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The Simple Past (Preterite) of Irregular Spanish Verbs

The simple past (preterite) in Spanish is a verb form that refers to verbs in the past tense, simple aspect, indicative mood, and active voice. Unlike for regular verbs (including regular verbs with spelling changes) and stem-changing verbs, the conjugations for irregular verbs in the simple past (preterite) are irregular and unpredictable. The most common irregular Spanish verbs in the simple past (preterite) are:

  • dar: to give
  • decir: to say, to tell
  • estar: to be
  • hacer: to make, to do
  • ir: to go
  • poder: to be able to
  • poner: to put, to place
  • querer: to want, to love
  • saber: to know
  • ser: to be
  • tener: to have
  • traer: to bring
  • venir: to come
  • ver: to see, to watch

The following sections explain the formation of the simple past (preterite) of irregular Spanish verbs. Notice that many of the past tense endings of many irregular verbs resemble the ending for regular -er and -ir verbs without the accent marks.

Ser and Ir

The first set of irregular verbs in the simple past (preterite) are ser and ir. The verbs ser and ir are completely irregular in all persons and numbers. The conjugation of ser “to be (permanently)” is as follows:

  • first person singular – fui
  • second person singular – fuiste
  • third person singular – fue
  • first person plural – fuimos
  • second person plural – fuisteis
  • third person plural – fueron

The conjugation of ir “to go” is as follows:

  • first person singular – fui
  • second person singular – fuiste
  • third person singular – fue
  • first person plural – fuimos
  • second person plural – fuisteis
  • third person plural – fueron

Note that the simple past (preterite) forms of ser and ir are identical in form.

Estar and Tener

The second set of irregular verbs in the simple past (preterite) are estar and tener. Both estar and tener take identical past tense endings that contain the letter v. The conjugation of estar “to be (temporarily)” is as follows:

  • first person singular – estuve
  • second person singular – estuviste
  • third person singular – estuvo
  • first person plural – estuvimos
  • second person plural – estuvisteis
  • third person plural – estuvieron

The conjugation of tener “to have” is as follows:

  • first person singular – tuve
  • second person singular – tuviste
  • third person singular – tuvo
  • first person plural – tuvimos
  • second person plural – tuvisteis
  • third person plural – tuvieron

Dar and Ver

The third set of irregular verbs in the simple past (preterite) are dar and ver. Both dar and ver take identical past tense endings that resemble the endings for regular -er and -ir verbs without the accent marks. The conjugation of dar “to give” is as follows:

  • first person singular – di
  • second person singular – diste
  • third person singular – dio
  • first person plural – dimos
  • second person plural – disteis
  • third person plural – dieron

The conjugation of ver “to see, to watch” is as follows:

  • first person singular – vi
  • second person singular – viste
  • third person singular – vio
  • first person plural – vimos
  • second person plural – visteis
  • third person plural – vieron

Decir and Traer

The fourth set of irregular verbs in the simple past (preterite) are decir and traer. Both estar and tener take identical past tense endings that contain the letter j. The conjugation of decir “to say” is as follows:

  • first person singular – dije
  • second person singular – dijiste
  • third person singular – dijo
  • first person plural – dijimos
  • second person plural – dijisteis
  • third person plural – dijeron

The conjugation of traer “to bring” is as follows:

  • first person singular – traje
  • second person singular – trajiste
  • third person singular – trajo
  • first person plural – trajimos
  • second person plural – trajisteis
  • third person plural – trajeron

Note the stem change in decir but not in traer.

Hacer, Poder, Poner, Querer, Saber, and Venir

The fifth set of irregular verbs in the simple past (preterite) are hacer, poder, poner, querer, saber, and venir. All six of these verbs experience a vowel or consonant change from the infinitive to the simple past (preterite). The conjugation of hacer “to make, to do” is as follows:

  • first person singular – hice
  • second person singular – hiciste
  • third person singular – hizo
  • first person plural – hicimos
  • second person plural – hicisteis
  • third person plural – hicieron

The conjugation of poder “to be able to” is as follows:

  • first person singular – pude
  • second person singular – pudiste
  • third person singular – pudo
  • first person plural – pudimos
  • second person plural – pudisteis
  • third person plural – pudieron

The conjugation of poner “to put, to place” is as follows:

  • first person singular – puse
  • second person singular – pusiste
  • third person singular – puso
  • first person plural – pusimos
  • second person plural – pusisteis
  • third person plural – pusieron

The conjugation of querer “to want, to love” is as follows:

  • first person singular – quise
  • second person singular – quisiste
  • third person singular – quiso
  • first person plural – quisimos
  • second person plural – quisisteis
  • third person plural – quisieron

The conjugation of saber “to know” is as follows:

  • first person singular – supe
  • second person singular – supiste
  • third person singular – supo
  • first person plural – supimos
  • second person plural – supisteis
  • third person plural – supieron

The conjugation of venir “to come” is as follows:

  • first person singular – vine
  • second person singular – viniste
  • third person singular – vino
  • first person plural – vinimos
  • second person plural – vinisteis
  • third person plural – vinieron

Irregular verbs are verbs whose conjugations are irregular and unpredictable in all persons and numbers in the simple past (preterite). Spanish language learners must learn to form the simple past (preterite) forms of irregular Spanish verbs in order to fully use and understand verbs the Spanish language.

For the conjugations of regular and stem-changing verbs in the preterite, please refer to The Simple Past (Preterite) of Regular Spanish Verbs and The Simple Past (Preterite) of Stem-Changing Spanish Verbs.

Note: I have studied Spanish as a foreign language. Please feel free to correct any mistakes that I have made in my Spanish.

References

Ramboz, Ina. 2008. Spanish verbs & essentials of grammar (Verbs and Essentials of Grammar Series), 2nd edn. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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