Unit 7: Pronouns (Part 2), introduction to the preterit, and comparisons

7.5 Preterit Tense of Regular Verbs and Some Stem-Changing Verbs

The imperfect and the preterit are the two simple (not compound) past tenses. Here are the forms of the regular preterit:

tomar beber abrir
yo tomé bebí abrí
tomaste bebiste abriste
él, ella, Ud. tomó bebió  abr
nosotros tomamos bebimos abrimos
vosotros tomasteis bebisteis abristeis
ellos, ellas, Uds. tomaron  bebieron abrieron

¡Ojo! Did you notice the two forms that are identical to the present tense? Hint: look at the nosotros forms.

Helpful Translation Hints

You need to recognize these forms, some of which are very similar, and be able to translate them accurately. Here are some possibly helpful hints to remembering:

  • The yo form still ends in a vowel: accented é or í.
  • The tú form ends in -te, which is identical to the object pronouns you have learned that correspond to .
  • The third person singular still ends in a vowel, always an accented ó (or ).
  • The nosotros form, in all tenses, ends in -mos.
  • You may wish to view the -is of the vosotros form as a plural marker, as tomasteis, for example, is the plural of tomaste (in Spain).
  • The third person plural always ends in an -nin all tenses. The preterit inserts an -r in the ending, between vowels.
  • The nosotros forms of -ar and -ir verbs in the preterit are the same as the present tense. Context will tell you which it is.

¡Ojo! In the third person singular of -ar verbs, the written accent is the only distinguishing feature from the first person singular of the present tense: tomó (he, she, you took) versus tomo (I take). Pay special attention, as this is only the first of several such cases. The subject pronouns may be present to help you readily distinguish the meaning, but more often than not they are omitted.

Note on Spelling Changes

Regular -er and -ir verbs that have an e,i or u before the infinitive ending routinely change the i of the third person endings (i.e., -ió and -ieron) to y, giving preterit forms such as leyó and leyeron (for leer) and construyó and construyeron (for construir [“to construct”]).

Preterit Meaning

When you see a preterit tense, it is helpful to know that it is used for actions that happened once and are viewed as completed; sequential actions (one completed before the next begins); a change in mental state; to describe the beginning or the end of an action. (The imperfect narrates the “middle” aspect of an action, that is, one that was ongoing.)

Se acostó a las once. She went to bed at eleven o’clock.
Me levanté, me bañé y salí. I got up, bathed and left.
Por fin decidimos salir. We finally decided to go out.
Comenzó a llover. It began to rain.
Dejé de ir a su casa. I stopped going to his house.



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