Irregular Preterite Verbs: Past Tense Spanish Made Simple

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Past tense Spanish is something that tends to confuse many Spanish students, especially when dealing with irregular preterite verbs.

Let’s back up a bit about the most important Spanish past tenses.

In the indicative mood, there are two ways to speak about the past tense: the preterite (aka simple past) tense and the imperfect tense.

The Spanish preterite tense is used to describe actions completed at a specific point in the past; whereas the imperfect is used to describe habitual or continuous actions in the past with no specific beginning or end.

For more on preterite vs imperfect tense, read here.

How To Conjugate Irregular Preterite Verbs In Spanish

All verbs listed in the post can be considered irregular.

However, you’ll see that some verbs only require subtle changes, others undergo drastic spelling changes and some, quite frankly, do not abide by any rules whatsoever.

In this post, we are going to categorize irregular verbs into the following:

  • Verbs that require significant changes: Ser, Ir, Dar, Hacer, Ver
  • Verbs that require a stem change, but use regular endings
  • Verbs ending in -ir that require a stem change
  • Verbs ending in -ucir
  • Verbs that are irregular in the “yo” form

1) Verbs that require significant changes

These verbs belong in the wild west of conjugations.

In other words, they are completely irregular as they do not follow any pattern whatsoever.

  • Ser (to be)
  • Ir (to go)
  • Dar (to give)
  • Hacer (to do)
  • Ver (to see).

These five verbs are probably the most commonly used irregular verbs in the preterite, and so it’s important to memorize the conjugations by heart.

Let’s dive in.

Subject Verb: Ser (to be) English Equivalent
Yo fui I was
fuiste You were
Él/Ella/Usted fue He/She was
Nosotros/Nosotras fuimos We were
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes fueron They were
Subject Verb: Ir (to go) English Equivalent
Yo fui I went
fuiste You went
Él/Ella/Usted fue He/She went
Nosotros/Nosotras fuimos We went
Ellos/ellas/Ustedes fueron They went

Sidenote:

Hopefully, you noticed that Ser and Ir verbs have identical conjugations in the preterite.

While this may seem confusing, a reasonably easy and effective trick to tell both verbs apart is to remember that the verb Ir is used when something moves somewhere else, and so it will most likely include prepositions such as the “a”, or alternatively “para”. The only time it doesn’t need a preposition is when a location is already mentioned – usually naming a physical place.

Let’s compare the two below.

  • I went to see my neighbor –  Fui a ver a mi vecino
  • I was his neighbor for many years – Fui su vecino por muchos años

All clear?

Good. Let’s move on.

Subject Verb: Dar (to give) English Equivalent
Yo I gave
diste You give
Él/Ella/Usted dió He/She gave
Nosotros/Nosotras dimos We gave
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes dieron They gave
Subject Verb: Hacer (to do or to make) English Equivalent
Yo hice I did
hiciste You did
Él/Ella/Usted hizo He/She did
Nosotros/Nosotras hicimos We did
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes hicieron They did
Subject Verb: Ver (to see) English Equivalent
Yo I saw
viste You saw
Él/Ella/Usted vió He/She saw
Nosotros/Nosotras vimos We saw
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes vieron They saw

Moving on, we can look at steam changing verbs in the preterite.

The good news is the following verbs follow certain patterns, making them easier to memorize.

 2) Irregular Preterite Verbs That Have Stem Changes, But Regular Endings

This group of verbs undergo a stem change when conjugated in the preterite, but use the same endings that are shown in the table below.

Subject Verb Endings
Yo -e
-iste
Él/Ella/Usted -o
Nosotros/Nosotras -imos
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes -ieron

Once you learn these endings, simply add them to the new stem for the verb you wish to use..

Verbs Preterite Stem English Equivalent
Andar Anduv- To walk
Caber Cup- To fit
Estar Estuv- To be
Haber Hub- To have
Poder Pud- Be able to
Poner Pus- To put
Querer Quis- To want
Saber Sup- To know
Tener Tuv- To have
Venir Vin- To come

And that’s it.

Relatively straightforward, no?

