Spanish preterite tense: Kill the confusion, now! ~ Learn Spanish language fast | free memory tricks | Spanish vocabulary lessons.
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Monday, July 16, 2007

Spanish preterite tense: Kill the confusion, now!


The preterite tense is a well known confusion among most English-speaking learners of Spanish. They have this natural tendency to confuse the preterite with the imperfect and vice versa. Both tenses describe actions that took place in the past. The confusion stems from the fact that in English, in certain instances we sometimes use the same form of a verb to describe an action that took place in the past. But in Spanish, in the same instance, you cannot use any of the preterite or the imperfect, randomly. Only one would be correct.


For example, in English , we can use the past tense of the verb "to go" (i.e. "went") to describe two different actions that took place in the past.

1. I went to the shopping mall thrice.

2. When I was young, I went to the shopping mall.

(Note: In English, for second statement, you could also say, "When I was young, I used to go to the shopping mall.”)

Both sentences use the same verb "went" to describe the action that took place in the past. But in Spanish, you cannot use the same verb tense. In the first sentence, you must use the preterite of "ir" (fui), and the imperfect form (iba) in the latter.

Yo fui al centro comercial tres veces.

Cuando yo era joven, yo iba al centro comercial.

We will cover the imperfect verb tense in greater detail in a future lesson. But for now, think of it as a form used to describe "how things used to be" or to describe an action that was continuous or habitual in the past.

The preterite form is generally used to tell what happened:

a. During a fixed period of time. For example, “yesterday, I bought a hammer” (ayer, compré un martillo).

b. A specific number of times either stated or implied. For example, “he lost my screwdriver twice” (él perdió mi destornillador dos veces), “I went to the hardware store”(yo fui a la ferretería). Here, it is implied that you went to the hardware store once.

c. During an enclosed period of time. For example, “you hammered the nail for an hour” (tú martillaste el clavo por una hora).

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Anonymous said...

For some really good practice on preterite/imperfect, go here:

http://www.studyspanish.com/tutorial.htm

and view lessons 62-74.

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Xammoh said...

Wow... good blog.. ¡Tú sí que sabes español!

But, in the example, is most common to say:
"Cuando era joven, iba al centro comercial" (without the pronoun "yo", because is "morfológico", sorry I don't know to say in English)

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