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Spanish 101A

Spanish 101B

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The Preterite is the first past tense we'll learn. Up until now we can say that "I arrest you", "I am arresting you", and "I am going to arrest you." But now we will learn how to say "Last night, I arrested that guy."

When do we use the Preterite Past Tense? The Preterite handles completed actions.

In other words, you can say what Happened or what occurred.

It is not used to describe people (He was tall...) nor to describe or set scenes (It was a dark and stormy night and I was watching television...)

Rather, the Preterite answers the question ¿Qué pasó? What happened?

¡Pasó la señal de alto sin parar! He passed a stop sign without stopping!
¡El ladrón entró por la ventana! The robber entered through the window!
¡Me robaron el carro y todo mi dinero! They stole (robbed me of) my car and all my money!

The Preterite past tense represents an action that is located in a specific point on a time line and is considered a completed action (done). It is always used when listing a series of consecutive actions:

Él llamó a su novia, salió de la casa y manejó al cine. He called his girlfriend, left the house and drove to the movies.

It also is used for when you begin, finish or become something:

Empezó a llorar. He began to cry.
Terminó el examen. He finished the test.
Me puse enojada [or] Me enojé. I became angry.

NOTE: the Preterite is NOT used to decribe an existing emotional state, like "He was angry". Then we use a different past tense which is called the Imperfect past tense.

Estaba enojada cuando entró Ana en la sala I was angry when Ana entered the room.
This sentence is a description of how someone was feeling (not an action).

But, back to the Preterite! Let's take a look at what endings we need to use when we conjugate verbs into the Preterite. Just as in the Present Tense, we remove the last two letters to get to the stem or root of the verb and then add endings.

In the Present Tense there were three (3) sets of conjugations because the Nosotros form was different for -Ar, -Er, and -Ir verbs. However, in the Preterite (and, in fact, all other tenses and moods) the endings for -Er verbs and -Ir verbs are the same. So there are only two (2) sets of endings we need to remember: those for the -Ar verbs and those for the -Er/-Ir verbs.

Yo é í
aste iste
Él, ella, usted ó
Nosotros amos imos
Ellos, ellas, ustedes aron ieron


Yo Él Nosotros Ellos
Hablar hablé hablaste habló hablamos hablaron
Comer comí comiste comió comimos comieron
Vivir Viví viviste vivió vivimos vivieron

The Nosotros form in the Preterite is the same as the Nosotros in the Present Tense for "-Ar" and "-Ir" verbs. Context will tell you which tense is correct. However, the Nosotros form of "-Er" verbs follows the "-Ir" conjugation.

The Preterite 3rd person plural (ellos, ellas, ustedes) ends in "-ron".