I hope you enjoyed reading the little text I wrote for you last month. I imagine that you will have been more interested in the actual content of the text rather than all the fiddly points of grammar, which of course is as it should be.

However, if you have paid a little attention to the grammar as well, you may have noticed that I kept almost exclusively to the ‘recent past’ tense to talk about my experiences over the past year, for example:

Este año he trabajado mucho.
This year I have worked a lot.

Una de mis hijas ha viajado a Sudamérica.
One of my daughters has travelled to South America.

Mi madre ha venido España.
My mother has come to Spain.

Mi gata ha tenido un año muy normal.
My cat has had a very normal year.

Este año no he visitado Gales.
This year I haven’t visited Wales.

These are fine as general statements which do not go into detail, but in real conversation it would be normal to elaborate more in each event; in which case we would almost certainly have to start using other past tenses. For example, I might start by saying something like “I have been to the street market this week” as a kind of opening gambit, but if I needed to elaborate I would go on to say “I went to the San Pedro street market on Monday and I bought some oranges.” (I know – my conversations are riveting). I am switching from the ‘recent past’ tense (I have been to the market) to the ‘finished past’ tense (I went … I bought).

In most Spanish courses you will find that this ‘finished past’ tense (often called the ‘past simple’, ‘preterite’ or ‘past historic’ tense) is not taught until quite a long way into a course. The reason is because is it one of the more difficult tenses to teach and learn with quite a lot of verb ending changes and a good dose of irregular forms. Therefore it is usual to get people more confident using more straightforward and less complex tenses first.

However, I think it is a good idea to learn just a few words in the ‘finished past’ tense so that we can at least say a few basic things about our actions. It doesn’t mean that we are necessarily ready to bite off and chew the whole tense, but one or two basic words would be useful.

Let’s start with ‘I went’ and ‘I bought’.
They are:
“I went” – fui and “I bought” – compré.

If you are unsure how to pronounce these; for fui I would concentrate on the ‘i’ sound, making it fairly emphasized and close to the ‘ee’ sound in the English word ‘free’.

In the case of compré, notice there is an accent over the final ‘e’, making that the stronger sound. The ‘e’ in Spanish is pronounced like the English ‘e’ in ‘egg’.

Now we can say “He ido al mercadillo esta semana.” (I have been to the street market this week – ido is the past participle of ir, ‘to go’).

Then we can go on to say “Fui al mercadillo de San Pedro el lunes y compré naranjas,” (I went to San Pedro street market on Monday and I bought oranges).

Another useful ‘finished past’ word is ‘I saw’, which is vi. Now we’re really flying, here’s our extended bit of conversation.
“He ido al mercadillo esta semana. Fui al mercadillo de San Pedro el lunes y compré naranjas. Vi a mi amiga Mary y tomamos un café”.

“I have been to the street market this week. I went to San Pedro street market on Monday and bought some oranges. I saw my friend Mary and we had a cup of coffee”.

Finally, if you prefer to talk about ‘we’ rather than ‘I’, you can say “Hemos ido al mercadillo esta semana. Fuimos al mercadillo del San Pedro el lunes y comramos naranjas. Vimos a nuestra amiga Mary y tomamos un café.”

You will have noticed something else now, that the ‘we’ forms of ar verbs are the same in the present and the past! One less thing to learn!

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.