Spanish Past tense (imperfective and preterite)

In this lesson we will consider two past tenses of the Spanish language.

Past tense I (Imperfective past tense)

This tense refers to an action in the past that has an indefinite (unknown) start and end date, continued or repeated action, started in the past and continues in the present, or took place over a period of time.

In simple words, it can be an action that was performed in the past but is not finished yet, or was performed often or sometimes, or many times, i.e. repeatedly. It could be 1,000 years ago, or 1 day ago, or the action could be started some minutes ago, i.e. the time range doesn’t matter. Some examples in English: “I walked there often”, “Sometimes he smoked”, “We watched this film many times”, “They go there every year”.

Some keywords for this tense:
Siempre – always

A menudo – often

Frecuentemente – frequently

A veces – sometimes

Cada año – every year

Mucho – a lot

Now let’s see how to conjugate verbs in this tense, and then consider examples.

Escuchar – to listen to

Yo escuchabaI listened
Tú escuchabasYou listened
Él, ella, usted escuchabaHe, she, you listened
Nosotros escuchábamosWe listened
Vosotros escuchabaisYou listened
Ellos, ustedes escuchabanThey, you listened

All regular –AR verbs will have these endings in this tense.

–ER and –IR verbs have the same forms of conjugation in this tense.

Dormir – to sleep (regular in this tense)

Yo dormíaI slept
Tú dormíasYou slept
Él, ella, usted dormíaHe, she, you slept
Nosotros dormíamosWe slept
Vosotros dormíaisYou slept
Ellos, ustedes dormíanThey, you slept

All regular –ER and –IR verbs will have these endings in this tense.

Almost all verbs are regular in this tense. However, the verbs SER – to be, and IR – to go, and VER – to see are not. So their conjugation just has to be memorized:

Ser – to beIr – to goVer – to see
Yoeraibaveía
erasibasveías
Él, ella, ustederaibaveía
Nosotroséramosíbamosveíamos
Vosotroseraisibaisveíais
Ellos, ustedeseranibanveían

Conjugate these verbs in this tense:

Tener – to have

Dibujar – to draw
Pensar – to think

Explicar – to explain

Tratar – to try
Traer – to bring

Poder – can

Vivir – to live
Oír – to hear

Examples

Ellos hablaban Inglés a veces – They spoke English sometimes

Nosotros comíamos mucho la comida Española – We ate Spanish food a lot

Yo dormía por un rato – I slept for a while

Ustedes no escuchaban la música – You didn’t listen to the music

Cuando tú eras joven, ¡Estudiabas mucho! – When you were young, you used to study a lot!

¿Adónde iba usted todo el tiempo? – Where did you go all the time?

Ellas visitaban la exhibición a menudo – They (females) visited the exhibition often

Alberto veía la ciudad a menudo – Albert saw the city often

Ella hacía compras en la tienda – She made purchases in the store

Yo estaba en la escuela todos los días – I have been to school every day

Past tense II (Preterite)

Unlike the past tense I, this tense refers to an action with definite (known) period of time, an action that occurred in the past and was finished, or continues until now.

Some keywords for this tense:
Ayer – yesterday,

Anteayer – the day before yesterday

Una vez – once

El año pasado – last year

La semana pasada – last week

El otro día – the other day

Hace … años – … years ago

Anoche – last night

Now let’s see how to conjugate verbs in this tense.

Invitar – to invite

Yo invitéI invited
Tú invitasteYou invited
Él, ella, usted invitóHe, she, you invited
Nosotros invitamosWe invited
Vosotros invitasteisYou invited
Ellos, ustedes invitaronThey, you invited

All regular –AR verbs will have these endings in this tense.

As you can see, the conjugation with nosotros matches with its conjugation in the present tense.

In this tense –ER and –IR verbs have the same endings.

Responder – to respond

Yo respondíI responded
Tú respondisteYou responded
Él, ella, usted respindHe, she, You responded
Nosotros respondimosWe responded
Vosotros respondisteisYou responded
Ellos, ustedes respondieronThey, You responded

All regular –ER and –IR verbs will have these endings in this tense.

The examples will be after the next section “irregular verbs”

Conjugate these verbs in both past tenses with all pronouns:

Ocurrir – to occur

Llamar – to call

Leer- to read

Soñar – to dream

Aceptar – to accept

Permitir – to permit

Manejar – to drive

Dar – to give

Prestar – to borrow

Cancelar – to cancel

Cambiar – to change

Terminar – to finish

Lograr – to achieve/accomplish

Pasar – to pass/to happen

Aparecer – to appear

Quejar – to complain

Build sentences with these words:

la calle – street

la mesa – table

la escuela – school

el colegio – college

el minuto – minute

el segundo – second

el bolleto – ticket

la práctica – practice

juntos – together

el bolígrafo – pen

el avión – airplane

barato – cheap

caro – expensive

amable – kind

caliente – hot

peligroso – dangerous

completo – complete

frecuente – frequent

el libro – book

la ciudad – city/town

el día – day

lejos – far

la hora – hour

el año – year

cerca – close

el lápiz – pencil

seguro – safe

pasado – past

el mes – month

la semana – week

Irregular verbs

Before considering examples, let’s learn more about irregular verbs in this tense. First of all – SER and IR. And there is a surprise – these two verbs have the same form in this tense!

