When to use the preterite tense (el pretérito indefinido)

When to use the preterite tense in Spanish¬†is a dilemma for many Spanish students, since Spanish has several past tenses.¬† Overall,¬†we use the preterite tense¬†(PRET√ČRITO INDEFINIDO) ¬†when in English you say ‚Äúdid something‚ÄĚ to describe a completed action in the past. Look at the examples:

When to use the preterite tense in Spanish

The preterite tense examples

Compr√©¬†una casa el a√Īo pasado.¬†(I bought a house last night).

Nadaste en la piscina ayer. (You swam in the swimming pool yesterday).

Vivimos¬†en Per√ļ el a√Īo pasado.¬†(We lived in Per√ļ Last year).

Bebieron un poco anoche. (They drank a little last night).

When to use the Spanish preterite tense

1. It’s used to describe completed actions or events which occurred once or several times in the past. While if they happened regularly the imperfect tense is used. Compare:

Visit√©¬†a mi madre dos veces el a√Īo pasado.¬†(I visited my mother two times last year).

Visitaba a mi madre todas las semanas cuando vivía en Madrid. (I visited my mother every week when I was living in Madrid.)

2. The action may continue for a while, although the length of time is defined:

Pasé tres meses en Madrid. (I spent three months in Madrid).

 La película duró dos horas. (The film lasted two hours). 

3.¬†For questions and negatives, you don‚Äôt need ‚Äúdid‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúdidn‚Äôt‚ÄĚ:

¬ŅBailaste¬†con Carla?¬†(Did you dance with Carla?).

 No bailé con Carla. (I didn’t dance with Carla).

4. It is normally used with temporal expressions, such as:

Ayer (yesterday)Anoche (last night)El lunes (on Monday)
Hace dos a√Īos¬†(two years ago)El mes pasado¬†¬†(last month)En 1969¬†(in 1969)


How to form the preterite tense

Click on the link if you want to learn more about when to use the preterite tense in Spanish.

Now that you know how and when to use the Spanish pretérito indefinido, it would be good to review how to form it, since there are some irregulars widely used in the preterite.

Remember you can contact your tutor with any question you have about this topic or to ask for activities to practice.  Don’t you have a Spanish personal tutor yet?

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