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Preterite Tense: How to Form the Preterite Tense in Spanish: A Complete Guide

The preterite tense is one of the most important tenses in Spanish. It is used to talk about completed actions in the past. In this guide, we will teach you how to form the preterite tense in Spanish for regular and irregular verbs. We will also provide examples of how to use the preterite tense in sentences.

By the end of this guide, you will be able to use the preterite tense confidently in your Spanish conversations and writing.

Here are some of the topics that we will cover in this guide:

  • How to form the preterite tense of regular verbs
  • How to form the preterite tense of irregular verbs
  • The uses of the preterite tense
  • Examples of how to use the preterite tense in sentences

Regular Verbs in the Preterite Tense

Regular preterite verbs have only two endings: one for -ar verbs and one for both -er and -ir verbs. Simply remove the infinitive ending (-ar, -er, or -ir) and add the preterite ending that corresponds to the subject to conjugate a regular verb in the preterite tense. See the table of regular preterite endings below for more information.

él, ella, usted-ió
ellos, ellas, ustedes-aron-ieron

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Preterite of Stem changing verbs, With Teacher Catalina

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Present and Past Nosotros

For regular -ar and -ir verbs, the first person plural (nosotros) endings are the same in the preterite and present tenses. Adverbs like siempre (always) and ayer (yesterday) can help you determine whether a nosotros form refers to the past or the present.

For example:

·      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.















él, ella, usted















ellos, ellas, ustedes





Some major uses of Preterite tense in Spanish

The preterite is used to discuss completed actions from the past. It is used to discuss beginnings and endings, events that occurred on specific days or dates, at specific times or during specific time periods, and events in a sequence.

Completed Events

The preterite is used to describe completed events, particularly those with distinct beginnings and endings.

For example:

·      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).

Beginnings and Ends

The preterite is also used to discuss beginnings and endings. Empezar (to begin), comenzar (to begin), terminar (to finish), and acabar are key verbs used to talk about beginnings and endings in the past (to end).

For example:

·      Empezó a nevar. (It began to snow).

·      La película terminó con una sorpresa. (The movie ended with a surprise).

Specific Times and Dates

The preterite is used to discuss past events or actions that took place on specific days or dates, at specific times, and over specific time periods.

For example:

·      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).

Events in a Sequence

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

For example:

·      Me levanté, me vestí, y salí para la fiesta. (I got up, got dressed, and left for the party).

·      Tú entraste, bebiste un vaso de agua y comiste una hamburguesa. (You came in, drank a glass of water, and ate a hamburger).

Interrupted Actions

When an ongoing event (denoted with the verb phrase “estar” (in imperfect) + gerund (verb form ending with -iendo or -ando in Spanish and -ing in English) is interrupted by another event, the preterite is used.

For example:

·      Estaba durmiendo cuando mi perro ladró ruidosamente (I was sleeping when my dog barked loudly).

·      Estaba corriendo cuando se me rompió el zapato (I was running when my shoe broke).

With Certain Verbs and Phrases

Some verbs and temporal phrases in Spanish are frequently found with the preterite.

Consider the following temporal phrases that can activate the preterite:

·      una vez (one time)

·      ayer (yesterday)

·      anteayer (the day before yesterday)

·      anoche (last night)

·      la semana pasada (last week)

·      el año pasado (last year)

·      el otro día (the other day)

·      entonces (then)

·      en aquel momento (at that moment)

·      desde el primer momento (from the first moment)

Some verbs express actions that fall into the semantic categories we discussed earlier. These verbs, like the phrases above, can be used with the preterite or imperfect (for descriptive/non-specific cases). These verbs, for example, interrupt another ongoing event or state of being:

·      cumplir años (to turn an age)

·      darse cuenta de (to realize)

·      decidir (to decide)

·      descubrir (to discover)

·      salir (to leave)

·      llegar (to arrive)

These verbs describe an event with a very specific, indirect ending. When used in the past, these are most often used with the preterite:

·      casarse (to get married)

·      graduarse (to graduate)

·      morir (to die)

·      nacer (to be born)


Knowing the rules of Spanish preterite conjugation is an important first step in learning how to speak about events in the past. Memorizing conjugation tables may be useful at first, but you will always be delayed in natural communication while you remember how to apply the rule. Practice them frequently in your daily Spanish conversations to develop a command.