Simple Past in Spanish

The name of this tense in Spanish is: "pretérito perfecto simple"


As you probably know, Spanish has 3 types of verbs ("-ar", "-er" and "-ir" verbs) with different conjugation. But in the simple past there is no difference between the second and third conjugation (the endings are the same).

First Conjugation "-ar"

First, we will see the conjugation of the "ar" verbs:

saltar (to jump)

[stem] + "-ar"
yo saltéI jumped
saltasteyou jumped
él saltóhe jumped
nosotros saltamoswe jumped
vosotros saltasteisyou jumped
ellos saltaronthey jumped

Second Conjugation "-er"

Next, we study the conjugation of the "er" verbs:

beber (to drink)

[stem] + "-er"
yo bebíI drank
bebisteyou drank
él bebhe drank
nosotros bebimoswe drank
vosotros bebisteisyou drank
ellos bebieronthey drank

Third Conjugation "-ir"

And finally the "ir" verbs:

vivir (to live)

[stem] + "-ir"
yo vivíI lived
vivisteyou lived
él vivhe lived
nosotros vivimoswe lived
vosotros vivisteisyou lived
ellos vivieronthey lived

Summary of 'simple-past tense' endings

Remember: the second and the third conjugation have the same conjugation for the simple past.

[stem] + "-ar"
[stem] + "-er"
[stem] + "-ir"

Uses of the simple past

  • It is used for actions that did NOT take place regularly at a particular time in the past. It is widely used in stories and biographical works, where sequences of events in the past.

    Él escribió una carta, la metió en un sobre, y la envió por correo
    He wrote a letter, put it in an envelope and mailed it

    Más tarde salió de casa y se dirigió a la cafeteria de enfrente. Pidió un café y se comió un bizcocho
    Later, he left home and went to the cafeteria across the street. He ordered a coffee and ate a cake

Differences between the simple past and the imperfect

The imperfect consists of actions that were habitual, done every Saturday, every month, every two days were... over a period of time in the past.

On the other hand, the simple past is for specific actions that did NOT happen regularly in the past.

Examples of simple past:

Yo viví en Stuttgart durante dos años
I lived in Stuttgar for two years

Estando en Nueva York, me compré un coche
Being in New York, I bought a car

El viernes de la semana pasada comí con Loli
On Friday last week I ate with Loli

Examples of Imperfect:

Cuando vivía en Stuttgart, salía a caminar cada mañana
When I lived in Stuttgart, I went for a walk every morning

Estando en Nueva York, paseaba en mi coche todas las tardes
While in New York, I took a drive in my care every afternoon

Antes me iba cada viernes a comer con Luis
Before, I went out to eat with Luis every Friday

The question with the simple past

When we ask a question, generally, we switch the position of the verb to that of the personal pronoun.

tú bebiste
you drank
¿bebiste (tú)?
did you drink?
ella saltó
she jumped
¿saltó (ella)?
did she jump?

Negation of the simple past

To make the negative form, simply put the word "no" before the verb, or, in other words, to the left of the verb.

yo viajé
I traveled
yo no viajé
I didn't travel
él durmió
he slept
él no durmió
he didn't sleep

In Spanish, if we know the personal pronoun in advance, it´s omitted in most cases, because it is implicit in the verb tense used to speak.

You can see more information about omitting the personal pronoun in the following link: Personal pronouns (Pronombres personales)