preterito repaso

The Preterit
1. Formation of the preterit for regular verbs: The stem is the infinitive minus the last
two letters, e.g.: hablar > habl-.
Endings for -ar verbs: -é, -aste, -ó, -amos, -asteis, -aron. Endings for -er and -ir verbs: í, -iste, -ió, -imos, -isteis, -ieron.
hablamos comí comimos viví vivimos
hablaste hablasteis comiste comisteis viviste vivisteis
habló hablaron comió comieron vivió vivieron
1. The singular forms of the first and third persons must be written with a accent
mark. With -ar verbs, this accent mark distinguishes between hable (I /he/she
[might] speak, present subjunctive) and hablé (I spoke, preterit), and between
hablo (I speak, first person singular of the present indicative ) and habló (he/she
spoke, preterit third person singular).
2. The forms of the first person plural (nosotros) for -ar and -ir regular verbs [not er] are identical in the present and preterit. Hablamos can be we speak or we
spoke, depending on the context, and the same thing occurs with vivimos.
3. If the stem of an -er or -ir verb ends in a vowel, the -i- of the third person forms
changes to a -y-: leer: ella leyó, ustedes leyeron.
4. -ar and -er stem-changing verbs do not experience the stem changes found in the
present tense, for example, volver: volví, volviste, volvió... -ir stem changing
verbs do undergo a stem change which will be discussed below.
2. Verbs with orthgraphic changes. Spelling changes occur in certain forms of some verbs
to maintain the pronunciation of the consonant occurring immediately before the
infinitive ending.
Verbs whose infinitive ends in -car, -gar, and -zar have a spelling change in the first
person singular of the preterit:
buscar: look for busqué buscaste buscó buscamos buscasteis buscaron
pagar: pay
pagué pagaste pagó pagamos pagasteis pagaron
empezar: begin empecé empezaste empezó empezamos empezasteis empezaron
3. Third conjugation (-ir) stem-changing verbs. Unlike -ar and -er stem-changing verbs,
-ir stem-changing verbs have a stem change in the preterit, but it occurs only in the third
person singular and plural forms, where the stem vowel e changes to i, or o changes to u.
sentir (e > ie > i)1
sentí sentimos
sentiste sentisteis
sintió sintieron
dormir (o > ue > u)1 pedir (e > i > i)1
dormí dormimos pedí pedimos
dormiste dormisteis pediste pedisteis
durmió durmieron pidió pidieron
When these three sets of vowels are listed in this way (for example: e > ie > i): the first element indicates
the stem vowel which occurs in the infinitive [e: sentir]; the second indicates the change that occurs when
the stem vowel is stressed in the present tense of the indicative and usually in the present subjunctive [ie:
sientes, siente, siente, sienten]; the third indicates the change which occurs in the third person singular and
plural of the preterit, and in the gerund [i: sintió, sintieron, sintiendo].
5. Similar verbs include:
despedir (e > i > i)
divertir (e > ie > i)
dormir (o > ue > u)
morir (o > ue > u)
pedir (e > i > i)
preferir (e > ie > i)
reír (e > i > i)
to say goodbye
to amuse, entertain
to sleep
to die
to ask, request
to prefer
to laugh
repetir (e > i > i)
seguir (e > i > i)
sentir (e > ie > i)
servir (e > i > i)
sonreír (e > i > i)
vestir (e > i > i)
to repeat
to follow, continue
to feel
to serve
to smile
to clothe, dress
Note that when the stem ends in an -i- and the ending starts with the same vowel, the two are merged:
reír: reí, reíste, rio [ri-ió], reímos, reíste, rieron [ri-ieron]
7. Strong stem preterits. A special class of verbs are referred to as strong stem preterits
since they have a special stem which is “strong” enough to carry the stress in the yo and
él/ella/usted forms, instead of the ending being stressed such as occurs in the forms
hablé and habló. These verbs also have a special set of endings, none of which carries a
written accent mark: -e, -iste, -o, -imos, -isteis, -(i)eron.3
E.g.: andar: anduve, anduviste, anduvo, anduvimos, anduvisteis, anduvieron
Some of the most frequently used verbs in this class are:
andar: anduvconducir: conduj3
estuvhaber: hub3
to walk, go
to drive, lead
to tell, say
to be
to have
to put, place
to want, love
to know
to have
to translate
to do, make
to be able
to bring
to come
If the preterit stem ends in a -j-, the -i- of the third person plural form is dropped: dijeron, trajeron.