3) Irregular Preterite Verbs Ending In -IR

IR verbs that change stems in the simple present tense also require a change in the preterite.

However, once the stem changes, you can use the same preterite endings for all regular IR verbs.

Before we elaborate on this, let’s review the endings for IR verbs in the preterite tense.

Personal pronoun -IR verb Ending
Yo
-iste
Él/Ella/Usted -ió
Nosotros -imos
Ustedes/Ellos/Ellas -ieron

The above is quite straightforward.

Verbs ending in -IR that changes stem in the simple present tense, will also change in the preterite, but only for the personal pronouns: él,ella,usted,ustedes,ellos,ellas.

The required stem change can be summarized into two groups, according to its changes:

Changes in Preterite tense
From (e) – to (i)
From (o) – to (u)

Let’s see some examples of these changes applied in the preterite tense.

Personal pronoun Repetir (To repeat) Morir (To die)
e – i o – u
Yo Repetí Morí
Repetiste Moriste
Él/Ella/Usted Repitió Murió
Nosotros Repetimos Morimos
Ustedes/Ellos/Ellas Repitieron Murieron

Other verbs that require a similar change.

  • To have fun – Divertirse
  • To sleep – Dormir
  • To lie – Mentir
  • To ask for – Pedir
  • To prefer – Preferir
  • To feel – Sentir
  • To suggest – Sugerir
  • To wear/to get dressed – Vestir/se

4) Irregular Preterite Verbs Ending In -UCIR

All Spanish verbs ending in -ucir, such as: conducir (to drive), producir (to produce), traducir (to translate), etc, plus the verbs traer (to bring) and decir (to say), have the following endings in the preterite:

Subject Verb Ending
Yo -je
-jiste
Él/Ella/Usted -jo
Nosotros/Nosotras -jimos
Ellos/ellas/Ustedes -jeron

Let’s see the proper conjugation for the previously mentioned verbs :

Subject Verb: Traer (to bring) English Equivalent
Yo traje I brought
trajiste You brought
Él/Ella/Usted trajo He/She brought
Nosotros/Nosotras trajimos We brought
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes trajeron They brought
Subject Verb: Decir (to say) English Equivalent
Yo dije I said
dijiste You said
Él/Ella/Usted dijo He/She said
Nosotros/Nosotras dijimos We said
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes dijeron They said

Sidenote

The verb Decir keeps the same vowel change (e to i) from the simple present tense (decir to digo) in all the pronouns for all tenses (except the imperfect tense).

Subject Verb: Conducir (to drive) English Equivalent
Yo conduje I drove
condujiste You drove
Él/Ella/Usted condujo He/She drove
Nosotros/Nosotras condujimos We drove
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes condujeron They drove
Subject Verb: Producir (to produce) English Equivalent
Yo produje I produced
produjiste You produced
Él/Ella/Usted produjo He/She produced
Nosotros/Nosotras produjimos We produced
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes produjeron They produced
Subject Verb: Traducir (to translate) English Equivalent
Yo traduje I translated
tradujiste You translated
Él/Ella/Usted tradujo He/She translated
Nosotros/Nosotras tradujimos We translated
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes tradujeron They translated

Sidenote

  • There is no accent in the Third Person Singular (él/ella/usted) -jo ending.

5) Verbs that are irregular in the “yo” form

And last, but certainly not least, this group of verbs falls into a category called “Orthographically Irregular Verbs”

So what exactly does this mean?

In this group of verbs, most of the conjugation can be treated as regular, but first person singular (yo) requires a small spelling change when conjugated in the preterite.

There are three categories of verbs where this happens:

  • Verbs ending in -car change c to qu
  • Verbs ending in -gar change g to gu
  • Verbs ending in -zar change z to c

a) Verbs ending in -car change c to qu

Let’s see some examples.

