It’s time to get all nostalgic and talk about the past…

It’s very difficult to have a conversation in any language without having to refer to the past.  I have a friend who speaks “fluent” Spanish, but really he is just fluent in hand gestures, pointing behind him for past tense and in front of him for the future!  We’d like to help you be a little more fluent than that!

In Spanish there are two main ways to talk about the past tense; they are the preterite and the imperfect.  Let’s focus our attention on the preterite, which sound scary but isn’t – it’s easier than having to revert to hand gestures!

You will know when to use the preterite tense because you’ll be talking about something that happened ayer (yesterday), anoche (last night), la semana pasada (last week), etc. something that happened at a definite point in the past.

Ayer hablé con mi amigo – Yesterday I spoke to my friend.

La semana pasado fuimos al cine – Last week, we went to the movies.

The verb endings for the preterite tense are fairly simple:

  • -ar verbs, like hablar, end in the following:

Yo + é – hablé

Tú + aste – hablaste

Ud, él, ella + ó – habló

Nosotros/as + amos – hablamos

Vosotros/as + asteis – hablasteis

Uds, ellos, ellas +aron – hablaron

  • -ir and -er verbs, like vivir & comer, end in the same way:

Yo + í – comí, viví
Tú + iste – viviste, comiste
Ud, él, ella + ió – vivió, comió
Nosotros/as + imos – vivimos, comimos
Vosotros/as + isteis – vivisteis, comisteis
Uds, ellos, ellas + ieron – vivieron, comieron

Did you spot that for nosotros/as, the verb ending is the same as for the present tense, so only context will tell you which one it is.

El año pasado vivimos en Argentina – Last year we lived in Argentina

Vivimos en una casa muy grande – We live in a very big house

La semana pasada hablaste con tu jefe, ¿no? – Last week you spoke to your boss, didn’t you?

Vivieron en la Calle de la Victoria hace dos años, pero no se donde viven ahora – They lived in Victoria Street two years ago, but I don’t know where they live now.

Hopefully the above will help you to talk about what happened in the past in Spanish. For more information about the past tense, and some more free resources, head over to our free lesson on the Spanish Preterite.