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

Guide to Speaking and Writing Regular 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. An example of the preterite tense is the English sentence, "The girls spoke in Spanish." On the contrary, an example of the imperfect tense would be the English sentence, "The girls used to speak in Spanish."

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 EndingInfinitive: HablarTranslation: To Speak
yo  habléI spoke
-astehablasteyou (informal) spoke
élellausted hablóhe/she spoke, you (formal) spoke
nosotrosnosotras -amoshablamoswe spoke
vosotrosvosotras -asteishablasteisyou spoke (informal)
ellosellasustedes -aronhablaronthey spoke, you (formal) spoke

Conjugation of Regular -ER Verbs in the Preterite Tense

Person-Er EndingInfinitive: AprenderTranslation: To Learn
yo aprendí I learned
-isteaprendisteyou (informal) learned
élellausted -ióaprendióhe/she learned, you (formal) learned
nosotrosnosotras -imosaprendimoswe learned
vosotrosvosotras -isteisaprendisteisyou learned (informal)
ellosellasustedes -ieronaprendieronthey learned, you (formal) learned

Conjugation of Regular -IR Verbs in the Preterite Tense

Person-Ir EndingInfinitive: EscribirTranslation: To Write
yo escribí I wrote
-isteescribisteyou (informal) wrote
élellausted -ióescribióhe/she wrote, you (formal) wrote
nosotrosnosotras -imosescribimoswe wrote
vosotrosvosotras -isteisescribisteisyou wrote (informal)
ellosellasustedes -ieronescribieronthey 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.

In Spanish, unlike English, personal pronouns, like yo, and ustedes, can often be omitted from use in the sentence.

A Word About Irregular Verbs

Although most verbs conjugate regularly, the most common verbs in Spanish usually do not. This is similar to English, where the most commonly used verbs in the language such as "to be" and "to go" are irregular. The verb ending patterns will differ slightly from regular verbs.

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Erichsen, Gerald. "A Step-By-Step Conjugation of Simple Past Tense Verbs in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Aug. 30, 2017, thoughtco.com/conjugation-of-regular-preterite-verbs-3079161. Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, August 30). A Step-By-Step Conjugation of Simple Past Tense Verbs in Spanish. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/conjugation-of-regular-preterite-verbs-3079161 Erichsen, Gerald. "A Step-By-Step Conjugation of Simple Past Tense Verbs in Spanish." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/conjugation-of-regular-preterite-verbs-3079161 (accessed January 19, 2018).