Una fuente sevillana

Contents of Lesson 9

Lesson 9 - The Past Tenses


Overview

A key difference between Spanish and English is that Spanish has two past tenses. They have somewhat different meanings and functions.

In general, the imperfect tense is used to describe situations or ongoing or repeated actions in the past. The other past tense, called the preterite, is used for brief actions, for events rather than situations. Link to more information on their uses.

First we will present the endings used to form the tenses, then discuss in more depth the uses.

Endings

The imperfect and preterit endings, like those in the present tense, are applied to the stem that remains after the infinitive ending is removed. To find the infinitive, then, one removes the ending, and applies -ar, -er, or -ir. The imperfect tense has very few irregular verbs, the preterite many. Don't think that later tenses have this many new endings to learn; they don't.

Index overbendings1.htmf Verb Endings. Since the number of endings is starting to multiply, with this lesson I'm providing an alphabetical index to verb endings. This is a tool I've created, since I've found it nowhere else. (All other verb tools go from the infinitive to the endings, rather than endings to the infinitive.)


Endings of the Imperfect Tense (used for description or repeated action):


Endings of the PreteriteTense (used for brief actions):

EXERCISE on past tense endings. Take each of these forms and identify (a) the infinitive, (b) whether they are in the present, imperfect, or preterite tense, (c) the meaning (not of the infinitive, but of this specific verb form). For the purpose of this exercise you may assume the third person subjects to be "he" and "they."

  1. tomaron
  2. sabían
  3. supieron
  4. fueron
  5. alcancé
  6. acababan
  7. iba
  8. alquiló
  9. sentó
  10. sintió
  11. sentamos
  12. sentimos
  13. sentíamos
  14. dio
  15. tuvimos
  16. éramos
  17. anduvimos
  18. veían
  19. murieron
  20. prometía

Click here for the answers to this exercise.


Usage of the Imperfect and Preterite Tenses


Lectura 4: España, un país judío

Los judíos actualmente están divididos en dos grupos: askenazíes (alemanes) y sefardíes (españoles). Sefarad fue el nombre hebreo de España.

Los judíos vivieron en España desde tiempos muy antiguos. Según una tradición, vinieron con los comerciantes fenicios,(1) en tiempos bíblicos. Consideraron España como un país históricamente judío.

Durante el período visigodo,(2) después de la desaparición del imperio romano, los judíos sufrieron discriminación y represión. Deseando libertad religiosa, los judíos invitaron a los árabes a conquistar el país. Colaboraron con ellos.

Bajo el dominio árabe de España, los judíos prosperaron. La cultura de los judíos llegó a alturas desconocidas desde tiempos bíblicos. Los judíos eran médicos, científicos, abogados, estadistas y filósofos. El médico y filósofo más famoso(3) fue Maimónides, pero hubo(4) muchos otros.

Fue en España donde la lengua hebrea fue usada por vez primera para poesía profana. En España comenzaron los estudios bíblicos. Sabios judíos(5) prepararon el primer diccionario de la Biblia. Fueron identificados los dos autores del libro Isaías.

Los judíos en otras partes del mundo reconocieron a Sefarad como el centro del judaísmo. El misterioso y riquísimo(6) reino de Granada fue al principio un reino judío.

La reina Isabel la Católica desterró a los judíos en 1492. Los judíos sufrieron mucho. Fueron a Holanda, a Italia y especialmente al imperio otomano. Varios emigraron, después, al Nuevo Mundo.

Conservan la identidad sefardí hasta hoy. En Israel hay actualmente periódicos en español, escritos con el alfabeto hebreo.

Muchos cristianos españoles eran judíos convertidos, o descendientes de ellos. Américo Castro descubrió el abolengo judaico de muchos españoles famosos: Cervantes, Loyola, Santa Teresa y varios otros. La gran cultura católica española tiene un origen judío. Comparte con el judaísmo, en parte, una actitud hacia el mundo.

Translation of this reading.


1. One of the near-insoluble problems of Spanish vocabulary is caused by the fact that Spanish uses capital letters much less than English does. As a result, nationalities, languages, adjectives derived from political parties or geographical names, and many other derivations of proper nouns will have nothing to alert you to what they are, but will not be found in the dictionary either. If an adjective (like español, Spanish, or tico, Costa Rican) or a noun (los conquenses, those from Cuenca,, los ibicencos, those from Ibiza) is not found in the dictionary, consider whether it could be proper noun or derivative of one.

