Spanish is widely regarded as one of the easiest languages for native English speakers, so the Spanish past tense is certainly a grammar lesson you can master. Let’s review the rules so you can master past tenses in Spanish quickly.

Learn the rules for past tense in Spanish

It is easier to learn Spanish grammar as the rules are similar to those of English. Five Spanish past tenses are used in various contexts. These tenses include preterite, imperfect, past progressive, present perfect, and past perfect.

  1. The preterite expresses actions that happened at a certain point in the past.
  2. The past imperfect expresses activities that were ongoing in the past.
  3. The past progressive expresses a progressive action that ended.
  4. The present perfect expresses something that is still happening.
  5. The past perfect expresses an action that occurred before another action.

Five Past Tenses in Spanish

Preterite and imperfect past tenses are the most commonly used, while the other three are less common but still useful.  Now, let us take a closer look at them!


The preterite past tense refers to previously completed actions or tasks. It refers to a one-time event rather than a recurring one. The conjugation for preterite is simple; simply take the stem and add the appropriate ending.

For example:

  • Compré zapatos rojos. (I bought red shoes.)
  • Comiste frijoles rojos y arroz. (You ate red beans and rice.)
  • Asistió al juego de pelota. (He/she attended the ball game.)

Past Imperfect

The imperfect past tense can refer to an action that did not have a specific ending, something that was true in the past but is no longer true, or habits and repeated events. Because it refers to repeated habits or events, it is frequently translated as “used to.”  This conjugation is also fairly simple; simply add the appropriate endings based on the type of verb.

For example:

  •  Amábamos a mi gato. (We loved my cat.)
  •  Comían plátanos. (They ate plantains.)
  • Abría a las ocho. (It used to open at eight.)

Past Progressive

The past progressive tense is used to convey information about a progressive action that has already occurred. In other words, this tense refers to someone or something who was doing something but is no longer involved in that activity.

It is a compound tense, which means it requires the use of two verbs. The main verb is combined with an auxiliary verb, which is estar (be). The estar will be imperfect, and the main verb will be transformed into gerund form.

For example:

  • Estabas bailando con mi abuelo. (You were dancing with my grandpa.)
  • Estaba estudiando en España. (She was studying in Spain.)
  •  Estábamos trabajando en el restaurante. (We were working at the restaurant.)
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Present Perfect

The present perfect tense is also known as el pretérito perfecto (perfect preterite). The present perfect, like the past progressive, is a compound tense. The present perfect tense is frequently used to describe actions that are currently taking place, have occurred recently, or have occurred a certain number of times.

The present perfect tense is formed by taking the present haber conjugation and adding the main verb’s past participle.

For example:

  • He jugado fútbol. (I have played soccer.)
  •  Ha bebido cerveza. (He has drunk beer.)
  •  Han vivido sin sus padres. (They have lived without their parents.)

Past Perfect

The past perfect tense describes what someone did before an event occurred in the past.  For example, something happened before someone arrived at an event, or someone drank coffee before going for a walk. This conjugation requires the imperfect form of Haber as well as the main verb’s past participle.

For example:

  • Ya había bailado antes de la cena. (I had already danced before dinner.)
  • Ella había comido antes de subir al tren. (She had eaten before getting on the train.)
  • Ellos habían dormido antes de la fiesta. (They had slept before the party.)

Learning tenses such as past or present tense in Spanish is quite essential. Every Spanish learner must give deep attention to grammar classes if they want to become a fluent speaker.  Excessive practice is also necessary to build command of these grammar rules.  

How to practice past tense in Spanish?

While this guide has covered the various Spanish tenses in detail, it is critical that you practice them excessively. Here are some activities to help you learn Spanish past tenses:

  • Write a story that uses each past tense at least once.
  • Record past events in a language journal.
  •  Identify the various tenses in a Spanish news article.
  • Identify the various tenses used in Spanish films, music, etc.
Master grammar through Spanish content

Remember that native Spanish content is best for listening and reading practice, whether you’re working on past tenses or another grammar element. There are numerous resources online where you can watch and listen to Spanish-language content. Because of the availability of subtitles, streaming platforms such as Netflix are excellent learning tools.

Additionally, nothing can beat the effectiveness of hiring a conversational Spanish tutor. Such tutors provide you with practical and hands-on exercises. italki has gathered a comprehensive list of Spanish tutors with years of experience. Explore italki to get the best tutor with your desired schedule and budget.

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Frequently asked questions

When do I use the Preterite tense?

The Preterite is used to express completed actions in the past, especially those with specific beginning and ending points.

How is the Imperfect tense different from the Preterite?

The Imperfect is used for ongoing or habitual actions in the past, while the Preterite is for completed actions.

When do I use the Perfect tense in Spanish?

The Perfect tense describes actions completed at the time of speaking or within a specific time frame in the past.


Mastering the past tense in Spanish is crucial for effective communication and fluency. Understanding when and how to use each of these five tenses allows for more accurate and contextually appropriate communication.

To understand the intricacies of irregular verbs, we recommend you hire a private Spanish tutor through italki. It is an incredible learning platform that will teach your Spanish grammar lessons right from scratch. 

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