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Preterite

From Academic Kids

This article is about the grammatical term. To see the article relating to eschatology and the Book of Revelation, see Preterism.


The preterite (also praeterite, in American English also preterit) is the grammatical tense expressing actions which took place in the past. In English, the term preterite is often superseded by simple past or past simple, although it is still often heard in its adjectival form (for instance: "The preterite form of 'to come' is 'came'.").

  • "She went to the cinema."

In German, the Präteritum is used for past actions. In South Germany, Austria and Switzerland, it is mostly used solely in writing, for example in stories. In certain regions, a few specific verbs are used in the preterite, for instance the modal verbs and the verbs haben (to have) and sein.

  • Es war einmal ein kleines Mädchen, das Rotkäppchen hieß. (There was once a small girl who was called Little Red Riding Hood.)

In speech and informal writing, Perfekt is used (eg, Ich habe das und das gesagt. (I said this and that)).

However, in the colloquial language of North Germany, there is still a very important difference between the preterite and the perfect, and both tenses are consequently very common. The preterite is used for past actions when the focus is on the action, whilst the perfect is used for past actions when the focus is on the result of the action. This corresponds to the English usage of the preterite and the present perfect.

  • Preterite: "Heute früh kam mein Freund." (my friend came early in the morning, but perhaps he has already gone)
  • Perfect: "Heute früh ist mein Freund gekommen." (he is still here)

In Spanish, the preterite is a verb tense that indicates an action taken once in the past that was completed at some point in the past. This is as opposed to the imperfect, which refers to any repeated, continuous, or habitual past action. Thus, "I ran five miles yesterday" would use the first-person preterite form of ran, corrí, whereas "I ran five miles every morning" would use the first-person imperfect form, corría.

Conjugation:

  -ar verbs (hablar) -er verbs (comer) -ir verbs (insistir)
yo -é (hablé) -í (comí) -í (insistí)
-aste (hablaste) -iste (comiste) -iste (insististe)
él -ó (habló) -ó (comió) -ó (insistió)
nosotros -amos (hablamos) -emos (comemos) -imos (insistimos)
vosotros -asteis (hablasteis) -isteis (comisteis) -isteis (insististeis)
ellos -aron (hablaron) -ieron (comieron) -ieron (insistieron)

See also: pluperfect (past perfect), past tense, present tense, future tense, grammatical aspect, Wiktionary list of irregular verbs.

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