We’re still coming to terms with the Past Simple tense. It’s actually an easy one to know when to use, as it simply describes past, finished events. The regular endings are slightly odd compared to the Present and Continuous tenses that we have looked at already, although that’s just a case of getting used to them. Just to remind us, here are the two types – Regular –ar endings first:
Regular –er/-ir endings second:
í – imos
íste – isteis
ió – ieron
That covers an awful lot of verbs; in fact the majority, so we could say we have already learnt the Past Simple tense. However, (and you knew a ‘however’ was coming there), we have to get to grips with the irregular ones, many of which are very common and frequently used.
Before we get down to the real nitty gritty of irregular verbs though, there are just a few ‘nearly’ regular ones that have very small changes in the third person. These are all –ir verbs and mostly belong to the ‘e to I’ root-changing group that we learnt about in the Present tense. For example pedir meaning ‘to order’ or ‘to ask for’. It goes:
Pedí – Pedimos
Pediste – Pedisteis
Pidió – Pidieron
In other words, the root in the third person singular and plural change from ‘e’ to ‘I’. I can tell already that you’re riveted!
Another example is sentir ‘to feel’ that goes:
Sentí – Sentimos
Sentiste – Sentisteis
Sintió – Sintieron
Okay, I’ll leave it there! Let’s see if the next bit is more interesting, or at least more useful.
There is also a change to the roots of the following two –ir verbs, also in the third person only.
Firstly, dormir ‘to sleep’
Dormí – Dormimos
Dormiste – Dormisteis
Durmió – Durmieron
Now, that could be useful some time.
‘He slept’, or ‘she slept’ – durmió
‘They slept’ – durmieron
This is even more interesting when we realize that the reflexive form dormirse means ‘to fall asleep’, so se durmió means ‘he or she fell asleep’. You might find this handy when you are apologizing for your husband’s behaviour, for example!
The other verb that does exactly the same thing is morir – ‘to die’. In its straightforward, non-reflexive form, as you can imagine, this verb is generally only found in the third person.
Murió – ‘he died or she died’. Murieron – ‘they died’. Sadly these are words that crop up in news broadcasts on a daily basis. The reflexive form Morirse however is used more figuratively, in a similar way to English. Me morí de vergüenza. – ‘I died of embarrassment.’
Somehow I feel I haven’t made this information quite as exciting as I might, so I will compensate with some anecdotal evidence. I must have spent at least five years of my time in Spain quite unaware of these small changes, so every time my baby daughter fell asleep I would say “se dormió” instead of “se durmió” (well, not every time, but you know what I mean). Everybody understood me, nobody corrected me, and there was a sleeping baby bearing witness to the truth of my words. In other words, these minor details are not earth-shatteringly important in real, everyday situations.
Jane Cronin’s ‘Step by Step Spanish’ articles are available as Ebooks via her website where you can also obtain her ‘Step by Step Internet Spanish Course’.