Ser – to be, ir – to go

Yo fuiI went, i was
Tú fuisteYou went, you were
Él, ella, usted fueHe, she, you went, were
Nosotros fuimosWe went, we were
Vosotros fuisteisYou went, you were
Ellos, ustedes fueronThey went, you were

Unfortunately, there are a lot of irregular verbs in the Spanish language. Let’s consider the most often used ones.

Tener – to haveEstar – to beHacer – to do
Yotuveestuvehice
tuvisteestuvistehiciste
Él, ella, ustedtuvoestuvohizo
Nosotrostuvimosestuvimoshicimos
Vosotrostuvisteisestuvisteishicisteis
Ellos, ustedestuvieronestuvieronhicieron

Notice, that in the irregular verbs the endings with Yo and Él, Ella, Usted are not stressed unlike the regular verbs!

Also:

Quierer – to want, stem: QUIS-, Yo quise

Saber – to know, stem: SUP-, Yo supe

Poder – can, stem: PUD-, Yo pude

Decir – to say, stem DIJ-, yo dije

Dar – to give, stem: D-, Yo di

Traducir – to translate, stem: TRADUJ-, yo traduje

Poner – to put, stem: PUS-, yo puse

Venir – to come, stem: VIN-, yo vine

Dormir – to sleep, stem with Él, Ella, Ud., Ellos, Uds.: DURM-: Él durmió, ellos durmieron

Examples

¿Qué pasó? – What happened?

Yo fui un director – I was a director

Nosotros tratamos de cantar ayer – We tried to sing yesterday

El año pasado Pedro estudió la informática – Pedro studied IT last year

Ella fue al teatro anteayer – She went to the theater the day before yesterday

Nosotros tuvimos los boletos – We had the tickets

¿Vosotros estuvisteis en la conferencia hace una hora? – Have you been to the conference one hour ago?

¿Ustedes practicaron el paracaidismo una vez? – Did you practice skydiving once?

¿Dónde estuviste ayer? – Where were you yesterday?

Este político dijo otras cosas hace ocho años – This politician said other things eight years ago

¿Que bebieron Ustedes en el bar? – What did you drink in the bar?

¿Dónde estuvisteis anoche? – Where were you last night?

¿Con quién bailaste en la fiesta? – With whom did you dance in the party?

¿Por qué saliste temprano? – Why did you leave early?

Yo descargué una programa – I downloaded a program

No supieron nada sobre eso – They didn’t know anything about that

Exercises

Conjugate verbs in appropriate past tense.

  1. Juan y Maria ________  acá a menudo (CAMINAR – to walk) – Juan and Maria walked here often
  2. ¿Qué ________  allí ayer?  (OCCURRIR – to occur) – What occurred there yesterday?
  3. Ellos ________  a menudo la comida española (comer – to eat) – They ate Spanish food often
  4. Yo le ________  poco dinero a de mi amigo anteayer (PRESTAR – to borrow) – I borrowed a little money from my friend the day before yesterday
  5. Mi madre y yo no lo ________  nunca (SABER – to know) – My mother and I never knew it.
  6. ¿Quién  el dinero? (TENER – to have) – Who had the money?
  7. Mi amigo ________  mucho en mi casa (DORMIR – to sleep) – My friend slept in my home many times
  8. El hombre  a alguien en la calle hace cinco minutos (LLAMAR – to call) – The man called somebody in the street five minutes ago
  9. El juego ________  bueno hoy (SER – to be) – The game was good today
  10. Los niños a veces ________  en la habitación (JUGAR – to play) – The children played in the room sometimes
  11. Los doctores  ________ que ella estaba sano (PENSAR – to think) – The doctors thought that she is healthy
  12. ¿Qué canción hace un minuto? (ESCUCHAR – to listen) – Which song did you(Tú) listen one minute ago?
  13. ¿Por qué ella  ________ a la tienda tan a menudo? (IR- to go) – What did she go to the store so often?
  14. Pedro ________  ingeniero por un largo tiempo (SER – to be) – He was an engineer for long time

Answers

1: caminaban, 2: occurrió, 3: comían, 4: presté, 5: supimos, 6: tenía, 7: dormía, 8: llamó, 9: fue, 10: jugaban, 11: pensaron, 12: escuchaste, 13: iba, 14: era

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