Talking about the Past

Talking about the Past

Preterite Tense

  • Preterite tense is used to describe actions or states that occurred at a specific point in the past and are fully completed. For instance, “Juan comió pizza” (Juan ate pizza).
  • Regular verbs in this tense have specific endings. For -ar verbs, these are: é, aste, ó, amos, asteis, aron. For -er and -ir verbs: í, iste, ió, imos, isteis, ieron.
  • Some verbs are irregular in the preterite such as ‘ser’ and ‘ir’ which both become ‘fui’ in the first person singular.

Imperfect Tense

  • Imperfect tense is used for descriptions, habitual actions and ongoing past actions. It’s presented as ‘used to’ or ‘was/were…ing’ in English. For example, “Yo jugaba al fútbol” (I used to play football).
  • The regular endings for verbs in this tense are slightly different. For -ar verbs, these are: aba, abas, aba, ábamos, abais, aban; while for -er and -ir verbs: ía, ías, ía, íamos, íais, ían.
  • There are only three irregular verbs in the Imperfect: ‘ser’ (era), ‘ir’ (iba), and ‘ver’ (veía).

Past Perfect

  • The past perfect tense is used to talk about an action that was completed before another action in the past. It is formed using the verb ‘haber’ in the imperfect tense plus the past participle of the action verb. For instance, “Había comido” (I had eaten).
  • There are some regular rules for forming the past participle: adding -ado to the stem of -ar verbs, and -ido to the stem of -er and -ir verbs.
  • Note that some common verbs form the past participle irregularly, including: abrir (abierto), cubrir (cubierto), decir (dicho), escribir (escrito), hacer (hecho), morir (muerto), poner (puesto), resolver (resuelto), ver (visto), and volver (vuelto).

Comparing Past Tenses

  • When telling a story, it’s common to use the imperfect to set the scene and describe what was happening or used to happen, and then use the preterite to talk about specific completed actions that occurred. For example: Cuando era niño, siempre visitaba a mi abuela (imperfect). Un día, durante una visita, rompí un jarrón (preterite) - When I was a child, I always used to visit my grandmother. One day, during a visit, I broke a vase.
  • A common error with past tenses is overusing the preterite and not using the imperfect enough. Remember: the imperfect is for painting a picture and the preterite is for the specific events.

Uses of ‘Se’

  • Pay attention to the “se accidental” form used with past tenses, which is used to describe an action that was completed accidentally or unexpectedly.
  • The verb ‘se’ will be paired with a singular or plural verb, depending on the noun it is modifying: for instance, “Se me cayeron las llaves” (I accidentally dropped the keys). Notice that the verb ‘caer’ is in plural form to match ‘las llaves’.