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The preterit (or preterite) tense is one of the two simple past tenses; the other simple past tense is the imperfect. The preterit states what happened and completed or did not happen and complete at some moment in the past. The preterit always views the action or state as completed, and never as an ongoing event.

The preterit tense has 6 distinct forms that agree with the subect in person and in number. The six forms consist of the verb stem plus one of 6 distinct suffixes.

Preterite suffixes
 Verb Class
NumberPersonSubject Pronouns-ar-er-ir
Secondtú (vos: see Note)-aste-iste-iste
Thirdél, ella, ello, usted-ió-ió
PluralFirstnosotros, nosotras-amos-imos-imos
Secondvosotros, vosotras-asteis-isteis-isteis
Thirdellos, ellas, ustedes-aron-ieron-ieron

Note: In general, vos verb forms are identical to verb forms in the preterit.

Here are examples of regular preterit verbs for each verb class.

Preterit example verbs
 Verb Class
NumberPersonSubject Pronounshabl-com-viv-stem
Secondtú (vos: see Note)hablastecomisteviviste
Thirdél, ella, ello, ustedhablócomióvivió
PluralFirstnosotros, nosotrashablamoscomimosvivimos
Secondvosotros, vosotrashablasteiscomisteisvivisteis
Thirdellos, ellas, ustedeshablaroncomieronvivieron

Irregular verbs

Many verbs are irregular in the preterit.

  • Some verbs have a preterit stem that is different from the infinitive stem. Many of these verbs also move the tonic accent and use different endings for first- and third-person singular. For example: saber: sabe (s/he knows), supo (s/he knew)
  • Some "irregular" verbs appear irregular in writing because the spelling of a sound changes when different endings are added in order to comply with spelling rules. For example, pagar: pago (I pay), pagué (I paid).

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