How to use and conjugate the Spanish pretérito indefinido

chica escribe en pizarra pretérito indefinido

Are you confused about the use and conjugation of Spanish past tenses? Do you want to know how to translate the Spanish pretérito indefinido to English? Are you ready to learn how to use and conjugate the Spanish pretérito indefinido?

If you are looking for a clear explanation of pretérito indefinido and the role it plays in the universe of Spanish past tenses, you have come to the right place.

But first of all, let me tell you something:¬† don’t worry, you are not alone. I see the panic on my students‚Äô faces every time we introduce past tenses in class for the first time.

The idea of Spanish past tenses being a difficult and confusing matter is widely spread amongst Spanish learners. But I disagree. It is just a topic that needs to be explained in an easy and comprehensible way because unfortunately there is no one-to-one translation between Spanish and English past tenses.

As my students always hear me say, it is all about context.

Contents on this post

An overview of Spanish past tenses

Before studying each Spanish past tense individually and using them in combination, it is important to have a quick overview.

There are 3 + 1 Spanish past tenses. I say +1 because one can be avoided or changed to another past tense in most of the cases. So let’s keep it as a bonus for when we have mastered the 3 main past tenses.

Each past tense has¬†its own¬†name (useful¬†when learning grammar¬†and¬†looking for¬†exercises) but all of them start with the same word:¬†pret√©rito.¬†Pret√©rito¬†means ‚Äėpast‚Äô in Spanish grammar.

Therefore, the Spanish past tenses are: 


I know that at this point the only question you have on your mind is: ‚ÄėOk, but what is that in English?‚Äô Sorry, but I have some bad news for you: as I said before,¬†there is¬†no¬†direct translation to English past tenses. It will depend on¬†the¬†context.

But it’s not all bad news, instead of trying to find translations from one language to another, we can look at the usage of the past tenses and REALLY understand:

To choose the right past tense, you have to consider when the action took place (Was it today or yesterday? Was it this week or last week?) and also if you want to talk about main actions or descriptions.

As a very general rule, we use pretérito perfecto and pretérito indefinido for actions in the past while we use pretérito imperfecto for descriptions of people, places, objects, and situations in the past.

The best advice I can give to you to learn past tenses: do it step by step.

In this article, we will focus on the use and conjugation of the pretérito indefinido. 

Let’s start!

How to conjugate the Spanish pretérito indefinido

The Spanish Pretérito indefinido is one of the 3+1 Spanish past tenses. Its conjugation is one of the most complicated in Spanish, as there are a lot of irregular verbs in the conjugation of this past tense.

It is challenging, but I always encourage my students to think that any conjugation will be easier after this¬†ūüôā

Let’s have a closer look at the regular and irregular conjugation of the Spanish pretérito indefinido:

Regular conjugation ‚Äď Spanish pret√©rito indefinido

The Spanish pretérito indefinido is formed by taking the infinitive, removing the -ar, -er, -ir and adding a specific ending for each person:

Spanish pretérito indefinido regular conjugation
Spanish pretérito indefinido regular conjugation

For example:

Spanish pretérito indefinido example of regular conjugation
Spanish pretérito indefinido example of regular conjugation

Irregular conjugation ‚Äď Spanish pret√©rito indefinido

As I mentioned before, the Spanish pretérito indefinido has a lot of irregularities in its conjugation. The easiest way to learn them is to divide them into 3 groups:

  • Group 1: 100% Irregular verbs ‚Äď Spanish pret√©rito indefinido

These verbs are completely irregular, so they don’t follow any pattern. There are only three completely irregular verbs in the pretérito indefinido:

Spanish pretérito indefinido irregular verbs
Spanish pretérito indefinido irregular verbs

‚áí Group 2:¬†Irregular stem ‚Äď Spanish pret√©rito indefinido

There is a group of verbs that are conjugated with an irregular stem in the pretérito indefinido. To conjugate them, we need to change the stem from the infinitive for a different stem (according to each verb). All verbs in this group are conjugated with the same endings, doesn’t matter if their infinitive ends with -ar, -er or -ir.

The most frequent verbs in this group are:

Spanish pretérito indefinido irregular verbs
Spanish pretérito indefinido irregular verbs.

