Pretérito Indefinido

The pretérito indefinido is one of the two main Spanish past tenses, used to indicate a specific action in the past.

It must not be confused with the preterito imperfecto (often known simply as imperfecto), which describes habitual actions or characteristics in the past. For more on the difference between the two tenses, see this article.

For example:

Ella fue al teatro anoche.
She went to the theatre last night

Nosotros cenamos a las nueve.
We had dinner at nine pm.

How to conjugate the Spanish Preterite Tense

There are only two sets of endings in the Pretérito Indefinido, with IR and ER verbs sharing the same endings.

FormAR VerbsIR / ER Verbs
Él / ella / usted-ió
Ellos / ellas / ustedes-aron-ieron

This means that in AR and IR verbs, the nosotros form is the same in both presente and preterite tenses. Although the vosotros endings in AR and ER are similar to the present tense, it’s important to note that in the Preterite the vosotros form does not have any accents.

Test Yourself!

The Spanish Preterite tense is a tricky one, with lots of patterns and irregular conjugations to remember? How will you fare?

(For extra kudos from your profesor/a, here’s how to type Spanish accents correctly.)

Irregular Verbs in the Pretérito Indefinido Tense

The Preterite Tense has many irregular verbs, but the patterns of irregularity are different to verbs in the Present Tense, even where the same verb is involved.

Completely Irregular Verbs

The verbs ser, ir, dar, hacer, decir, traer and ver are completely unique, and have no pattern shared with any other verbs, other than their “children” (eg deshacer, atraer, bendecir etc).


Stem-changing verbs in the Pretérito Indefinido

Some verbs change their stems in the Preterite, but in different patterns to changes in the Present tense.

These verbs use slightly different endings, which don’t conform to the standard AR/ER/IR patterns.

Revised endings

  • -e
  • -iste
  • -o
  • -imos
  • -isteis
  • -ieron
VerbPreterite Stem

Irregular Patterns in the Pretérito Indefinido Tense

Verbs with common endings have similar patterns of irregularity. Common patterns include:

gar verbs

In the first person singular, the ending is gué, not gé.

car verbs

In the first person singular, the ending is qué, not cé.

zar verbs

In the first person singular, the ending is , not zé.

ir verbs (with stem changes in presente) 

IR verbs which change their stems in the present tense will change in the preteiite, but only in the third person singular and plural, when the o becomes a u. For instance

  • Durmió
  • Durmieron
  • Murió
  • Murieron

The remaining cases do not change.

-Aer, -eer, -oir, -oer, -uir verbs

In these verbs, third person singular and plural use -yó and -yeron, with an accent now required on the -í in all other cases, except for -uir verbs, where it is only required for the final -í.

Links to Other Verbs

It’s worth making an effort to memorise the third person plural of the pretérito indefinido, as this forms the stem for the subjuntivo imperfecto tense, which is introduced at upper intermediate levels.

Test Yourself!

Complex, highly irregular, with so many patterns to learn, it must be one of the toughest, but most important tenses in the language.


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