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The Simple Past (Preterite) of Regular Spanish Verbs

The Simple Past (Preterite) of Regular Spanish Verbs

The simple past is a verb conjugation in the Spanish language that refers to verbs in the past tense, simple aspect, indicative mood, and active voice. The simple past is often referred to as the preterite or pretérito. Similar to in English, the simple past in Spanish can be defined as a verb form that expresses a discrete action or event in the past. Unlike in English, however, the Spanish simple past does not express actions or states in progress in the past. The following sections explain the formation of the simple past of regular Spanish verbs as well as the use of Spanish verbs in the simple past that Spanish language learners must understand and master.

Formation of the Spanish Simple Past (Preterite)

Like most verb conjugations in the Spanish language, the simple past (preterite) is formed through the process of inflection. Inflection can be defined as the modification of the form of a word through affixation. Verbs in the simple past (preterite) in Spanish are formed by affixing simple past (preterite) suffixes to the end of the stem of the verb. The conjugation patterns for regular Spanish verbs in the simple past (preterite) are as follows:

Regular -ar Verbs (hablar)

  • first person singular – stem + é – hablé
  • second person singular – stem + aste – hablaste
  • third person singular – stem + ó – habló
  • first person plural – stem + amos – hablamos
  • second person plural – stem + asteis – hablasteis
  • third person plural – stem + aron – hablaron

Regular -er Verbs (comer)

  • first person singular – stem + í – comí
  • second person singular – stem + iste –comiste
  • third person singular – stem + ió – comió
  • first person plural – stem + imos – comimos
  • second person plural – stem + isteis – comisteis
  • third person plural – stem + ieron – comieron

Regular -ir Verbs (escribir)

  • first person singular – stem + í – escribí
  • second person singular – stem + iste – escribiste
  • third person singular – stem + ió – escribió
  • first person plural – stem + imos – escribimos
  • second person plural – stem + isteis – escribisteis
  • third person plural – stem + ieron – escribieron

Note that the endings for -er and -ir Spanish verbs are identical in the simple past (preterite).

Use of the Spanish Simple Past (Preterite)

The use of the simple past in Spanish is extremely similar to the use of the simple past in English with a few minor differences. Spanish verbs in the simple past most often occur in sentences that express the following situations:

  • Discrete actions or states in the present
  • Completed past habits, routines, and customary actions
  • Statements about the beginning or end of past actions or states
  • Past actions or states in a series of events

For example:

  • Él caminó por el parque. “He walked through the park.”
  • Bailé, canté, y comí. “I danced, sang, and ate.”
  • Ella vivió allí por tres años. “She lived there for three years.”
  • Empezó a nevar a las ocho de la mañana. “It began to snow at eight in the morning.”
  • Ellos vieron una película. “They saw a movie.”
  • Viajamos a Barcelona. “We traveled to Barcelona.

The simple past expresses only discrete actions or states in the past. Spanish language students must learn to form and use the simple past forms of Spanish verbs in order to fully use and understand verbs the Spanish language.

For regular Spanish verbs with spelling changes in the preterite, please refer to Spelling Changes of Simple Past (Preterite) Regular Spanish Verbs. For the conjugations of irregular and stem-changing verbs in the preterite, please refer to The Simple Past (Preterite) of Irregular Spanish Verbs and The Simple Past (Preterite) of Stem-Changing Spanish Verbs.

Note: I have studied Spanish as a foreign language. Please feel free to correct any mistakes that I have made in my Spanish.

References

Ramboz, Ina. 2008. Spanish verbs & essentials of grammar (Verbs and Essentials of Grammar Series), 2nd edn. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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