Spanish Sentences - the Spanish Preterite
John was buying the medicine that he needed at this drug store.
John used to buy the medicine that he needed at this drug store.
John always bought the medicine that he needed at this drug store.
John bought the medicine that he needed at this drug store yesterday.
It is clear that in the first two cases, "was buying" and "used to buy" suggest repeated actions in the past. He always bought or continued to buy the medicine in the same drug store over a period of time. This probably happened repeatedly over a period of months or perhaps years. In the last two cases, however, we have exactly the same past form in English, "bought" but we can see that the two sentences mean something different. When we say, "he always bought", we really mean "he used to buy" or "he was buying (repeatedly over a period of time)". In the last case, however, when we say "bought" we really mean something else. There is no repetition or continuation. He made one trip to the drug store and made one purchase. It is important for us to understand this concept, since in Spanish this means that we have to use a different form of the verb to indicate one time events at specific moments in the past.
There is one other aspect of this past tense form in Spanish that we have to take into account. The form does not follow the pattern that we have seen with other verb patterns. The other verb forms have always had three parts, the "stem", the "classification", and the "inflection" (the part which has to match the subject-telling us who does it). We have seen how most of the verb is predictable. We put the "classification" (fact/feeling and present/past) indicator in the middle of the verb, and we can visualize the pattern in a square box pattern.
"A" Verbs fact feeling
present a e
past aba ara
"E" Verbs fact feeling
present e a
past ía iera
The "preterite" past, simple one time events, are expressed by a verb form which only has two parts. The reasons for this aren't completely clear, but we do have some idea of what happened to make this so. Remember that during the middle ages, very few people knew how to read or write. Language was something that was only heard, not read. When we hear words, they evaporate in the air as they are spoken. Spoken words aren't permanent like written words on paper. The written word tends to stabilize language and slow down change. The only form of written language which most people had access to during this time was the Bible, since they heard readings from the Bible each Sunday when they went to mass. Even so there could be a failure to hear words pronounced correctly, or the priest himself might make some mistakes. When we speak we often combine syllables and make contractions, such as "does not" in English which we contract to "doesn't". Notice that the unstressed syllable vowel of "not" virtually disappears and becomes little more than a kind of grunt noise. We can't know exactly how the pronunciation shifts from Latin came about, but scholars have some rough idea by looking at old texts. In any case what we have today is the following.
Preterite of "A" Verbs é
Preterite of "E" Verbs í
We merely place the appropriate "preterite" (one time past event) ending after the "stem", giving us a verb form which has only two parts. Notice that for the "nosotros" form with "a" verbs and also "i" verbs, the preterite (one time past event) will be exactly the same as the present fact form. We have to be careful with these forms to avoid confusion.
to take (consume)
to take (carry)
Yo trabajé en la oficina ayer.
¿ Trabajaste en la oficina ayer?
María trabajó en la oficina ayer.
Nosotros trabajamos en la oficina ayer.
Los empleados trabajaron en la oficina ayer.
Yo vendí el carro ayer.
¿ Vendiste el carro ayer?
Juan vendió el carro ayer.
Nosotros vendimos el carro ayer.
Ellos vendieron el carro ayer.
Yo compré los boletos ayer.
¿ Compraste los boletos ayer?
María compró los boletos ayer.
Nosotros compramos los boletos ayer.
Los muchachos compraron los boletos ayer.
Yo tomé la medicina.
¿ Tomaste la medicina?
Juan tomó la medicina.
Nosotros tomamos la medicina.
Las muchachas tomaron la medicina.
Yo llevé las maletas al cuarto.
¿ Llevaste las maletas al cuarto?
Juan llevó las maletas al cuarto.
Nosotros llevamos las maletas al cuarto.
Los muchachos llevaron las maletas al cuarto.
Yo comí con María anoche.
¿ Comiste con María anoche?
Juan comió con María anoche.
Nosotros comimos con María anoche.
Las muchachas comieron con María anoche.
Yo vi la película.
¿ Viste la película?
Juan vio la película.
Nosotros vimos la película.
Los muchachos vieron la película.
Yo escribí la carta esta mañana.
¿ Escribiste la carta esta mañana?
María escribió la carta esta mañana.
Nosotros escribimos la carta esta mañana.
Las muchachas escribieron la carta esta mañana.
Popular Phrase: juan conoce | Spanish Idiom of the Day | Conjugated Verb: averiguar - to find out, discover [ click for full conjugation ]