The preterite tense, known as "pretérito" in Spanish, is essential for anyone learning the language. It is used to describe actions that were completed at a specific point in the past. Today I will provide a comprehensive and didactic guide to understanding and using the preterite tense in Spanish, complete with clear explanations, examples, and useful tips.

What is the Preterite Tense?

The preterite tense is one of the past tenses in Spanish. It is used to express actions that were completed in the past and have a definite beginning and end. This is different from the imperfect tense, which is used for actions that were ongoing or habitual in the past.

Conjugation of Regular Verbs

Regular -AR Verbs

To conjugate regular -AR verbs in the preterite tense, follow these steps:

1. Remove the -AR ending from the infinitive form of the verb.

2. Add the preterite endings.

Here are the endings for -AR verbs:

yo: -é

tú: -aste

él/ella/usted: -ó

nosotros/nosotras: -amos

ellos/ellas/ustedes: -aron

Example: Hablar (to talk)

yo hablé (I talked)

tú hablaste (you talked)

él/ella/usted habló (he/she/you formal talked)

nosotros/nosotras hablamos (we talked)

ellos/ellas/ustedes hablaron (they/you all talked)

Regular -ER and -IR Verbs

Regular -ER and -IR verbs share the same set of endings in the preterite tense:

1. Remove the -ER or -IR ending from the infinitive form.

2. Add the preterite endings.

Here are the endings for -ER and -IR verbs:

yo: -í

tú: -iste

él/ella/usted: -ió

nosotros/nosotras: -imos

vosotros/vosotras: -isteis

ellos/ellas/ustedes: -ieron

Example: Comer (to eat)

yo comí (I ate)

tú comiste (you ate)

él/ella/usted comió (he/she/you formal ate)

nosotros/nosotras comimos (we ate)

vosotros/vosotras comisteis (you all ate)

ellos/ellas/ustedes comieron (they/you all ate)

Example: Vivir (to live)

yo viví (I lived)

tú viviste (you lived)

él/ella/usted vivió (he/she/you formal lived)

nosotros/nosotras vivimos (we lived)

vosotros/vosotras vivisteis (you all lived)

ellos/ellas/ustedes vivieron (they/you all lived)

When to Use the Preterite Tense

The preterite tense is used in several specific situations:

1. Completed Actions

Use the preterite to describe actions that were completed at a specific point in the past.


Ayer, comí pizza. (Yesterday, I ate pizza.).

El año pasado, viajamos a España. (Last year, we traveled to Spain.).

2. Specific Time Periods

Use the preterite for actions that happened during a specific and defined period of time.


Viví en México por tres años. (I lived in Mexico for three years.).

Estudiaron toda la noche. (They studied all night.).

3. Series of Completed Actions

Use the preterite to list a series of completed actions that happened one after another.


Me desperté, me vestí y salí de casa. (I woke up, got dressed, and left the house.).

Llegamos al parque, jugamos al fútbol y luego volvimos a casa. (We arrived at the park, played soccer, and then went back home.).

4. Interrupting Actions

Use the preterite for actions that interrupt an ongoing action (which is usually in the imperfect tense).


Estaba leyendo cuando sonó el teléfono. (I was reading when the phone rang.).

Caminábamos por el parque cuando empezó a llover. (We were walking in the park when it started to rain.).

5. Beginning or Ending of an Action

Use the preterite to indicate the beginning or end of an action.


Empezó a nevar a las ocho. (It started to snow at eight.).

Terminé el libro anoche. (I finished the book last night.).

Tips for Mastering the Preterite Tense

1. Practice Regularly: Consistent practice is key to mastering the preterite tense. Use flashcards, quizzes, and exercises to reinforce your learning.

2. Memorize Irregular Verbs: Focus on memorizing the most common irregular verbs and their conjugations, as they are frequently used in everyday conversation.

3. Use Context Clues: Pay attention to time expressions in sentences, such as "ayer" (yesterday), "la semana pasada" (last week), or "el año pasado" (last year). These often indicate the use of the preterite tense.

4.Listen and Repeat: Listen to native speakers and repeat sentences using the preterite tense. This will help you internalize the correct forms and improve your pronunciation.

5.Write Sentences: Write your own sentences or short stories using the preterite tense to practice applying the conjugations in context.

6.Pronunciation: Ensure you pronounce the verbs correctly, particularly the irregular forms, to avoid confusion.

Preterite tense exercises

Conjugation Practice

Conjugate the following verbs in the preterite tense:

1. Hablar (yo)

2. Comer (tú)

3. Vivir (él)

4. Ser (nosotros)

5. Dar (ustedes)

Sentence Creation

Create sentences using the preterite tense with the following prompts:

1. Yesterday, I went to the market.

2. Last week, she read a book.

3. We traveled to Spain last summer.

4. They finished their homework on time.

5. You (plural) watched a movie last night.

Fill in the Blanks

Complete the sentences with the correct form of the verb in the preterite tense:

1. Ayer, Juan __________ (comprar) una bicicleta.

2. Nosotros __________ (escribir) una carta la semana pasada.

3. Ellos __________ (ver) una película el viernes.

4. Tú __________ (beber) agua después de correr.

5. Ustedes __________ (vivir) en Madrid por un año.

The preterite tense in Spanish is essential for expressing completed actions in the past. By mastering regular conjugations, memorizing common irregular verbs, and practicing regularly, you'll quickly become proficient. Keep practicing, and soon discussing past events in Spanish will feel natural. Happy learning!