Learn How to Conjugate Verbs in the Spanish Preterite

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

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

Spanish past tense conjugations are necessary for describing situations and events that have already happened. Preterite endings are one of the basic building blocks of Spanish that are fundamental to any conversation. 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.]

Why Learn the Preterite Endings?

If you’ve learned the basics of verb conjugation in the present tense, you’ve probably realized how limited you are without knowing the past tense versions of the verbs. Trying to describe only what’s happening in the immediate present, without being able to explain what happened even five seconds ago, is nearly impossible! This reveals how important it is to learn Spanish past tense conjugations.

In this post, we’re going to take your verb conjugation skills to a higher level. This involves learning Spanish preterite endings, so that you aren’t restricted to only describing actions that are happening in the here-and-now.

How to Conjugate Verbs in the Spanish Preterite

Before we dive in, it’s important to note that there are two types of Spanish past tense conjugations: 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 by using preterite endings.

Preterite -AR Endings in Spanish Verbs

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. Yes, that means that you’ll need to commit each irregular verb conjugation to memory. Fortunately, their main endings are similar to what we’ve already learned in this post: –é, –iste, –imos, –isteis, –ieron/*eron. Below 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 one step closer to becoming fluent in Spanish. With both present and past tense verb conjugations under your belt, the future tense will be no problem! You can return to this guide whenever you need a refresher on Spanish past tense conjugations and preterite endings.

While resources such as this one are important for getting down the nuts and bolts of Spanish, working with a Spanish tutor is a sure-fire way to maximize your potential with the language. Outside of total immersion in a Spanish-speaking country, personalized lessons are the best way to get the conversational practice you need to become fluent.

Online Spanish classes are also a great way to work on your skills and make new friends. The convenience of an online classroom allows you to build communication skills, no matter where you are! Before you know it, you’ll be using verbs with preterite endings in everyday Spanish conversations.

Remember, the formula for learning a language is simple: The more you speak, study, and listen to Spanish, the better your conversational skills will become. 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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4 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!


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