In this case, fenicios is a proper noun. Can you guess its English meaning?

2. Visigodos = Visigoths, a Germanic tribe that ruled the Iberian peninsula after the fall of the Roman empire.

3. Más (more) or menos (less) plus adjective forms the comparative (the equivalent of English adjective suffix -er). The definite article plus this construction forms the superlative (equivalent of the English adjective suffix -est). "El ____ más famoso" = "The most famous."

Note that "más famoso" modifies both médico and filósofo.

4. "There were." Hubo is singular, but just like its present tense form hay, it is used for both singular and plural. Both are forms of haber.

5. "Sabios" is the noun, "judíos" an adjective modifying it.

6. "Very rich." The -ísimo ending is an intensifier. Note the change, from c to qu, in concluding consonant of the noun stem. This is a regular (predictable) spelling change, the same change as in the verb. This is the same change discussed above regarding the preterites of certain -ar verbs, or of



Answers to Exercises:

Conjugation of imperfect tense of rezar (to pray):

rezaba
rezabas
rezaba
rezábamos
rezababais
rezaban















Conjugation of imperfect tense of sentir (to feel, to be sorry):

sentía
sentías
sentía
sentíamos
sentíais
sentían













Conjugation of preterite tense of cazar (to hunt):

cacé
cazaste
cazó
cazamos
cazasteis
cazaron














Conjugation of preterite tense of caer (to fall):

caí
caíste
cayó
caímos
caísteis
cayeron














The third person singular preterite of hacer is hizo.














Answers to exercise on finding infinitives:

tomar preterite they took
saber imperfect they knew
saber preterite they learned or found out
ir or ser preterite they went or they were
alcanzar preterite I reached (a goal)
acabar imperfect they finished
ir imperfect I went or he went
alquilar preterite he rented
sentar preterite he seated
sentir preterite he felt
sentar present or preterite we seat or we seated
sentir present or preterite we feel or wefelt
sentir imperfect we felt
dar preterite he gave
tener preterite we had
ser imperfect we were
andar preterite we walked
ver imperfect they saw
morir preterite they died
prometer imperfect I promised or he promised

More comments on imperfect endings

Note that all imperfect endings have the stress on the first syllable of the ending.

Why do all the -er/-ir endings have an accent, but only some of the -ar endings?

The endings are two or three syllables. There are no one-syllable endings in the imperfect.
In the case of -er/-ir verbs, all the endings have an -i- as the first syllable, followed by an -a- for the second syllable. According to the rules of syllable definition, the "weak" i would combine with the "strong" a to form a single syllable. If so, there would be monosyllabic endings. To prevent this combination, the accent is added to the i, making it equally "strong" as the a and impeding their combination into a single syllable.
This concern does not exist with the -ar verbs, since the endings all start with -ab- (as in hablaba). But with them we have a different problem.
In the present tense, four of the fourms – the three singulars and the third person plural

More comments on regular and irregular preterites

A point often confusing students is that some first and third person singular preterite endings have a written accent on the ending (habló, viví), while others do not (dije, tuvo). All regular verbs have the written accents, but the irregular verbs do not.

This reflects the fact that the regular verbs have the stress on the ending, while the irregular verbs have it on the stem. Thus, hablé has an accent to show that the -blé is stressed, whereas dije has no accent because the stressed syllable is di-. This is true for all irregular verbs in the preterite. The stress is on the stem, on the syllable with the vowel change: pude, puse, cupe, anduve, and so on. The linguists' terms for the verbs with the stress on the ending (the regular verbs) is "weak," and those with the stress on the stem (the irregular verbs) are "strong."

While English stress rules are dramatically different from those of Spanish, we still see that regular past tenses in English add an ending: walked, studied. Irregular verbs change their stem vowel: run, ran; swim, swam; dig, dug; sit, sat, and so on.



This page Copyright © 1998 Daniel Eisenberg. Please report errors or omissions: daniel.eisenberg@bigfoot.com. ¡Mil gracias!