Spanish Preterite Tense Forms
The preterite is not used to describe habitual or continuous actions in the past with no specific ending or beginning. The imperfect tense is used for these instances. If the habitual action does have a specific beginning and end, the preterite can be used.
Regular Preterite Forms
There are only two sets of endings for regular preterite verbs, one for -ar verbs and one for both -er and -ir verbs. Simply remove the infinitive ending and add the correct preterite ending depending on who the subject of the action is.
Preterite Verb Endings
|Subject||-ar verbs||-er and -ir verbs|
|usted, él, ella||-ó||-ió|
|ustedes, ellos, ellas||-aron||-ieron|
Also, the 1st person plural (nosotros) endings for -AR and -IR verbs are the same for both preterite and present tenses. The tense must be deduced from the given context and words that signify the preterite.
Siempre cocinamos paella los domingos. (We always cook paella on Sundays.) Ayer cocinamos paella para mi familia. (Yesterday, we cooked paella for my family.)
There are really only three "really irregular" verbs in the preterite tense. These are irregular in both their stems and their endings.
|Subject||dar (to give)||ser (to be)||ir (to go)|
|usted, él, ella||dio||fue||fue|
|ustedes, ellos, ellas||dieron||fueron||fueron|
- Note that ser and ir share the exact same forms in the preterite.
Uses of the Preterite
In general, the preterite is used to describe completed actions in the past at specific points in time.
1. To Indicate a Single Event that Took Place in the Past
These actions began and ended in the past. They are usually verbs that communicate an instant change in the action.
2. To Indicate an Action that Happened at or for a Specific Amount of Time
These actions are completed at a definite moment in the past. They are easy to spot since they usually have a time frame in the sentence.
3. To Narrate Individual Events
This is common in relating a story line where there are multiple actions presented.