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7.5: Hablando del pasado (Talking about the past) - The preterit

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    Besides talking about your daily routine, you may want to tell what you did yesterday. In order to do this, you need to use el pretérito indefinido. (Most textbooks just call it the preterit, even though the preterit actually just means past and there are different kinds of past tense conjugations). Here are the conjugations of the pretérito indefinido of regular verbs.

    hablar comer escribir
    hablé hablamos comí comimos escribí escribimos
    hablaste (hablasteis) comiste (comisteis) escribiste (escribisteis)
    habló hablaron com comieron escrib escribieron

    What do you notice about these conjugations?

    The nosotr@s form for –ar and –ir verbs is the same in the preterit as in the present tense. You tell by context whether it is present or past. Note that for –er verbs the, it is ¨emos¨ for present and ¨imos¨ for preterit.

    Para hablantes de herencia (Note to heritage speakers)

    •¿Qué (comer) tú ayer?

    –How would you conjugate this verb in this sentence?

    –The form accepted as ¨correct¨ is ¨comiste.¨

    –However, many speakers would ask, ¨¿Qué comistes ayer? This is fine for informal speech, but in formal contexts, ¨comiste¨ may be the form that people expect to hear. You may want to practice this in class so that you can choose the formal register when called for. In writing in the educational or work setting, using the formal register is recommended, unless imitating speech for fiction or reporting what someone has said.

    •Why do you think that ¨comistes¨ is so common?

    •It is because every other ¨tú¨ conjugation ends in ¨s.¨ Our brains pick up that rule and put an ¨s¨ on the preterit ¨tú¨ conjugation as well.


    Información adicional

    You may be asking... What about stem changing verbs? –ar and –er verbs do not stem change in any of the conjugations. –ir verbs do. We will learn how soon.

    vocabulario: words that refer to the past

    Some useful words to talk about the past:

    ayer yesterday
    anoche last night
    esta mañana this morning
    anteayer the day before yesterday
    la semana pasada last week
    el fin de semana pasado last weekend
    Nota gramatical

    After ¨antes de¨ or ¨después de,¨ the verb isn´t conjugated if the subject is the same as the other subject in the sentence. However, if the verb is reflexive, you still have to make sure the reflexive pronoun matches the subject of the verb.


    presente pasado
    Normalmente me ducho inmediatamente después de hacer ejercicio.     Ayer, después de hacer ejercicio fui a casa para (in order to) ducharme.
    Antes de ir al campus, voy a un café para trabajar un rato. Antes de ir a mi oficina, fui al café en el campus para trabajar un rato.
    Después de estudiar y practicar, María toma las pruebas para ver su nivel de comprensión. Después de estudiar y practicar, María tomó pruebas para ver su nivel de comprensión.
    Siempre desayuno antes de cepillarme los dientes.  Esta mañana no desayuné antes de cepillarme los dientes.
    Manuel corre antes de ducharse, tomarse un café y mirar la televisión un ratito antes de comenzar a trabajar.  El lunes, Manuel corrió antes de ducharse, tomarse un café y mirar la televisión un ratito antes de comenzar a trabajar. 
    Thinking about the grammar

    Look at the two sentences at the bottom of the above chart. Did you notice anything unexpected? Did you notice that ¨tomarse¨ is used reflexively? How can that be? Manuel isn´t doing the action to himself. He is having a cup of coffee. However, he is doing it for himself. This is similar to if we say in English: ¨I´m going to have myself a cup of coffee.¨ In order to do this, we have to have a direct object. We couldn´t use ¨tomarse¨ without the direct object because it would not make sense. 

    Query \(\PageIndex{1}\)


    Actividad comunicativa: ¿Qué hiciste ayer?

    •¿Qué hiciste ayer (yesterday)?

    •Me levanté, desayuné y asistí a mis clases.

    •Ask several students what they did at several times in the past. You will need the verb ¨hacer,¨ which is irregular in the preterit. You may also need the verb ¨ir¨, which is irregular as well. Before you begin, look below for their conjugations.


    hice hicimos
    hiciste (hicisteis)
    hizo hicieron

    •Here is another common verb that is irregular in the preterit.


    fui fuimos
    fuiste (fuisteis)
    fue fueron


    7.5: Hablando del pasado (Talking about the past) - The preterit is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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