Lesson 3:
The Past Tense (Preterite Tense)

The Past Tense (Preterite Tense)

Preterite tense

Simple past tense is used to describe actions that have happened at an earlier time, and that have already been completed. The past tense is used to talk about an action or something that took place in the past and that it doesn’t have any relation with the present tense.

Regular Verbs

The conjugation of regular verbs is as follows:

For the ending verbs -ar/-er/-ir verbs in the preterite, simply drop the ending -ar/-er/-ir and add the endings of preterit according to the personal pronoun:

ar er/ir
Yo é í
aste iste
usted/Él/ella ó
Nosotros amos imos
Ellos/ellas aron ieron
Ustedes aron ieron


Ayudar (to help) Vender (to sell) Abrir (to open)
Yo ayudé vendí abrí
ayudaste vendiste abriste
usted/Él/ella ayudó vend abr
Nosotros ayudamos vendimos abrimos
Ellos/ellas ayudaron vendieron abrieron

ayudaron vendieron abrieron

Irregular verbs

The irregular verbs do not follow the pattern of changes of regular verbs when conjugated and in some cases changes the root. The endings for the preterite tense irregular verbs are:

Yo e
usted/Él/ella o
Nosotros imos
Ellos/ellas ieron
Ustedes ieron

Please take note that the preterite irregular verbs are divided into five groups. They are phrasal verbs and are conjugated as follows:

Group #1:

Verbs that end in -tener change into -tuv. The exception is the verb estar which also follows the same rule.

Obtener (to obtain) Estar (to be) Tener (to have)
Yo obtuve estuve tuve
obtuviste estuviste tuviste
usted/Él/ella obtuvo estuvo tuvo
Nosotros obtuvimos estuvimos tuvimos
Ellos/ellas obtuvieron estuvieron tuvieron
Ustedes obtuvieron estuvieron tuvieron

List of verbs:


to contain, to refrain

to hold back

to detain, to stop

to stop

to amuse, to entertain

to keep, to maintain, to support

to obtain

to retain, to confine

to hold up, to sustain, to support

Group #2:

Verbs ending in -poner change into -pus.

Suponer (to suppose) Poner (to put)
Yo supuse puse
supusiste pusiste
usted/Él/ella supuso puso
Nosotros supusimos pusimos
Ellos/ellas supusieron pusieron
Ustedes supusieron pusieron

List of verbs:


to place before, to put ahead of

to repair, to fix

to break down

to rot, to decompose

to dispose, to arrange for
Disponerse a

to get ready

to impose

to prevail

to oppose

to propose

to replace

to suppose, to guess

Group #3:

Verbs ending in -cir change -c to -j, but is very important to note that in the personal pronoun
“ellos” the ending -ieron changes into -eron. In this group we can also find the verb traer.

Conducir (to drive) Traer (to bring) Decir (to say)
Yo conduje traje dije
condujiste trajiste dijiste
usted/Él/ella condujo trajo dijo
Nosotros condujimos trajimos dijimos
Ellos/ellas condujeron trajeron dijeron
Ustedes condujeron trajeron dijeron

List of verbs:


to lead, to drive, to conduct

to deduce

to induce

to produce

to reduce

to seduce

to translate

NOTE: There is also another group of verbs that follows the change of -c to -j; these end in “traer”.

Traer (to bring)
Yo traje
usted/Él/ella trajo
Nosotros trajimos
Ellos/ellas trajeron
Ustedes trajeron

List of verbs:


to attract

to contract, to get married

to shrink

to distract

to have a good time

to extract

Group #4:

Verbs ending in -uir use the following endings: -í, -íste, -yó, -ímos, -yeron, however, note that the verbs: oir, leer, creer, caer y poseer do not end in -uir but they have the same change.

