For the purpose of this lesson, we will distinguish two types of verbs regarding their conjugations in Preterite tense:

  • On one hand, Regular and Almost-Regular Verbs.
  • On the other hand, Very Irregular Verbs.

Let’s study each type in detail:

Regular and Almost-Regular Verbs

Regular Verbs

If a verb is regular in Preterite, it conjugates by attaching to its stem the endings highlighted in the following table. Notice that the endings for “-ER” and “-IR” verbs are identical:

 hablarbeberpartir
yohablébebípartí
hablastebebistepartiste
élhablóbebpart
nosotroshablamosbebimospartimos
vosotroshablasteisbebisteispartisteis
elloshablaronbebieronpartieron


Almost-Regular Verbs

The verbs we call in this lesson “almost-regular” attach the same endings as regular verbs, but they present one of the following irregular patterns:

  • In certain verbs, for “él” and “ellos”, a vowel “e” becomes “i” .

Examples:

 pedirrepetirsentir
yopedírepetísentí
pedisterepetistesentiste
élpidrepitsint
nosotrospedimosrepetimossentimos
vosotrospedisteisrepetisteissentisteis
ellospidieronrepitieronsintieron


  • In other verbs, for “él” and “ellos”, a vowel “o” becomes “u” .

Examples:

 dormirmorir
yodormímorí
dormistemoriste
éldurmmur
nosotrosdormimosmorimos
vosotrosdormisteismoristeis
ellosdurmieronmurieron


  • Finally, some verbs where a letter “y” replaces the “i” in the ending for “él” and “ellos”. Also, for these verbs all persons except “ellos” present accent marks.

Examples:

 creercaerleer
yocreícaíleí
creístecaísteleíste
élcrecale
nosotroscreímoscaímosleímos
vosotroscreísteiscaísteisleísteis
elloscreyeroncayeronleyeron

Accent marks on Regular and Almost-Regular verbs

All regular and almost-regular verbs present accent marks on the “yo” and “él” forms.

Have you noticed that in the tables above? 🙂

*Also, verbs for the last type we have studied, where a letter “y” appears, present even more accent marks!


Very Irregular Verbs

Now let’s study the verbs we are calling “very irregular”:

“Ver”

“Ver” presents the normal endings of a regular verb. What makes it irregular is having no accent marks:

 ver
yovi
viste
élvio
nosotrosvimos
vosotrosvisteis
ellosvieron


“Dar”

Although it ends in “-AR”, “dar” attaches the endings for regular verbs in “-ER” and “-IR”. Also, no accent marks:

 dar
yodi
diste
éldio
nosotrosdimos
vosotrosdisteis
ellosdieron


“Ser”,  “Ir”

“Ser” and “Ir” have exactly the same conjugations in Preterite Tense. Yes, “to be” and “to go” are identical in Preterite! 😮

 ser / ir
yofui
fuiste
élfue
nosotrosfuimos
vosotrosfuisteis
ellosfueron


Rest of Very Irregular Verbs

We’ll treat the rest of Very Irregular Verbs as a group, because they all conjugate in the following way:

Each verb has an irregular stem in Preterite.
We attach the endings to that irregular stem. The endings are different from the regular ones.

The following table shows the most important verbs of this type.

In the middle column we see the irregular stem we need to use in Preterite.

On the right side, the endings for each person:

VerbIrregular StemSet of Irregular Endings
andaranduv--e (yo)
-iste (tú)
-o (él)
-imos (nosotros)
-isteis (vosotros)
-ieron, *-eron (ellos)
estarestuv-
hacerhic-
poderpud-
ponerpus-
quererquis-
sabersup-
tenertuv-
venirvin-
decirdij-*
producirproduj-*
conducirconduj-*
traertraj-*

*Notice the asterisks!: for verbs with an irregular stem that ends in “j”, the ending for “ellos” is “-eron”.


Now that we understand the process, here is the result, showing all those verbs fully conjugated in Preterite:

Irregular StemFull conjugation
andaranduv-anduve, anduviste, anduvo, anduvimos, anduvisteis, anduvieron
estarestuv-estuve, estuviste, estuvo, estuvimos, estuvisteis, estuvieron
hacerhic-hice, hiciste, hizo, hicimos, hicisteis, hicieron
CAREFUL! 3rd person is "hizo", not "hico"
poderpud-pude, pudiste, pudo, pudimos, pudisteis, pudieron
ponerpus-puse, pusiste, puso, pusimos, pusisteis, pusieron
quererquis-quise, quisiste, quiso, quisimos, quisisteis, quisieron
sabersup-supe, supiste, supo, supimos, supisteis, supieron
tenertuv-tuve, tuviste, tuvo, tuvimos, tuvisteis, tuvieron
venirvin-vine, viniste, vino, vinimos, vinisteis, vinieron
decirdij-dije, dijiste, dijo, dijimos, dijisteis, dijeron
producirproduj-produje, produjiste, produjo, produjimos, produjisteis, produjeron
conducirconduj-conduje, condujiste, condujo, condujimos, condujisteis, condujeron
traertraj-traje, trajiste, trajo, trajimos, trajisteis, trajeron

No accent marks on Very Irregular verbs

Very Irregular verbs don’t present any accent mark.

Have you noticed that in the tables above? 🙂

Uses of the Spanish Preterite

The Spanish Preterite is a tense for actions. We use it to talk about completed actions that happened in the past. It tends to answer the question: “What happened?”.

The most typical cases where the Preterite applies are:

Past actions which happened once or a stated number of times

Example sentences:

Juan compró una lavadora ayer.
Juan bought a laundry machine yesterday.