Subject Verb: Tocar (to touch) English Equivalent
Yo toqué I touched
tocaste You touched
Él/Ella/Usted tocó He/She touched
Nosotros/Nosotras tocamos We touched
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes tocaron They touched
Subject Verb: Secar (to dry) English Equivalent
Yo sequé I dried
secaste You dried
Él/Ella/Usted secó He/She dried
Nosotros/Nosotras secamos We dried
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes secaron They dried
Subject Verb: Buscar (to look for) English Equivalent
Yo busqué I looked for
buscaste You looked for
Él/Ella/Usted buscó He/She looked for
Nosotros/Nosotras buscamos We looked for
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes buscaron They looked for

B) Verbs ending in -gar change g to gu

Subject Verb: Regar (to water) English Equivalent
Yo regué I watered
regaste You watered
Él/Ella/Usted regó He/She watered
Nosotros/Nosotras regamos We watered
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes regaron They watered
Subject Verb: Pagar (to pay) English Equivalent
Yo pagué I paid
pagaste You paid
Él/Ella/Usted pagó He/She paid
Nosotros/Nosotras pagamos We paid
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes pagaron They paid
Subject Verb: Llegar (to arrive) English Equivalent
Yo llegué I arrived
llegaste You arrived
Él/Ella/Usted llegó He/She arrived
Nosotros/Nosotras llegamos We arrived
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes llegaron They arrived

C) Verbs ending in -zar change z to c

Subject Verb: Cazar (to hunt) English Equivalent
Yo cacé I hunted
cazaste You hunted
Él/Ella/Usted cazó He/She hunted
Nosotros/Nosotras cazamos We hunted
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes cazaron They hunted
Subject Verb: Empezar (to start) English Equivalent
Yo empecé I started
empezaste You started
Él/Ella/Usted empezó He/She started
Nosotros/Nosotras empezamos We started
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes empezaron They started
Subject Verb: Rezar (to pray) English Equivalent
Yo recé I prayed
rezaste You prayed
Él/Ella/Usted rezó He/she prayed
Nosotros/Nosotras rezamos We prayed
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes rezaron They prayed
cta photo

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Irregular Preterite Verbs: Practice

Conjugate the verb into the correct Preterite form

  1. El año pasado mi hermana y yo (ir) ____ a Chile
  2. La semana pasada mi esposa (cocinar) ____ una pasta deliciosa con albóndigas
  3. Mi hermano (ser) ____ un buen estudiante. Siempre sacaba buenas notas en las pruebas de Matemáticas
  4. Mis padres (tener) ____ abandonar sus estudios, porque eran muy costosos
  5. Mi familia no (traer) ____ nada de comida o pasapalos a la fiesta pasada de cumpleaños.
  6. La película (comenzar) hace media hora. (Llegar) (Tú) ____ muy tarde
  7. Al fin (encontrar) (yo) ____ mis llaves. Las había dejado dentro de la gaveta de la cocina
  8. Ella me (pedir) ____ un carro nuevo la navidad pasada. Desafortunadamente no (poder) (yo) ____ comprarlo porque no tenía dinero suficiente
  9. Karla no (traducir) el documento completo, es por eso que ahora tiene mucho más trabajo por hacer.
  10. Hace dos años mi familia y yo (viajar) a Estados Unidos de vacaciones. (Ser) ___ un viaje genial.

Answers

  1. El año pasado mi hermana y yo fuimos a Chile
  2. La semana pasada mi esposa cocinó una pasta deliciosa con albóndigas
  3. Mi hermano fue un buen estudiante. Siempre sacaba buenas notas en las pruebas de Matemáticas
  4. Mis padres tuvieron que abandonar sus estudios, porque eran muy costosos
  5. Mi familia no trajo nada de comida o pasapalos a la fiesta pasada de cumpleaños
  6. La película comenzó hace media hora. Llegaste muy tarde
  7. Al fin encontré mis llaves. Las había dejado dentro de la gaveta de la cocina.
  8. Ella me pidió un carro nuevo la navidad pasada. Desafortunadamente no pude comprarlo porque no tenía dinero suficiente.
  9. Karla no tradujo el documento completo, es por eso que ahora tiene mucho más trabajo por hacer.
  10. Hace dos años mi familia y yo viajamos a Estados Unidos de vacaciones. Fue un viaje genial.
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