Construir (to build) Oír (to hear) Leer (to read)
Yo construí oí leí
construíste oíste leíste
usted/Él/ella constru o le
Nosotros construímos oímos leímos
Ellos/ellas construyeron oyeron leyeron
Ustedes construyeron oyeron leyeron

List of verbs:


to attribute

to conclude, to end

to constitute, to establish

to construct

to contribute

to destroy

to diminish, to dwindle, to reduce

to distribute

to escape, to flee

to include

to influence

to obstruct

to substitute

Group #5:

The following verbs do not have any rule to follow, they are irregular and you must memorize them.

Caber (to fit) Andar (to walk) Querer (to want) Saber (to know)
Yo cupe anduve quise supe
cupiste anduviste quisiste supiste
usted/Él/ella cupo anduvo quiso supo
Nosotros cupimos anduvimos quisimos supimos
Ellos/ellas cupieron anduvieron quisieron supieron
Ustedes cupieron anduvieron quisieron supieron
Dar (to give) Poder (to be able) Hacer (to do) Venir (to come)
Yo di pude hice Vine
diste pudiste hiciste Viniste
usted/Él/ella dio pudo hizo Vino
Nosotros dimos pudimos hicimos vinimos
Ellos/ellas dieron pudieron hicieron vinieron
Ustedes dieron pudieron hicieron vinieron
Ser (to be) Ir (to go)
Yo fui fui
fuiste fuiste
usted/Él/ella fue fue
Nosotros fuimos fuimos
Ellos/ellas fueron fueron
Ustedes fueron fueron

Uses of the preterite tense

Use #1: It is used for actions that can be viewed as single events.


Él comió en su casa.
He ate at home.

Yo preparé la cena.
I prepared dinner.

Use #2: It is used for actions that were repeated a specific number of times, or occurred during a specific period of time.


Ayer envié varios correos.
Yesterday I sent several emails.

Ella enseñó español por diez años.
She taught Spanish for ten years.

Use #3: It is used to state the beginning or the end of an action.


La clase empezó a las ocho a.m.
The class began at eight a.m.

El concierto terminó tarde anoche.
The concert ended late last night.

Expressions of time for the preterite tense:


last night

the day before yesterday

the day before yesterday
Aquella mañana

that morning
Aquella tarde

that afternoon
Aquella noche

that night

Ayer en la mañana

yesterday morning
Ayer en la tarde

yesterday afternoon
Ayer en la noche

yesterday night
El año pasado

last year
El fin de semana pasado

last weekend
El mes pasado

last month
Esta mañana

this morning
Hace + expresión de tiempo

La semana pasada

last week

Ayer comí con mi familia.
Yesterday I ate with my family

Él viajó a Italia el año pasado.
He traveled to Italy last year.

Tú estudiaste español hace diez años.
You studied Spanish ten years ago.

As in the present tense, the preterite also has stem-changing verbs, in a different way. In present tense, there is a change in all grammatical pronouns, except in “nosotros”, but in the preterite, the change occurs only in “él” and “ellos”, as follows:

-e = -i / -o = -u

Competir (to compete) Dormir (to sleep)
Yo competí dormí
competiste dormiste
usted/Él/ella compitió durmió
Nosotros competimos dormimos
Ellos/ellas compitieron durmieron
Ustedes compitieron durmieron

List of verbs with the same change:

advertir to warn invertir to invest, to turn upside down
competir to compete medir to measure
concernir to concern (impersonal verb) mentir to lie
conseguir to obtain, to get morir to die
consentir to consent to, to spoil people (ie. gifts) pedir to ask for, to request
convertir to convert perseguir to persecute
corregir to correct preferir to prefer
derretir to thaw, to melt proseguir to continue, to proceed
despedir to take leave of, to fire referir to refer, to narrate, to recount
digerir to digest reir to laugh at
divertirse to have fun reñir to quarrel, to scold
dormir to sleep repetir to repeat
elegir to choose seguir to follow
freir to fry sentir to feel, to feel sorry
gemir to groan servir to serve
herir to wound, to injure sonreir to smile
hervir to boil sugerir to suggest
impedir to prevent, to hinder vestir to dress