Spanish Preterite Tense Uses

The preterite past tense in Spanish is used to describes actions with a definite beginning and end point. Actions that occurred for a specific amount of time and are now complete are described using the preterite. You can learn more about the preterite tense by visiting Spanish Verbs: Preterite Tense. Below we'll explore the uses of the preterite tense in Spanish.

1. Indicate a single event in the past.

The preterite is used to indicate single past events where there was a instant change in the action.

I bought a new house.
Compré una casa nueva.
Emilio and Juana got married.
Emilio y Juana se casaron.
Tyler was born.
Tyler nació.

2. The preterite is used to indicate an action that occurred at or for a specific amount of time.

These are actions that were completed at a specific moment in the past. These actions are easily identifiable because they are associated with a time frame in the statement or sentence.

I arrived yesterday at noon.
Llegué ayer al medio dia.
We lived in Argentina for two months.
Vivimos en Argentina por dos meses.
You read the letter ten times.
Leíste la carta diez veces.

3. Provide narration of individual events.

A story line that presents multiple actions often uses the preterite tense to describe past events.

I took a bath, dried myself, got dressed, and left for the festival.
Tomé una ducha, me sequé, me vestí, y salí para el festival.
You arrived, insulted all my friends, and then left like a bat out of hell.
llegaste, insultaste a mis amigos, y salió como alma que lleva el diablo.
He was born, he lived, and he died.
Él nació, vivió y murió.

4. Indicates the beginning or end of a past action.

The preterite form is used for Spanish verbs to provided a definite beginning or ending in the past.

It began to rain.
Empezó a llover.
The movie ended all of a sudden.
La película terminó de repente.
The party ended.
La fiesta se acabó.