Grammar Tip | The Spanish Simple Past

Spanish Grammar Tip

The Spanish simple past

El pretérito indefinido (the Spanish simple past) is used to describe actions happened and concluded in the past (unlike the Spanish perfect tense) or to talk about a past action that interrupted another one (generally expressed by the Spanish imperfect tense).

The Spanish preterite tense is formed by taking the infinitive of verbs, removing the infinitive endings (-ar, -er, -ir) and then adding the preterite terminations.

PRETERITE of REGULAR VERBS

comprar (to buy) beber (to drink) vivir (to live)
compré (I bought) bebí (I drank) viví (I lived)
compraste (you bought) bebiste (you drank) viviste (you lived)
compró (he/she bought) beb (he/she drank) viv (he/she lived)
compramos (we bought) bebimos (we drank) vivimos (we lived)
comprasteis (you lot bought) bebisteis (you lot drank) vivisteis (you lot lived)
compraron (they bought) bebieron (they drank) vivieron (they lived)

 

As shown in the table, -er and -ir verbs adopt the same set of endings in the preterite tense. It is crucial to highlight that graphic accents on preterite terminations are mandatory as neglecting them might generate confusion with other tenses [e.g.: hablo con mi madre (present tense: I talk with my mum) VS habló con mi madre (preterite: he/she talked with my mum)].

Here are some examples:

Ayer Marta y tú perdisteis el tren. → Yesterday Marta and you lost the train.

La película comenzó con una hora de retraso. → The movie started an hour late.

Luis Sepúlveda nacío en 1949. → Luis Sepúlveda was born in 1949.

Stem-changing verbs seen in the present do not feature a stem change in the preterite; nonetheless, a significant number of high-frequency verbs happens to present an irregular verb stem.

Here is a list of the most common ones.

PRETERITE of IRREGULAR VERBS

Verb Conjugation
caber (to fit) cupe, cupiste, cupo, cupimos, cupisteis, cupieron
dar (to give) di, diste, dio, dimos, disteis, dieron
decir (to tell) dije, dijiste, dijo, dijimos, dijisteis, dijeron
estar [to be (for location/action)] estuve, estuviste, estuvo, estuvimos, estuvisteis, estuvieron
haber [to have (for compound tenses) / there be] hube, hubiste, hubo, hubimos, hubisteis, hubieron
hacer (to do/make) hice, hiciste, hizo, hicimos, hicisteis, hicieron
poder (to can) pude, pudiste, pudo, pudimos, pudisteis, pudieron
poner (to put) puse, pusiste, puso, pusimos, pusisteis, pusieron
querer (to want) quise, quisiste, quiso, quisimos, quisisteis, quisieron
saber (to know) supe, supiste, supo, supimos, supisteis, supieron
tener (to have) tuve, tuviste, tuvo, tuvimos, tuvisteis, tuvieron
venir (to come) vine, viniste, vino, vinimos, vinisteis, vinieron
ver (to see) vi, viste, vio, vimos, visteis, vieron

 

Let’s look at some examples:

Los hermanos de Carlos estuvieron enfermos anteayer. → Carlos’s brothers were sick two days ago.

Ayer no pudiste ir al cine porque vino tu prima. → Yesterday you couldn’t go to the cinema because your cousin came.

¿Quién puso mis gafas en la nevera? → Who put my glasses in the fridge?

Singularly, ser (to be for descriptions) and ir (to go) share the same irregular preterite conjugation due to their latin origin.

PRETERITE of SER and IR English
fui I was – I went
fuiste you were – you went
fue he/she was – he/she went
fuimos we were – we went
fuisteis you lot were – you lot went
fueron they were – they went

Here are some examples:

María fue a casa de sus padres la semana pasada. → María went to her parents’ last week.

De joven fue alpinista. → When he was young he was a climber.

El verano pasado fuimos a Málaga con unos amigos y fuimos los primeros en llegar al hotel. → Last summer we went to Malaga with some friends and we were the first to arrive at the hotel.

Finally, since the preterite expresses completed past actions, certain time phrases referring to the past are used to introduce this tense.

TIME PHRASES with the PRETERITE

Spanish English
ayer yesterday
anteayer the day before yesterday (two days ago)
anoche yesterday night
la semana pasada last week
el fin de semana (finde)/mes/año last weekend/month/year
el verano pasado last summer
en enero/febrero/marzo… in January/February/March…
hace un año/día/mes a year/a day/a month ago
hace dos/tres/cuatro años/meses two/three/four years/months ago
cuando + imperfect tense when + past continous
el 7 de mayo on the 7th of May

 

Let’s look at some examples:

Ayer Marcos y yo pintamos nuestro cuarto. → Yesterday Marcos and I painted our bedroom.

Hace tres años gané una competición de atletismo. → Three years ago I won an athletics competition.

Anoche los niños se acostaron muy tarde. → Yesterday night the kids went to bed very late.


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