Few days ago, a follower of my Facebook page asked me for help about his personal nightmare in Spanish. For him, the irregular verbs in the Pretérito Indefinido (Past Tense) were just something he couldn’t understand, so he wrote me few lines asking me for some tips. As this week, I also had a class with one of my students, working on the same topic, I decided I was going to spend some time answering all your prayers about the irregularities of the verbs in the Pretérito Indefinido in Spanish.
❉ ❉ ❉
The past tense – Pretérito Indefinido – is used to talk about the past in Spanish. We used to talk about actions accomplished in a particular moment in the past.
– El año pasado mis padres y yo nos mudamos a nuestra nueva casa. – Last year, my parents and I moved to our new house.
So, the action (mudarse = ‘to move’) was accomplished, finished in an specific time in the past (el año pasado = ‘last year’). We also use the pretérito indefinido to express an action that happens in the past, occurs in the middle of other action.
– Justo cuando estábamos pasándolo mejor, tuvo que irse. – Right when we were having more fun, he had to go.
As you can see, there are two actions: one extended in time (pasarlo bien = ‘have fun’) and one that happens in the middle of the previous one (tener que irse = ‘have to go’). In those cases, the action that happens in the middle of another action goes in pretérito indefinido.
To conjugate a regular verb in the “Indefinido”, you just need to drop the endings -ar, -er or -ir from the infinitive form and add the endings.
Unfortunately there are quite a few irregular verbs in this tense. Verbs with an irregular root:
Some other irregularities:
- Verbs ending by -ducir in the infinitive (like “producir”, “conducir”, “traducir”) C > J
The “c” in the root becomes “j”.
– Conducir: Conduje, condujiste, condujo, condujimos, condujisteis, condujeron.
- Verbs that have an “-i-” between vowels with the verbs that en in “-er” and “-ir” in the infinitive, change the “i” for a “y” in the 3rd person of the singular (he/she) and of the plural (they). I > Y
– Leer: Le-
ió > Leyó / Le- ieron > Leyeron – Contruir: Construyó / Construyeron – Oir: Oyó / Oyeron
- Verbs ending by -zar in the infinitive (empezar, comenzar, cazar…) Z > C
The “z” becomes “c” only in the 1st person singular (yo).
– Empezar: Empecé, empezaste, empezó, empezamos, empezasteis, empezaron.
- Verbs ending by -car in the infinitive (sacar, aparcar…) C > QU
The “c” in the rot becomes “qu” for the 1st person singular (yo).
– Sacar: Saqué, sacaste, sacó, sacamos, sacasteis, sacaron.
- Verbs ending by -gar (llegar, jugar…) G > GU
The “g” in the root becomes “gu” in the 1st singular (yo).
– Llegar: Llegué, llegaste, llegó, llegamos, llegasteis, llegaron.
- Verbs whose root end by “-ll” and “-ñ” (bullir, tañer…) won’t have the “i” in the 3rd person of singular and plural.
– Bullir: Bulló (not
bullió) / Bulleron
- Some verbs ending by “-er” and “-ir” in the infinitive change their vowel (E > I // O > U) in the 3rd person singular and plural. They are the same that change their vowel in the present of indicative (irregular verbs in the Present).
– Pedir: Pedí, pediste, pidió, pedimos, pedisteis, pidieron. – Dormir: Dormí, dormiste, durmió, dormimos, dormisteis, durmieron.
Otros verbos irregulares:
Andar > anduv- Caber > cup-
Haber > hub- Poder > pud-
Poner > pus- Saber > sup-
Decir > dij- Querer > quis-
Traer > traj- Venir > vin-
Much of the above type and style of clarifications, grammar, and other tricky elements are now covered in Compass Spanish (a new course comprised of daily mini-lessons delivered straight to your inbox). If you struggle to find the time or have a busy schedule, try out a free week (no strings attached and no credit card required!).