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The Spanish Past Tense

El Pretérito (The Past Tense)

In this lesson we look at the Spanish past tense. "El pretérito" or past tense is used to express an action completed at a definite time in the past. Here's how you conjugate regular Spanish verbs in the past tense.

It's all in the endings (again). To conjugate a regular verb of the first group, an "ar" verb, we need the following endings: é, aste, ó, amos, aron. What we do is take away the "ar" ending of the infinitive and add the new endings. For example:

bailar (to dance)
(yo) bailé (I danced)
(tú) bailaste (You danced)
(él,ella,usted) bailó (He, She danced, You {formal} danced)
(nosotros, nosotras) bailamos (We danced)
(ellos,ellas, ustedes) bailaron (They danced)

(Notice that the conjugations used with él, ella, and usted are always the same. The same is true with nosotros and nosotras, and the same with ellos, ellas, ustedes.)

Let's look at some of the most common regular "ar" verbs that follow the above pattern:

bailar = to dance
cambiar = to change
cantar = to sing
cenar = to dine
cocinar = to cook
comprar = to buy
descansar= to rest
enseñar= to teach
esperar = to wait for
estudiar = to study
fumar = to smoke
hablar = to speak
invitar = to invite
lavar = to wash
llamar = to call
llevar = to carry, to wear
mandar = to send
mirar = to look at
nadar =to swim
preparar = to prepare
tomar = to take
trabajar = to work
viajar = to travel

Now, for the regular "er" verbs, the endings are: í, iste, , imos, ieron. So we do the same. We take away the "er" ending from the infinitive and add the new endings. For example:

aprender (to learn)
aprendí
aprendiste
aprend
aprendimos
aprendieron

Notice that I did not include the subject pronouns this time, so you can get used to the idea that you don't need them ("Aprendí" is the same as "Yo aprendí," - I learned). The ending tells you who is doing the action. In the case of "Aprendió español.", you would be able to tell from the context if it meant "He (él) learned Spanish," "She (ella) learned Spanish, or "You (usted) learned Spanish." It could also be written as "El aprendió español," or "ella... etc. Subject pronouns are commonly left out, but they can be used for clarification.

Some of the more common regular "er" verbs:

aprender = to learn
beber = to drink
comer = to eat
comprender = to understand
correr = to run
vender = to sell
ver = to see

To conjugate the regular "ir" verbs we use the same endings as for the regular "er" verbs: í, iste, , imos, ieron. For example:

abrir (to open)
abrí
abriste
abr
abrimos
abrieron

Some of the more common regular "ir" verbs:

abrir = to open
admitir= to admit
asistir = to assist or attend
compartir = to share
discutir = to discuss
escribir = to write
recibir = to receive
subir = to climb or go up
sufrir = to suffer
vivir = to live

That covers the basics of the Spanish Past tense, but there is more to learn (of course). In the next lesson we will look at to form some irregular Spanish verbs in the past tense.

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