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

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

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

As we see in these examples, it doesn’t matter how long the action took. What matter is that we express it as a completed, main action (“what happened”).


Past actions whose duration is stated

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.


Beginnings and ends in the past

Verbs that refer to the beginning or end of something, such as…

  • empezar = to begin / start
  • comenzar = to begin / start
  • terminar = to finish / end
  • acabar = to finish / end

… when telling a story in the past, we tend to conjugate them in Preterite tense:

La película empezó a las diez.
The movie started at ten.

Las personas comenzaron a hablar.
The people began to talk.

La película terminó a las doce.
The movie ended at twelve.

Acabé de contar la historia.
I finished telling the story.


A chain of events or actions in the past, one after another:

We use the Preterite when narrating a series of events, one after another: “This happened, then that happened, etc.”

We can illustrate the idea with the following graphic. Look at it and then read the sentences below: They are chains of events, one after another.

A graphic that represents a series of actions expressed in Preterite Tense

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.

Keywords and phrases with the Preterite

Here are some keywords and expressions that tend to work well with verbs in Preterite tense:

  • Ayer = yesterday
  • Anteayer = the day before yesterday
  • El otro día = the other day
  • La semana pasada = last week
  • El mes pasado = last month
  • El año pasado = last year
  • Hace X días = X days ago
  • Hace X semanas = X weeks ago
  • Hace X meses = X months ago
  • Hace X años = X years ago
  • Hace mucho tiempo = a long time ago

Examples sentences including keywords:

El otro día pintaste un cuadro bonito.
The other day you painted a beautiful painting.

El año pasado aprendimos italiano.
Last year we learned Italian.

Ellos fueron a Argentina hace seis meses.
They went to Argentina six months ago.

The Preterite vs. Other Past Tenses

The Preterite is not the only tense to talk about the past in Spanish. Choosing between the Preterite and other past tenses can be quite a challenge for Spanish learners:

Preterite vs. Imperfect

The Imperfect Tense is a tense we use for ongoing situations in the past: habitual actions, descriptions, background information…

In general, we use the Preterite for main actions (“what happened”), and the Imperfect for background information (“what was going on”). We have a separate lesson about their difference: Spanish Preterite vs Imperfect.

Preterite vs. Present Perfect

We use both the Preterite and the Present Perfect for main actions (“what happened”), but with one difference: the time frame.

We use the Preterite when the time frame we refer to (or imply) is in the past. Examples of such time frames are the keywords we have learned in this lesson: “ayer”, “la semana pasada”…

Ayer comí pasta.
Yesterday I ate pasta. (Preterite, because “yesterday” is in the past)


We use the Present Perfect when the time frame we refer to (or imply) reaches the present. For example, that time frame could be “hoy”, “esta semana”…

Hoy he comido pasta.
Today I’ve eaten pasta. (Present perfect, because “today” reaches the present)

Click here to read our lesson about the Present Perfect.

Practice the Spanish Preterite

Quiz

Take this Quiz about the Spanish Preterite Tense!:

Exercise 1

In this exercise we practice the 1st use of the Preterite learned in this lesson: past actions that happened once or a stated number of times.

Fill the gaps conjugating in Preterite the verbs in brackets. All verbs in this exercise are completely regular:

1. Yo _______ (comprar) una revista de informática ayer.
2. Marta _______ (ganar) el partido de bádminton.
3. La semana pasada, tú ________ (salir) el viernes y el sábado.
4. Nosotros ________ (bailar, nosotros) salsa cuatro veces el mes pasado.
5. El año pasado, Antonio y Luis ________ (correr) en tres campeonatos de atletismo.

Solutions:
1) compré
2) ganó
3) saliste
4) bailamos
5) corrieron


Exercise 2

In this exercise we practice the 2nd use of the Preterite learned in this lesson: past actions whose duration is stated.

All verbs in this exercise are what we have called “almost-regular”:

1. Anoche, Ángela _______ (dormir) solo cuatro horas.
2. Yo _______ (dormir) ocho horas.
3. Los alumnos _______ (leer) toda la tarde.
4. El paciente _______ (sentir) mucho dolor durante varias horas.

Solutions:
1) durmió
2) dormí
3) leyeron
4) sintió


Exercise 3

In this exercise we practice the 3rd use of the Preterite learned in this lesson: past actions expressing beginnings and ends:

1. Ayer, yo _______ (empezar) a trabajar a las nueve.
2. Lidia _______ (terminar) de trabajar a las cinco.
3. Las fiestas _______ (comenzar) el viernes.
4. Vosotros _______ (acabar) vuestras tareas por la noche.

Solutions:
1) empecé
2) terminó
3) comenzaron
4) acabasteis


Exercise 4

Let’s now practice the 4th use of the Preterite learned in this lesson: a chain of actions or events, one after another.

Each story in this exercise represents a chain of actions or events.

Some of the verbs are very irregular:

Anteayer, mis amigos y yo _______ 1.(comer) en un restaurante italiano. Luego _______ 2.(ir, nosotros) al cine y _______ 3.(ver) una película de acción.

Ana _______ 4.(llegar) al hotel y _______ 5.(poner) su maleta junto a la cama. A continuación _______ 6.(llamar) a su novio y le _______ 7.(decir) que el hotel era muy bonito.

Mi hermano _______ 8.(venir) a mi casa. Él y yo _______ 9.(jugar) un rato a la consola, y luego _______ 10.(hacer, nosotros) una comida muy rica.

Solutions:
1) comimos
2) fuimos
3) vimos
4) llegó
5) puso
6) llamó
7) dijo
8) vino
9) jugamos
10) hicimos