Spanish Past Tense

For those of us starting to learn Spanish it is safe to say many of us will first begin to become comfortable with the present tense and then look to learn the past tense. Beginner Spanish can be selfish and for the future you can say voy a (I am going to) or tu vas (you informal are going to) plus a verb such as tratar which means ‘to try’ in English. Hence, there is the desire to learn the past tense after the present tense. For whatever reason when I look up the basic past tense in Spanish it is called the preterit or el pretérito instead of the past tense. This is probably because like English there are various ways to speak in the past tense such as ‘I went’ or ‘I was leaving’ or ‘I used to leave.’ Nevertheless, below is the basic Spanish past tense.

  – ar (hablar) – er (comer) – ir (escribir)
Yo hablé comí escribí
hablaste comiste escribiste
El/Ella/Usted habló comió escribió
Nosotros hablamos comimos escribimos
Vosotros hablasteis comisteis escribisteis
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes hablaron comieron escribieron


Hablar means to speak and comer means to eat and escribir means to write.  It is generally agreed the above would be translated as ‘I spoke’ or ‘I ate’ or ‘I wrote.’  For those of us that do not know:

  • Yo means I
  •  is you informal, or more friendly and familiar such as when you know the person somewhat or very well
  • El is he and ella is she and usted is you formal
  • Nosotros is we
  • Vosotros is used only in Spain and I am not very familiar with it. I know it is used rarely and only when you are speaking to a group of people the same age. It is also difficult for me to pronounce the ending for vosotros verbs. Many people admire Spanish from Spain as very proper and pure Spanish
  • Ellos refers to they when the group is all male, and ellas is when the group of two or more people is all female, and ustedes is formal and when the group is both male and female

As you can see above the endings for the past tense change depending on whether the verb ends in – ar– er, or – ir. There are alsostudents irregular preterit or past tense verbs such as:

  • andar (anduve, anduviste, anduvo, anduvimos, anduvisteis, anduvieron)
  • ir (fui, fuiste, fue, fuimos, fuisteis, fueron)
  • ser (fui, fuiste, fue, fuimos, fuisteis, fueron)
  • traer (traje, trajiste, trajo, trajimos, trajisteis, trajeron)
  • leer (leí, leíste, leyó, leímos, leísteis, leyeos, leyeron)

The Quick Study Academic Spanish Grammar Guide (, the website includes free downloads) helped me figure out this information and has more tenses and a brief explanation of each. It is a nice and helpful guide and sure to help at least beginners in Spanish class. When I went to’s learn section it showed how the -er and -ir verbs have the same endings. Another way to look at this would be:

– ar – er and – ir
Yo – é – í
– aste – iste
El/Ella/Usted – ó – ió  
Nosotros – amos – imos
Vosotros – asteis – isteis  
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes – aron – ieron


Below are some sites to help learn Spanish: – this is a lesson specifically on the past tense irregular verbs – this board has sites to help learn Spanish that I have collected, including a few places to take lessons – currently has over 400 pins – like the author’s book, Top 1000 Spanish Words

Word document of post: Spanish past tense preterit chart

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