So you’ve come to the point in your Spanish language learning where you want to talk about the past. Your friends ask what you did last weekend and you want to tell them. Great! Now you have to decide which Spanish past tense conjugation is the correct one. Spanish has five different ways or tenses to describe the past. We are going to learn about one called the preterite tense (pretérito indefinido). This tense will help you with your storytelling skills and having basic chats with friends.
Spanish past tense
Spanish has many ways to express events that happened in the past.The preterite tense is similar to the past simple tense in English. We use this tense daily when talking with friends. Most often it is to tell a quick story about something that happened to us in the past, whether last weekend or last year.
The preterite tense expresses completed actions and events in the past. The event happened at a specific time and had a definitive end. We often use time words like yesterday or last year to specify when in the past this action took place.
- Terminé el libro ayer. I finished the book yesterday.
- Conducimos a México el año pasado. We drove to Mexico last year.
- Corrieron 10 millas en la mañana. They ran 10 miles this morning.
Conjugating past tense Spanish verbs
Since you have been studying Spanish, you know there are often different endings for -ar, -er, and -ir verbs. This also applies to Spanish past tense conjugation but is even more simplified than other tenses.
Here are the different preterite endings for -ar, -er and -ir verbs. The endings for -er and -ir verbs are the same.
|Subject||-ar endings||Hablar||-er / -ir endings||Comer||Vivir|
|Él / ella / usted||-ó||habló||-iò||Comiò||Viviò|
|Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes||-aron||hablaron||-ieron||Comieron||Vivieron|
Example sentences using past tense Spanish verbs:
- Caminaron al centro. They walked downtown.
- Conducimos a las montañas. We drove to the mountains.
- (Ella) viajó a China. She traveled to China.
- Canté en la iglesia el domingo pasado. I sang in church last Sunday.
Remember, these events took place in the past and are completed actions. We can use the time words to specify when in the past the action happened, but it is not necessary.
If songs help you learn check out this video that explains when to use the preterite tense and how to conjugate it.
Irregular verbs in the past tense
The preterite tense has quite a few irregular verbs. But don’t despair! Start by learning some of the most common verbs. As you study more, you will memorize the different irregular verbs over time. Many follow similar patterns which will help you to remember them.
|Spanish Verb||Irregular Stem||Preterite Conjugation(Yo, Tú, Él / ella / usted, Nosotros, Vosotros, Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes)|
|Estar (to be)||Estuv–||Estuve, Estuviste, Estuvo, Estuvimos, Estuvisteis, Estuvieron|
|Ser (to be) and Ir (to go)|
ser and ir are conjugated the same. You can understand which verb is being used by context.
|Completely irregular||Fui, Fuiste, Fue, Fuimos, Fuisteis, Fueron|
|Tener (to have)||tuv-||Tuve, Tuviste, Tuvo, Tuvimos, Tuvisteis, Tuvieron|
|Ver (to see)||v-||Vi, Viste, Vio, Vimos, Visteis, Vieron|
|Querer (to want)||quis-||Quise, Quisiste, Quiso, Quisimos, Quisisteis, Quisieron|
Back to the future
Spanish past tense conjugation doesn’t need to feel difficult. Yes, Spanish has five different tenses to express actions in the past. Now you know one, and it is the most common tense used in simple storytelling and chatting with friends. Starting here, you can describe all the things that happened in the past. This is just one step in your Spanish language learning journey.
Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.