Grammar Guide
Preterite Tense Forms

Preterite Tense Forms

Quick Answer

The Spanish preterite tense (el pretérito o el pretérito perfecto simple) is used to describe actions completed at a point in the past.

The Spanish preterite is not used to describe habitual or continuous actions in the past with no specific beginning or end. In such cases, the imperfect tense is used.

Regular Spanish 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. To conjugate a regular verb in the preterite tense, simply remove the infinitive ending (-ar, -er, or -ir) and add the preterite ending that matches the subject. Check out the table of regular preterite endings below.

Regular Preterite Verb Endings

Subject-ar Verbs-er and -ir Verbs
él, ella, usted-ió
ellos, ellas, ustedes-aron-ieron

Keep an Eye on the Accents

Note that the first person singular (yo), third person singular (él, ella), and second person formal singular (usted) preterite forms have tildes (written accents) on the final vowel. Keep in mind that one little tilde can change both the tense and subject of a sentence. For example:

With a tilde:

Mandó una carta.
He/She sent a letter.

Without a tilde:

Mando una carta.
I send a letter.

Present and Past Nosotros

The first person plural (nosotros) endings for regular -ar and -ir verbs are the same for both the preterite and present tenses. Context clues, such as adverbs like siempre (always) and ayer (yesterday), can help you figure out if a nosotros form refers to the past or the present.

Siempre cocinamos paella los domingos.
We always cook paella on Sundays.
Ayer cocinamos paella para mi familia.
Yesterday we cooked paella for my family.

Irregular Spanish Preterite Forms

Four of the most common verbs with irregular preterite forms are ser, ir, dar, and ver. For more on tricky preterite forms, check out our article here.

Irregular Preterite Verb Conjugations

SubjectSer (to be)Ir (to go)Dar (to give)Ver (to see)
él, ella, usted
ellos, ellas, ustedes

Seeing Double

Note that ser and ir have the exact same forms in the preterite.

Uses of the Preterite

The preterite is used to talk about completed actions in the past. More specifically, it is used to talk about beginnings and ends, things that took place on specific days or dates, at specific times or during specific time periods, and events in a sequence.

1. Completed Events

The preterite is used to talk about completed events, especially those with very clear beginnings and ends.

Compré un coche nuevo.
I bought a new car.
Ben y Cristina se casaron.
Ben and Cristina got married.
Roberto nació en Costa Rica.
Roberto was born in Costa Rica.

2. Beginnings and Ends

Beginnings and ends themselves are also talked about using the preterite. Key verbs you'll see used to talk about beginnings and ends in the past are empezar (to begin), comenzar (to begin), terminar (to finish), and acabar (to end).

Empezó a nevar.
It began to snow.
La película terminó con una sorpresa.
The movie ended with a surprise.

3. Specific Times and Dates

The preterite is used to talk about past events or actions that occurred on specific days or dates, at specific times, and during specific time periods.

Regresé anoche a las diez.
I got back last night at ten.
Vivió en Perú por tres meses.
He lived in Peru for three months.
Leíste este libro el mes pasado.
You read this book last month.
Nacho nació el tres de agosto.
Nacho was born on August third.

4. Events in a Sequence

The preterite is used for listing past events that took place in a sequence.

Me levanté, me vestí, y salí para la fiesta.
I got up, got dressed, and left for the party.
entraste, bebiste un vaso de agua y comiste una hamburguesa.
You came in, drank a glass of water, and ate a hamburger.

Looking for information on the differences between the preterite and the imperfect? Check out this article!

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