A Step-By-Step Conjugation of Simple Past Tense Verbs in Spanish

Guide to Speaking and Writing Preterite Verb Forms

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As one of Spanish's two simple past tenses, the preterite has a conjugation that is essential to learn. It is the verb form used most often to tell of events that have already happened and that are seen as completed.

The other simple past tense, the imperfect, is used for past actions that are not completed, meaning the past action did not have a definite beginning or a definite end.

How to Conjugate the Preterite Tense

In Spanish, verbs are the words that change the most often and depend on different tenses, moods, gender, and agreement in person according to what needs to be conveyed in the sentence. A verb ending can indicate when the action occurs, and also give the listener a better idea of who or what is performing the action.

As is the case with standard Spanish conjugation rules, the preterite verb forms are made by removing the infinitive ending of the verb, such as -ar, -er or -ir, and replacing it with an ending that indicates who is performing the action of the verb. Verbs agree in person and number.

For example, the infinitive or base form of the verb that means "to speak" is hablar. Its infinitive ending is -ar, and the verb stem is habl-.

To say "I spoke," remove the -ar, add to the stem, forming hablé. Yo hablé is "I spoke." To say "you spoke," singular "you" in an informal way, remove the -ar, add -aste to the stem, forming hablaste: Tu hablaste is "You spoke." Other forms exist for other personal pronouns.

The endings are slightly different for verbs that end in -er and -ir, but the principle is the same. Remove the infinitive ending, then add the appropriate ending to the remaining stem.

Conjugation of Regular -AR Verbs in the Preterite Tense

Person -Ar Ending Infinitive: Hablar Translation: To Speak
yo hablé I spoke
-aste hablaste you (informal) spoke
él, ella, usted habló he/she spoke, you (formal) spoke
nosotros, nosotras -amos hablamos we spoke
vosotros, vosotras -asteis hablasteis you spoke (informal)
ellos, ellas, ustedes -aron hablaron they spoke, you (formal) spoke

Conjugation of Regular -ER Verbs in the Preterite Tense

Person -Er Ending Infinitive: Aprender Translation: To Learn
yo aprendí I learned
-iste aprendiste you (informal) learned
él, ella, usted -ió aprendió he/she learned, you (formal) learned
nosotros, nosotras -imos aprendimos we learned
vosotros, vosotras -isteis aprendisteis you learned (informal)
ellos, ellas, ustedes -ieron aprendieron they learned, you (formal) learned

Conjugation of Regular -IR Verbs in the Preterite Tense

Person -Ir Ending Infinitive: Escribir Translation: To Write
yo escribí I wrote
-iste escribiste you (informal) wrote
él, ella, usted -ió escribió he/she wrote, you (formal) wrote
nosotros, nosotras -imos escribimos we wrote
vosotros, vosotras -isteis escribisteis you wrote (informal)
ellos, ellas, ustedes -ieron escribieron they wrote, you (formal) wrote

In the preterite tense, regular -er and -ir verbs use the same pattern of endings.

Additionally, the first-person plural, the "we" form of nosotros and nosotras, has the same conjugation for both the present indicative tense and the preterite past tense for -ar and -ir verbs. The word hablamos can mean either "we speak" or "we spoke," and escribimos can mean either "we write" or "we wrote." In most cases, the context of the sentence makes clear which tense is intended.

Conjugations of Common Irregular Verbs

Below are the preterite-tense for the irregular verbs you are most likely to use. Irregular forms are shown in boldface; the forms given follow the same order as in the charts above, beginning with the first-person singular and continuing to the third-person plural.

dar (to give): di, diste, dio, dimos, disteis, dieron.

decir (to say, to tell): dije, dijiste, dijo, dijimos, dijisteis, dijeron.

estar (to be): estuve, estuviste, estuvo, estuvimos, estuvisteis, estuvieron.

haber (to have as an auxiliary verb): hube, hubiste, hubo, hubimos, hubisteis, hubieron.

hacer (to make, to do): hice, hiciste, hizo, hizimos, hicisteis, hicieron.

ir (to be): fui, fuiste, fue, fuimos, fuisteis, fueron. (Note that the preterite conjugations of ir and ser are identical.)

llegar (to arrive): llegué, llegaste, llegó, llegamos, llegasteis, llegaron.

poder (to be able, can): pude, pudiste, pudo, pudimos, pudisteis, pudieron.

poner (to put): puse, pusiste, puso, pusimos, puisisteis, pusieron.

querer (to be): quise, quisiste, quiso, quisimos, quisisteis, quisieron.

saber (to know): supe, supiste, supo, supimos, supisteis, supieron.

ser (to be): fui, fuiste, fue, fuimos, fuisteis, fueron.

tener (to have or possess): tuve, tuviste, tuvo, tuvimos, tuvisteis, tuvieron.

ver (to see): vi, viste, vio, vimos, visteis, vieron.