Talking about the Past

Talking about the Past

Introduction to Past Tenses in Spanish

Introduction to the Past Tense: In Spanish, there are two main past tenses - the ‘preterite’ (used for completed actions) and the ‘imperfect’ (used for ongoing or repeated actions in the past).

The Preterite Tense

Preterite Tense: This is known as the simple past tense and is used to describe actions that have a definite start and end time. E.g. ‘Comí la cena’ meaning ‘I ate dinner.’

Forming the Preterite Tense: For -ar verbs, the endings are: é, aste, ó, amos, asteis, aron. For -er and -ir verbs; í, iste, ió, imos, isteis, ieron.

The Imperfect Tense

Imperfect Tense: This tense is used for past actions without a definite beginning or end, or for habitual or repeated actions in the past. E.g. ‘Jugaba al baloncesto cada día’ meaning ‘I used to play basketball every day.’

Forming the Imperfect Tense: Here, for -ar verbs the endings are: aba, abas, aba, ábamos, abais, aban. For -er and -ir the endings are: ía, ías, ía, íamos, íais, ían.

Comparisons and Exceptions in Past Tenses

Contrast between Preterite and Imperfect: Understanding the differences is a key part of mastering Spanish. An action in the preterite completed in the past, while one in the imperfect was ongoing or occurred habitually.

Use of ‘Hacer’ in the Past: ‘Hacer’, meaning ‘to do’ or ‘to make’ is often used in the past tense to ask and tell how long ago something happened. E.g. ‘¿Cuánto tiempo hace que?’ means ‘How long ago did?’

Past Participle: Used to form compound tenses, the past participle often ends in -ado and -ido, for -ar and -er/-ir verbs respectively. E.g. ‘he hecho’ means ‘I have done’.

The verb ‘Ser’ and ‘Estar’ in the past: ‘Ser’ indicates identity or characteristics and ‘estar’ locates or describes a state or condition. E.g. ‘Yo era alto’ means ‘I was tall’ and ‘Yo estaba contento’ means ‘I was happy’.

Regular vs Irregular Past Verbs: Like in English, Spanish has regular verbs (which follow the rules above) and irregular verbs which don’t. It’s essential to memorize the common irregular forms.

Remember, practicing past verbs in context will help you become more comfortable in using them. Use a variety of resources such as textbooks, flashcards, and practice exercises to improve.