Pretérito Indefinido (preterite)

(The past tense as Pretérito Indefinido in Spanish)

Table of contents – Pretérito Indefinido

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Using the Pretérito Indefinido
  2. Forming the Pretérito Indefinido
  3. Further explanations and exercises

How is the Pretérito Indefinido used?

The Pretérito Indefinido (preterite) is one of two simple past tenses in Spanish and expresses practically the same as the past simple in English. The Indefinido indicates completeness in the past and is used as follows:

  1. Primarily, it focuses on:
    • Situations and events that happened once—often at a specific point in time—and are considered complete by the speaker:
      • “A Nueva York nosotros volamos con Iberia.” (We flew to New York with Iberia.)
      • “Pedro tuvo un accidente.” (Pedro had an accident.)
    • Occurrences that happened more than once and are also seen as completed:
      • “Cuando era joven, visité a mi abuela cada semana.” (When I was young, I visited my grandmother every week.)
      • “El mes pasado, nosotros fuimos al cine cada fin de semana.” (Last month, we went to the cinema every weekend.)
  2. The Pretérito Indefinido is frequently employed with these keywords or temporal adverbials, which signal completion:
    • ayer (yesterday), anteayer (the day before yesterday), el año pasado (last year), la semana pasada (last week), el mes pasado (last month), el lunes (on Monday), etc.
      • Ayer Sonia se compró una chaqueta.” (Yesterday, Sonia bought a jacket.)
      • El año pasado fue muy duro en el trabajo.” (Last year was very hard at work.)

How is the Pretérito Indefinido formed?

The Pretérito Indefinido is called a ‘simple’ tense, as it is formed without the help of an additional auxiliary verb (in contrast to the English simple past, which needs an auxiliary for negations). Therefore, it consists of only one verb, either regular or irregular. Regular Spanish verbs end in one of the three suffixes listed in the table below; irregular verbs have particular forms, which you can learn from the Spanish verb lists in detail.

Example conjugation

The following table shows the conjugation rule in a nutshell, which applies to regular verbs. The conjugated examples are the verbs ‘tomar’ (to drink), ‘comer’ (to eat), and ‘salir’ (to leave):

Personal pronouns Verbs ending in ‘-ar’ (tomar) Verbs ending in ‘-er’ (comer) Verbs ending in ‘-ir’ (salir)
yo tomé comí salí
tomaste comiste saliste
él/ella/usted tomó comió salió
nosotros/nosotras tomamos comimos salimos
vosotros/vosotras tomasteis comisteis salisteis
ellos/ellas/ustedes tomaron comieron salieron

Explanations relating to the ‘Pretérito Indefinido’

The following explanations relate to the Spanish grammar topic ‘Pretérito Indefinido (preterite)’ and may help you too: