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The Past Simple in Spanish

The past simple in Spanish is the most common past tense used in our language. In Spanish it is known as the pretérito perfecto simple or indefinido, or simply, pretérito.

According to its name, we can say that this verb tense expresses an action in the past (preterite), finished (perfect) and is formed with only one word (simple). In this way, it is opposed to the imperfect preterite (unfinished action) and the present perfect (it needs an auxiliary verb).

How Is the preterite Formed?

The past simple in Spanish is the most irregular verbal tense in the Spanish conjugation. Some verbs completely modify the stem, others only undergo vowel changes, but there are also alterations in the endings. Because of this, students usually need more time to learn and mechanize these changes. For this reason, we recommend our Spanish course for different levels, where you can learn the grammar with a communicative and conversational approach.

The Past Simple in Spanish: Conjugation of Regular Verbs

The conjugation of regular verbs in the past simple in Spanish is reduced to two groups: the verbs of the first conjugation (-ar) and the verbs of the second and third conjugations (-er/-ir).

Conjugación de verbos regulares en el Pretérito perfecto simple

Ayer trabajé todo el día; cuando terminé, corrí un poco y cené pronto.

Other irregular verbs: trabajar, cenar, terminar, beber, meter, correr, escribir, recibir, abrir…



The Past simple in Spanish: Conjugation of Irregular Verbs

There are many types of irregularities in the past simple in Spanish. We can group them as follows: verbs with stem and ending changes, verbs with vowel changes in the stem but with regular endings, verbs with orthographic changes and other verbs with special irregularities.

Verbs with Stem Changes and Ending

In order to learn these verbs, it is necessary to memorize the root change. This new stem will be maintained in all persons. They will also undergo a change of endings in the first (-é/-í > -e) and third person singular (-ó/-ió > -o).

Conjugación de verbos irregulares en el Pretérito perfecto simple

Let’s take a look at a list of some of these verbs and their change in the stem:

  • Haber = hub-
  • Hacer = hic-
  • Decir = dij-
  • Poder = pud-
  • Estar = estuv-
  • Tener = tuv-
  • Venir = vin-
  • Saber = sup-
  • Traer = traj-
  • Caber = cup-
  • Andar = anduv-

Verbs whose stem ends in -j in the past simple in Spanish have a change in the ending of the third person plural: -ieron>-eron. For example: decir>dijeron, traducir>tradujeron, traer>trajeron.

Let’s look at some irregular verbs in the preterite in context:

El año pasado tuve muchos problemas. Mis jefes hicieron muchos cambios en la empresa y trajeron nuevas ideas. Un día, uno de ellos me dijo: “o trabajas más o estás despedido”.

Verbs with a Vowel Change in the Stem

These verbs keep the regular endings, but suffer a vowel change in their stem in the third person singular and plural. Let’s see these changes:

Conjugación del pretérito indefinido. Verbos irregulares con cambio vocálicos.

Other irregular verbs of this kind are:

  • e>i = sentir, divertir, preferir, seguir, mentir…
  • o>u = morir.
  • i>y= caer, oír, construir, creer, incluir…

Here you have some sentences with these verbs:

Ayer mi esposa leyó una novela antes de dormir y me pidió que dejara la luz encendida. Los niños se durmieron, pero yo no dormí nada en toda la noche.

Verbs with consonant spelling change

Although these verbs could be considered regular verbs, we are going to include them as irregular verbs so that students can take them into account. These are some verbs that, for phonetic reasons, undergo a change in some consonant in order to respect spelling rules. Let’s look at some of them:

Conjugación de verbos irregulares con cambios consonánticos en el Pretérito perfecto simple

Other verbs of this type are:

  • -car = sacar, empacar, picar…
  • -zar = cazar, rezar, rizar…
  • -gar = regar, plegar, segar…

Here we can see an example of its use:

En el examen DELE yo saqué una buena nota pero mi amiga sacó un suspenso. Ella empezó a estudiar hace unos meses pero yo empecé el año pasado.

Verbs with other irregularities

To finish with the verbal conjugation in the past simple in Spanish, we must analyze some verbs that do not fall into the previous categories: ser, ir and dar. The first two share forms. Their root is fu– but they alternate regular and irregular endings. On the other hand, dar is a verb of the first conjugation (-ar), but its endings correspond to those of the second conjugation (-er).

Conjugación de otros verbos irregulares especiales en el Pretérito perfecto simple

Here we can see some examples:

El año pasado no fui a la universidad. El examen de acceso fue difícil y no se me dio muy bien. Al final, no me dieron plaza.

How do you use the past simple in Spanish?

As we said at the beginning of the article, the past simple in Spanish expresses an action completed in the past. This action is located at a specific moment in an ended time. For this reason, it is usually accompanied by temporal expressions such as: ayer, el año pasado, la semana pasada, en 2010, hace cinco días…

El lunes pasado visité a mis amigos en España.

It is widely used in narratives to order actions:

El detective entró en la casa. Lo primero que vio, fue el cuerpo de la víctima. Se agachó, sacó sus guantes y se los puso.

Regarding the contrast with other past tenses, we can say that the difference with the present perfect compound tense is in the time in which the action takes place. If this time is finished, we use the simple tense, if it is open, we use the compound one:

Hoy no he visto a mi profesor, pero ayer lo vi en el supermercado.

On the other hand, the contrast with the imperfect preterite is in the termination of the action. The perfect tense indicates that the action began and ended, but the imperfect expresses an action in progress that can be interrupted by another.

Mi hermano estaba leyendo un libro cuando yo lo llamé.

Likewise, the imperfect expresses habits in the past, as opposed to the perfect, which indicates a punctual action.

En Madrid, yo siempre iba a la escuela, pero un día me puse enfermo y no fui.

Finally, the past simple in Spanish or indefinite is a very common tense and makes the difference between a basic level speaker and a high basic level one. What are you waiting for to tell us your biography? Book a conversation class here; we will be happy to get to know you better.

Infographic of the Past simple in Spanish