As mentioned in our previous post about regular verbs, learning Spanish is a difficult task; without memorizing conjugations and mastering usage, speaking the language is impossible. Due to the extensive use of the present simple, as well as the complications in the forming it, a great deal of study and practice is necessary just to maintain a basic, grammatically-correct conversation. For better or worse, the past simple in Spanish is no different — and perhaps even more complicated; thus, it is necessary to master this tense as well in order to speak the language properly.
The past simple (Indicative)
What an English speaker would call the past simple, in Spanish is traditionally known as the pretérito, which was the name assigned by the Venezuelan scholar Andrés Bello in the 19th century. This term is still in use although the Real Academia Española refers to this tense either as the pretérito indefinido or the pretérito perfecto simple. In Spain, the pretérito (for short) is used in a similar fashion to the past simple in English, but with one major exception: past completed actions which have occurred the same day are expressed with the compound form — the pretérito perfecto compuesto — which is conjugated in a similar fashion to the present perfect simple in English. In order to express the statement “This morning I woke up at 7.”, for example, in Spain one would say “Esta mañana me he levantado a las 7.” Thus, despite this exception, the pretérito is used in an almost identical fashion as the past simple.
Just as is the case with the present, the pretérito is conjugated depending on the ending of the verb, be it -ar, -er, or -ir. In the case of regular verbs, the following endings are added:
|yo amé||yo comí||yoviví|
|tú amaste||tú comiste||túviviste|
|el/ella/usted amó||el/ella/usted comió||el/ella/ustedvivió|
|nosotros amamos||nosotros comimos||nosotrosvivimos|
|vosotros amasteis||vosotros comisteis||vosotrosvivisteis|
|ellos/ellas/ustedes amaron||ellos/ellas/ustedes comieron||ellos/ellas/ustedesvivieron|
The pretérito also has stem changes, but only the third person singular and plural forms of some -ir verbs are affected:
|mentir (e>i)||morir (o>u)|
Similar to the present, the pretérito is somewhat complicated. The regular forms that have been discussed above, however, only need be memorized and applied when communicating. Due to the limited list of endings and minimal stem changes, the regular past simple verbs are not quite as difficult as the present simple ones. The big issue are the irregular past forms, which although they have some patterns, are rather haphazard in general. The sooner one begins to learn these verbs, the better, so time to get started!