The time has come to learn the “past simple” tense in Spanish. I know we learnt another past tense only recently, but that was the “imperfect” or “continuous” tense, and it’s not the same thing at all. The Spanish language has more past tenses than the English language, and herein lies a problem for us, especially those of us who like to translate everything word for word.
The past continuous tense has a number of possible translations, and therefore we have to be clear about the concept it represents.
Today’s “past simple” tense is actually a little easier for us in this respect. It is used to describe finished events in the past. For example, things I did yesterday – I got up, I had breakfast, I went to work – these are all events that would be described in the past simple tense. This would be the same for things further back in the past – last year I went to Italy on my holidays, ten years ago I lived in Asturias, twenty-one years ago I was born, etc. (yes, that is a joke!) These are all events of varying durations, but the important thing is that they are over and done with.
That essentially sums up the use of the past simple tense. You will find that grammar books may give you a range of other uses, but they can probably be summed up by the ones I have explained above.
So, that’s the good news – it’s easy to know when to use the tense. The not so good news is how it is formed, which has its difficulties, particularly because there are quite a lot of irregular verbs in this tense. However, first things first, let’s look at the formation of regular past tense verbs, which after all do form the majority.
We will look first at “ar” verbs, and go back to one of our most straightforward ones “mirar” to look.
Here are the endings for “-ar” verbs. As usual we place them on the end of the root, in this case “mir”.
I will set out the verb in linear form to avoid problems in the way it comes out on the page and to allow room for the translations.
Miré – I looked
Miraste – you looked (familiar)
Miró – he, she looked. You looked (formal)
Miramos – we looked
Mirasteis – you looked (familiar plural)
Miraron – they looked.
There are a couple of things to point out straight away. Firstly, notice the accent on the first and third person endings, which are important when saying the word. If we remove the accent from “miró”, that will give us “miro”, meaning “I look” in the present tense.
Notice, on the other hand that “miramos” is the same as the present tense form – so it can mean “we look” or “we looked”. We would only distinguish the difference between these two words by being aware of the context in which they are used. If you think this is confusing, just think of the words “put” or “cut” in English which are exactly the same in past and present, or even more confusing, the word “read” which is spelt the same but pronounced differently in the present and past.
Well, we’ve made a start. There will be quite a few more articles on this subject, but at least you now have something to think about between now and next month! See you then.
Jane Cronin’s ‘Step by Step Spanish’ articles are available as e-books at www. janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s ‘Step by Step’ Internet Spanish Course’.