Forming the Preterit
The preterit is one of
two past tenses in
Spanish. It is used
with great frequency
but is, unfortunately,
the most complicated
tense to form.
There are two sets of regular endings: one for
–ar and one for –er/-ir verbs.
hablar
-é
-aste
-ó
-amos
-asteis
-aron
comer/vivir
-í
-iste
-ió
-imos
-isteis
-ieron
Drop the –ar/-er/-ir and then add the endings.
hablé
hablamos
hablaste hablasteis
habló
hablaron
comí
comimos
comiste comisteis
comió comieron
viví
vivimos
viviste vivisteis
vivió vivieron
ACCENT MARKS ARE ABSOLUTELY
NECESSARY!!!
Look what happens if you leave off an accent
mark:
hablé
hablamos
hablaste hablasteis
habló
hablaron
Without the accent mark, you have “I speak” (hablo) instead of
“he spoke” (habló). You don’t know it yet, but if you leave off
the accent mark in “hablé,” that means something different too.
Note that, while the “vosotros” form looks intimidating,
it’s simply the “tú” form with “-is” added to it.
-é
-aste
-ó
-amos
-asteis
-aron
-í
-iste
-ió
-imos
-isteis
-ieron
Note also that the “nosotros” form of –ar verbs and
of –ir verbs is the same as the present but that the
“nosotros” form of –er verbs is NOT.
hablamos
present
comemos
vivimos
hablamos
preterit
comimos
vivimos
Note that –ar verbs and –er verbs don’t stem
change. -ir verbs do, but that will be
discussed in a later section.
volver
salir
pensar
vuelve  volvió
salgo  salí
piensas  pensaste
he returns  he returned
I leave  I left
you think  you thought
All the practice exercises will be done as
above. You’re given, for example, “vuelve”
and must change it to “volvió.”
Click here to go to a practice exercise.
Verbs with Spelling Changes
Verbs that end with –gar, -car, or –zar are going to undergo
a spelling change.
Consider the verb “tocar.” You would expect the “yo” form to
be “tocé,” right?
But think about how a “c” sounds when it comes before an “e”
or an “i.” It sounds like an “s.” “Tocé” would sound like
“tosé.” But we want the “c” to sound like a “k,” just like it does
in “tocar.”
To get that “k” sound, you have to change the “c” to a “qu”:
toqué
tocaste
tocó
tocamos
tocasteis
tocaron
Note that you change it only in the “yo” form; that’s the only
place you have an “e,” so you don’t need to change it
anywhere else.
The same is true of verbs that end in –gar, like
“pagar.” When a “g” comes before an “e” or “i,” it
sounds like an “h.” That’s why you can’t have
“pagé”; the “g” sounds like an “h” there but like a
hard “g” in “pagar.” To keep the hard “g” sound,
you have to change the “g” to a “gu”:
pagué
pagamos
pagaste pagasteis
pagó
pagaron
Again, note that only the “yo” form is affected; no
other form has an “e,” so no other form gets “gu.”
Unfortunately, there’s no logical explanation
for the change in –car verbs. There just
happens to be a rule in Spanish that says “z”
can’t come before “e” or “i.” If that happens,
you have to change the “z” to a “c”:
almorcé
almorzaste
almorzó
almorzamos
almorzasteis
almorzaron
You may be familiar with the plural of “feliz”:
“felices.”
Summary
Verbs that end in –car, -gar, and –car are
going to have a spelling change in the “yo”
form:
toqué tocamos
tocaste tocasteis
tocó
tocaron
pagué pagamos
pagaste pagasteis
pagó
pagaron
almorcé
almorzamos
almorzaste almorzasteis
almorzó
almorzaron
There’s one other type of word that
undergoes a spelling change. When an
“i” without an accent mark over it gets
stuck between two other vowels, it
becomes a “y.” You may remember this
change from the present participle
(sometimes called a gerund):
leer  le- + -iendo  leiendo  leyendo
That’s what happens with the third
person preterit:
leer  le- + -ió  leió  leyó
leer  le- + -ieron  leieron  leyeron
Click here to go to a practice
exercise.
-ir stem-changing verbs
As was mentioned before, -ar and –er verbs don’t stem change.
Present
pienso
piensas
piensa
vuelvo
vuelves
vuelve
Preterit
pensamos
pensáis
piensan
pensar
pensé
pensaste
pensó
pensamos
pensasteis
pensaron
volvemos
volvéis
vuelven
volver
volví
volviste
volvió
volvimos
volvisteis
volvieron
However, -ir verbs DO stem change. Unfortunately,
the way they change in the preterit is a little
different from the way they stem change in the
present.
Present
pido
pides
pide
pedimos
pedís
piden
pedir
Preterit
pedí
pediste
pidió
pedimos
pedisteis
pidieron
In the preterit, -ir verbs stem change in the third
person singular and plural ONLY.
And that’s not the end of the story. Not only do –ir
verbs stem change in the preterit where –er and –ar
verbs don’t; they change to just an “i” (never “ie”) or
just a “u” never “ue.”
Present
siento
sientes
siente
duermo
duermes
duerme
Preterit
sentir
sentimos
sentí
sentís
sentiste
sienten
sintió
dormir
dormimos
dormí
dormís
dormiste
duermen
durmió
sentimos
sentisteis
sintieron
dormimos
dormisteis
durmieron
Click here to go to a
practice exercise.
Irregular Verbs
So far you’ve seen regular verbs, stem-changing verbs, and
verbs that undergo spelling changes. The last item on the
agenda is irregular verbs. And there are quite a few.
Most irregular verbs follow a type of pattern. Two, however, do
not, and you have to memorize them all by themselves:
ser/ir
fui
fuiste
fue
fuimos
fuisteis
fueron
dar
di
diste
dio
dimos
disteis
dieron
Since “ser” and “ir” are conjugated the same way in the preterit,
“fui,” for example, can mean “I went” or “I was,” depending on
context.
What makes “dar” irregular is the fact that it’s an –ar verb but
has –er/-ir endings.
All other irregular verbs get the same set of endings. Here are the irregular stems
and the endings:
querer
poner
poder
tener
estar
venir
saber
hacer
decir
traer
quispuspudtuvestuvvinsuphicdijtraj-
-e
-iste
-o
-imos
-isteis
-(i)eron
Just put the appropriate ending on the stem. “Puse” is “I put,” “hiciste” is “you did,” etc.
The reason the third plural ending is “-(i)eron” is that the verbs with a “j” in their stem
(decir, traer) don’t get the “i”: dijeron, trajeron
The third person of “hacer” undergoes a spelling change:
hice
hiciste
hizo
hicimos
hicisteis
hicimos
In “hice,” “hiciste,” “hicimos,” etc., the “c” is pronounced like
an “s.” If we left the “c” in the third singular, however, it would be
pronounced like a “k.” To keep the “s” sound, you have to change
the “c” to a “z.”
Click here to go to a practice
exercise.
Ta-da! Finished!
Now all you have to do is learn the other past
tense and then learn when to use it and when to
use the preterit. Piece of cake.
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Forming the Preterit - Gordon State College