spanish past tense conjugation

How to Conjugate Verbs in the Spanish Preterite (Past Tense)

Past Tense (Preterite) Conjugation: How to Conjugate Spanish Verbs

Spanish past tense conjugation is necessary for describing situations and events that have already happened. Once you learn these conjugations, you’ll be able to talk about so much more with friends and family!

[This is Part 3 of a guide to conjugating Spanish verbs. In previous posts, we’ve reviewed the basics of conjugating Spanish verbs, as well as how to conjugate stem-changers].

Next, we’re going to take your verb conjugation skills to an even higher level. This involves learning Spanish past tense conjugation, so that you aren’t restricted to only describing actions in the present tense.

How to Conjugate Verbs in the Spanish Preterite

It’s important to note that Spanish has two types of past tenses: the preterite and the imperfect. Here, we’ll start with Spanish preterite conjugations and review the imperfect in a future post.

The Spanish preterite tense is a way to express the past, and it breaks down verbs into five different endings. Keep reading to learn how to change a verb into its past tense form.

Conjugating -AR Verbs in the Spanish Preterite

Here is an example using the Spanish verb mirar (to watch). First, shave off the -ar ending. Then…

  • If you are referring to Yo or ‘I,’ add the letter é to end the conjugated verb, forming miré.
  • If you are referring to  or ‘you,’ use the ending –aste, to form miraste.
  • If you are referring to él or ella or ‘he’ or ‘she,’ use the ending –ó to form miró.
  • If you are referring to nosotros or ‘we,’ use the ending –amos to form miramos. (This is the same as present tense conjugation!)
  • If you are referring to ellos or ‘they,’ use the ending –aron, to form miraron.

SEE ALSO: 46 Spanish Adjectives to Describe All Your Friends

Conjugating -ER Verbs in the Spanish Preterite

Now let’s use comer (to eat), as an example. First, shave off the -er ending. Next…

  • If you are referring to Yo or ‘I,’ use the ending –í, (instead of é) to form comí.
  • If you are referring to  or ‘you,’ use the ending –iste, to form comiste.
  • If you are referring to él or ella or ‘he’ or ‘she,’ use the ending –, to form comió.
  • If you are referring to nosotros or ‘we,’ use the ending –imos, to form comimos.
  • If you are referring to ellos or ‘they,’ use the ending –ieron, to form comieron.

Conjugating -IR Verbs in the Spanish Preterite

Conjugating -ir verbs shares the same rules as conjugating -er verbs. See the following chart as an example.

Vivir (to live):
Yo viví
Tú viviste
Él/Ella/Usted vivió
Nosotros vivimos
Ellas/Ellos/Ustedes vivieron

SEE ALSO: 75 Most Helpful Spanish Cognates

Ready for some Spanish past tense conjugation practice? Fill out the following chart:

Spanish Conjugation Chart - Preterite

12 Irregular Spanish Preterite Endings

There are 12 core verbs in Spanish that have irregular past tense conjugations in the preterite tense. Fortunately their main endings are similar to what we’ve already learned in this post: –é, –iste, , –imos, –isteis, –ieron/*eron. Here are the 12 verbs, also known as “the dirty dozen.”

Spanish Dirty Dozen - Irregular Past Tense Conjugations

Let’s conjugate estar as an example:

Estar (to be):
Yo estuve
Tú estuviste
Él/Ella/Usted estuvo
Nosotros estuvimos
Ellas/Ellos/Ustedes estuvieron

Now that you know how to conjugate Spanish past tense verbs, you’re once step closer to becoming fluent in Spanish! As always, it’s a great idea to work with a Spanish tutor who can help you work through these concepts and provide extra guidance as needed.

You can also take online Spanish classes to get even more practice conjugating verbs in everyday conversation. Buena suerte!

Jason N width=Post Author: Jason N.
Jason N. tutors in English and Spanish in Fairfax, CA. He majored in Spanish at UC Davis, lived in Mexico for 3 years where he completed a Master’s degree in Counseling, and studied Spanish Literature and Psychology at the University of Costa Rica. Learn more about Jason here! 

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Photo by John Loo

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2 replies
  1. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    I would like to mention that the endings mentioned on the bottom of the “Dirty Dozen” poster do not require acute accent marks on the -e or the -o.

    Thank you for writing this helpfully informative article. You rock!

    Reply

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