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

Example:

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
Ustedes

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:

ending
Yo e
iste
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:

Contener

to contain, to refrain
Contenerse

to hold back
Detener

to detain, to stop
Detenerse

to stop
Entretener

to amuse, to entertain
Mantener

to keep, to maintain, to support
Obtener

to obtain
Retener

to retain, to confine
Sostener

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:

Anteponer

to place before, to put ahead of
Componer

to repair, to fix
Descomponer

to break down
Descomponerse

to rot, to decompose
Disponer

to dispose, to arrange for
Disponerse a

to get ready
Imponer

to impose
Imponerse

to prevail
Oponerse

to oppose
Proponer

to propose
Reponer

to replace
Suponer

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:

Conducir

to lead, to drive, to conduct
Deducir

to deduce
Inducir

to induce
Producir

to produce
Reducir

to reduce
Seducir

to seduce
Traducir

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
trajiste
usted/Él/ella trajo
Nosotros trajimos
Ellos/ellas trajeron
Ustedes trajeron

List of verbs:

Atraer

to attract
Contraer

to contract, to get married
Contraerse

to shrink
Distraer

to distract
Distraerse

to have a good time
Extraer

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:

Atribuir

to attribute
Concluir

to conclude, to end
Constituir

to constitute, to establish
Construir

to construct
Contribuir

to contribute
Destruir

to destroy
Disminuir

to diminish, to dwindle, to reduce
Distribuir

to distribute
Huir

to escape, to flee
Incluir

to include
Influir

to influence
Obstruir

to obstruct
Substituir

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.

Example:

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.

Example:

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.

Example:

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:

Anoche

last night
Anteayer

the day before yesterday
Antier

the day before yesterday
Aquella mañana

that morning
Aquella tarde

that afternoon
Aquella noche

that night
Ayer

yesterday
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

………ago
La semana pasada

last week
Example:

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