Spanish/Lessons/El tiempo pasado

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This section of the Spanish wikibook discusses the Spanish past tense. You have presumably learned about the present tense, therefore this section assumes a knowledge of said tense and previously learned vocabulary.

La formación del pretérito[edit]

The preterite is used to speak of an event that happened at a specific time (I went to Sallly's (yesterday)). First, we must learn the preterite tense, is used for past actions that are seen as completed. There are two different forms of the preterite, one for -ar verbs and a seperate form for -er and -ir verbs.


1. Los verbos regulares del preterito - ar


Let us learn the conjugation for regular -ar verbs in the preterite now. For example:


El preterito - ejemplos de los verbos -ar
cantar (to sing)
Singular Plural
First canté cantamos
Second cantaste cantasteis
Third cantó cantaron


nadar (to swim)
Singular Plural
First nadé nadamos
Second nadaste nadasteis
Third nadó nadaron

Notice the pattern: in each form, you must drop the "ar" in the infinitive form. For the first person singular, you add "é", for the second person singular you add "aste", for the third it is "aron". As for plural, in the first person "amos" is added, in the second "asteis", and in the third we add "aron".

On to the exercises...


2. Los verbos regulares del preterito - er y ir


Now, we will learn the conjugation for regular -er and -ir verbs. For example:


El preterito - ejemplos de los verbos -er y -ir
beber (to drink)
Singular Plural
First bebí bebimos
Second bebiste bebisteis
Third beb bebieron


vivir (to live)
Singular Plural
First viví vivimos
Second viviste vivisteis
Third viv vivieron


Notice the pattern: in each form, you must drop the "er" or "ir" in the infinitive form. For the first person singular, you add "í", for the second person singular you add "iste", for the third it is "ieron". As for plural, in the first person "imos" is added, in the second "isteis", and in the third we add "ieron".

On to the exercises...


3. Los verbos con cambios de deletreo en la forma "yo" - 'car', 'gar', 'zar'

There are also verbs that have a spelling change in the first person singular form. These changes occur in verbs that end in "car", "gar", or "zar" and, in the first two cases, are necessary in order to maintain the original sound of the written verb (in speaking, we tend to pronounce the word correctly without having to think about it).

As explained in the "Alfabeto" section, both "c" and "g" have a 'hard' sound before an "a", "o" or "u", and a soft sound before "e" and "i". In the first-person Preterite, then, the "é" ending would change the 'k/' sound of the "c" to an 's/' sound, and the hard-g sound to a 'h/' sound. In order to maintain the original sound of the verb, we change the spelling. For a "-car" verb, we change the "c" to a "qu" when it comes before "é":


practicar (to practice)
Singular Plural
First practiqué practicamos
Second practicaste practicasteis
Third practicó practicaron


Similarly, for a "-gar" verb, we add a "u" after the "g":


llegar (to arrive)
Singular Plural
First llegué llegamos
Second llegaste llegasteis
Third llegó llegaron


For "-zar" verbs, there is no longer a change in pronunciation, but tradition calls for the letter "z" to be followed only by "a", "o" or "u". With a following "e" or "i", we change the "z" to a "c":


comenzar (to begin)
Singular Plural
First comen comenzamos
Second comenzaste comenzasteis
Third comenzó comenzaron


On to the exercises...


Ejercicios del pretérito

These exercises take what we have learned so far and integrate everything together. Be familiar with the first three sections of el tiempo pasado.

On to the exercises...

La formación del imperfecto[edit]

The imperfect tense is used to refer to actions in the past that occurred repeatedly. E.g. I used to play with dolls. These have an indefinite time. It's often used to describe past behaviours and likes, especially of childhood.

1. La formacion del imperfecto - los verbos ar

Just as with the preterite, in the imperfect construction -ar verbs receive their own conjugation. For example:

El preterito - ejemplos de los verbos -ar
hablar (to speak)
Singular Plural
First hablaba hablábamos
Second hablabas hablabais
Third hablaba hablaban


cantar (to sing)
Singular Plural
First cantaba cantábamos
Second cantabas cantabais
Third cantaba cantaban

Notice the pattern: in the imperfect construction we drop the "ar" and add our endings. As for the singular, in the first person we add "aba", in the second person we add "abas", and in the third person we add "aba". In the plural, for the first person we add "ábamos" (with an accent), for the second person we add "abais", and in the third we add "aban".

Onto the exercises...


2. La formacion del imperfecto - los verbos er y ir


Just as in the preterite, the -er and -ir verbs have their own conjugation. For example:

El preterito - ejemplos de los verbos -er y -ir
correr (to run)
Singular Plural
First corría corríamos
Second corrías corríais
Third corría corrían


asistir (to attend)
Singular Plural
First asistía asistíamos
Second asistías asistíais
Third asistía asistían


Notice the pattern: in the imperfect construction we drop the "er" or "ir" and add our endings. As for the singular, in the first person we add "ía", in the second person we add "ías", and in the third person we add "ía". In the plural, for the first person we add "íamos" (with an accent), for the second person we add "íais", and in the third we add "ían".

Onto the exercises...


3. Los verbos irregulares en la forma de imperfecto: 'ser', 'ir', y 'ver'


Only three verbs are irregular in the imperfect construction: ser, ir, and ver:

ser (to be)
Singular Plural
First era éramos
Second eras erais
Third era eran


ir (to go)
Singular Plural
First iba íbamos
Second ibas ibais
Third iba iban


ver (to see)
Singular Plural
First veía veíamos
Second veías veíais
Third veía veían