For example:

Yo estuve
T√ļ estuviste
√Čl / Ella estuvo
Nosotros/as estuvimos
Vosotros/as estuvisteis
Ellos / Ellas estuvieron
Yo hice
T√ļ hiciste
√Čl / Ella hizo
Nosotros/as hicimos
Vosotros/as hicisteis
Ellos / Ellas hicieron
Yo quise
T√ļ quisiste
√Čl / Ella quiso
Nosotros/as quisimos
Vosotros/as quisisteis
Ellos / Ellas quisieron

There is an extra irregularity in this group. When the irregular stem end with J, the ending for ¬ęellos ‚Äď ellas¬Ľ is ¬ę-eron¬Ľ instead of ¬ę-ieron¬Ľ. For example:

Decir ‚Äď Dij ‚Äď Ellos dijeron
Conducir ‚Äď Conduj ‚Äď Ellos condujeron
Traer ‚Äď Traj- Ellos trajeron

‚áí Group 3:¬†Third person irregular verbs ‚Äď Spanish pret√©rito indefinido

The third and last group is for those verbs which are irregular only in the third person (√©l, ella ‚Äď ellos, ellas) This change affects also the second person formal (usted, ustedes). These verbs present a stem vowel change. Check it in the picture:

Spanish pretérito indefinido irregular verbs
Spanish pretérito indefinido irregular verbs

For example:

Yo me vestí
T√ļ te vestiste
√Čl / Ella se visti√≥
Nosotros/as nos vestimos
Vosotros/as os vestisteis
Ellos / Ellas  se vistieron
Yo dormí
T√ļ dormiste
√Čl / Ella durmi√≥
Nosotros dormimos
Vosotros dormisteis
Ellos / Ellas  durmieron
Yo leí
T√ļ leiste
√Čl / Ella ley√≥
Nosotros leimos
Vosotros leísteis
Ellos / Ellas leyeron

How to use the Spanish pretérito indefinido

  • The¬†pret√©rito indefinido¬†is used in Spanish¬†to express actions that people did or happened during a specific and finished period. What is a finished period? Yesterday, last week, last month, in 2010‚Ķ

We use pretérito indefinido after signal words like:


Check these examples:

Ayer¬†trabaj√© desde las siete de la ma√Īana hasta las seis de la tarde.

La semana pasada mi Familia y yo visitamos muchos monumentos.

En 2011 Juan se mudó a Sevilla.

  • We also use¬†pret√©rito indefinido¬†to talk about¬†the number of times that something happened during a specific and finished period.¬†For example:

El a√Īo pasado
 fui al cine quince veces.

El mes pasado vi dos películas en el cine.

  • Finally, in opposition to the¬†pret√©rito imperfecto, we use the¬†pret√©rito¬†indefinido¬†to¬†talk about main actions while we use¬†imperfecto¬†to express¬† the context for those actions.¬† The¬†pret√©rito imperfecto¬†gives the details of what was happening when something else happened.¬† Then, we express the context by using the¬†pret√©rito imperfecto¬†while the main action is expressed using the¬†pret√©rito indefinido.¬†For example:

Ayer, cuando volvía a casa me encontré a mi amiga Ana.

El domingo por la tarde, cuando salía de casa sonó el teléfono. 

In this way, we can also say that the action expressed using pretérito indefinido interrupts another action, which is expressed using imperfecto.

If you want to know more about¬†pret√©rito imperfecto¬†I wrote a post about it¬†ūüôā

Download 23 easy sentences to practice Spanish pretérito indefinido

Now you have all the information about how to conjugate and use the Spanish pretérito indefinido. Before reading and learning about other past tenses like the pretérito perfecto and imperfecto I strongly recommend you to practise. It will help you to take in all this new information and really understand.

I have created 23 easy sentences for you to practise the use of the Spanish pretérito indefinido. Download the worksheet below!


Special bonus! The best Spanish song to practice the pretérito indefinido

Who wrote this post?

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We are CactusBCN Languages, a Spanish language school located in Barcelona.

The school was founded and is run by two enthusiastic teachers: Marta and Verónica. We were teaching Spanish around the world for a few years and when we come back to Spain, we decided to start our own school. 

It is a small local business. We work with small groups because we like to get to know all our students and design personalized lessons.

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