The Preterit

Regular Verbs

Like most Spanish tenses, the regular verbs are conjugated by changing the endings on the vern stem. The verb stem is the same as other tenses. The ending changes based on the table below.

Verb Endings
-ar-er, -ir
él, ella, usted-ió
ellos, ellas, ustedes-aron-ieron

Note: For the plural first person, the conjugation is the same as the present tense. This is great for memorizing conjugations. It however leaves the speaker/listener to figure out the tense using the context of the sentence.

Verbs with Changes in Spelling

Two general rules exist for spelling changes in the preterit. These changes create modifications to the typical regular conjugation shown above.

  1. Verbs ending in -car, -gar, -guar, -zar are changed only in the first person singular. Below are some examples.
    c to qug to guu to üz to c
    colocar (to place)cargar (to carry)averiguar (to find out)alcanzar (to reach)
    él, ella, ustedcolocócargóaveriguóalcanzó
    ellos, ellas, ustedescolocaroncargaronaveriguaronalcanzaron
  2. Verbs ending in -caer, -eer, -oer, -oír and -uir change in both third person singular and plural.
    caer (to fall)leer (to read)roer (to gnaw)oír (to listen)huir (to escape)
    yo caíleíroíhuí
    tu caísteleísteroísteoístehuiste
    el, ella, usted cayóleyóroyóoyóhuyó
    nosotros/as caímosleímosroímosoímoshuimos
    vosotros/as caísteisleísteisroísteisoísteishuisteis
    ellos, ellas, ustedes cayeronleyeronroyeronoyeronhuyeron

-ir Verbs with Spelling Changes

Stem-changing -ir verbs (e to ie, e to i, o to u) in the present tense change their corresponding vowel of the stem in the third person singular and plural conjugations.

The changes happen in two different ways, e to i and o to u.

e to iee to io to u
sentir (to feel)pedir (to ask)morir (to die)
yo sentípedímorí
tú sentistepedistemoriste
él, ella, usted sintiópidiómurió
nosotros/as sentimospedimosmorimos
vosotros/as sentisteispedisteismoristeis
ellos, ellas, ustedes sintieronpidieronmurieron

Irregular Forms

The verbs ir and ser are irregular but are conjugated the same.

  • yo fui
  • tú fuiste
  • él, ella, usted fue
  • nosotros/as fuimos
  • vosotros/as fuisteis
  • ellos, ellas, ustedes fueron

The verb dar uses the endings of the -er and -ir verbs.

  • yo di
  • tú diste
  • él, ella, usted dio
  • nosotros/as dimos
  • vosotros/as disteis
  • ellos, ellas, ustedes dieron

When to Use the Preterit

The preterit is used to talk about the past. It is used for describing events that happened in the past and are not connected to the present.

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