The third person singular form of hacer has a spelling change: hice, hiciste, hizo, hicimos, hicisteis,
8. Irregular verbs. Some verbs are completely irregular in the preterit:
dar: to give di diste dio dimos disteis dieron
ir: to go fui fuiste fue fuimos fuisteis fueron
ser: to be fui fuiste fue fuimos fuisteis fueron
9. Note that the preterit forms of ir and ser are identical; context should determine which
verb is being used.
10. Meaning and use of the preterit. The English form of a verb in the preterit is usually the
simple past tense: hablé = I spoke; comiste = you ate; vivimos = we lived. The preterit
views an action or state as: 1) being in the past, and 2) over and done with (as opposed to
the imperfect, which often views it as being in progress). It is often used to indicate a
series of actions in the past.
Fuimos al restaurante Equis. We went to Equis restaurant.
I came, I saw, I conquered.
Vine, vi, vencí.
She worked for three hours.
Ella trabajó tres horas.
11. Verbs which appear to “change meaning” in the preterit. Since the preterit focuses on
the action as being over and done with, the preterit sometimes connotes a different
meaning when compared to other tenses. This happens most frequently with the
following verbs:
conocer: to know > met, made the acquaintance (of someone)
La conocí en Buenos Aires. I met her in Buenos Aires.
La conocía en Buenos Aires. I knew (used to know) her in Buenos Aires.
poder: to be able > managed (to do something)
We managed to arrive on time (we were able to do it
Pudimos llegar a tiempo.
and actually did it).
We were able to go (could have gone) either by train or
Podíamos ir o por tren o
por avión.
haber: there to be > occurred
An accident occurred here. (OR: There was an accident
Hubo un accidente aquí.
Había treinta coches en el There were 30 cars in the lot.
querer: to want, love > tried, attempted
I tried to find the dog (wanted to find him and
put that desire into action).
Quería encontrar el perro (pero no I wanted to find the dog (but I didn't go out
looking for him).
salí a buscarlo).
no querer: not to want > refused
Jorge refused to come (didn't want to and thus
Jorge no quiso venir.
didn't come).
Elena no quería venir, pero vino de Elena didn't want to come, but came anyway.
todos modos.
Quise encontrar el perro.
18. Special case: hacer plus an expression of time with the preterit or imperfect.
To express the idea ago, Spanish typically uses the preterit —or sometmes the
imperfect— of a verb plus hace (present tense) plus an expression of time:
Hace una semana que desapareció. She disappeared a week ago.
We saw him an hour ago.
Lo vimos hace una hora.
¿Dónde estabas hace 30 minutos? Where were you 30 minutes ago?
1. Que and desde are normally not used when the hace clause comes after the verb,
as in example number two above.
2. Remember: Hacía (in the imperfect tense) plus an expression of time is also used
with a verb in the imperfect, but in that case it means for, and refers to an action
that started prior to simple past time, and continues on into past time: I had been
studying for an hour = Hacía una hora que estudiaba.
3. Compare/contrast the following examples of time with the present, imperfect, and
preterit tenses (with and without hacer and prepositions):
Hacía tres horas que cantaban (cuando llegó
la policía). [O: Cantaban desde hacía tres
horas. O: Llevaban tres horas cantando.]
Hace tres horas que cantan. [O: Cantan
desde hace tres horas. O: Llevan tres horas
Cantaron hace tres horas. [O: Hace tres
horas cantaron.]
Cantaban hace tres horas. [O: Hace tres
horas cantaban.]
Cantaron por tres horas. [O: Cantaron
durante tres horas. O: Cantaron tres horas.]
They had been singing for three
hours ([and were still singing]
when the police arrived).
They've been singing for three
hours [and are still singing].
They sang three hours ago.
They were singing three hours
They sang for three hours.
Contact: Fred F. Jehle
Indiana University - Purdue University Ft. Wayne
Fort Wayne, IN 46805-1499 USA
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