There are a variety of ways to express past tense!
There are a variety of Spanish past endings on verbs and the ending changes the meaning of the verb. So, think about it like this. In English we say stuff like I went, I used to go, I have gone, I had gone. In English we combine several words to express the same ideas. In Spanish, you utilize the same root verb and attach a different ending for each tense.
Haber vs. Tener
In Spanish there is also a “have” translation that is different than the have “tener,” which is used to express possession.
Tener is used to express ownership of things like for example “I have food” “yo tengo comida.”
Yo tengo, I have
Tú tienes, You have
Usted tiene, You (polite) have
Él tiene, He has
Ella tiene, She has
Nosotros, nosotras tenemos, We have
Ustedes tienen, You all have
Ellos tienen, they (m) have
Ellas tienen, they (f) have
Haber tenido is to have had. More below…
Let’s look at the verb “to go.”
To go, Ir
The direct past tense of to go is “went.”
I went, yo fuí
In English “to go” is the infinitive. The past participle is “gone.” So, “gone” in Spanish is “ido.”
Yo he ido
I have gone
(Gone is considered a past participle.)
The verb “haber” is a helping verb. This translates to “have” in English, but this form of have is only used before past participles such as “gone.” To express possession, such as “I have money” you say “(yo) tengo dinero.” “Yo” in this sentence is in parentheses because Spanish verbs are conjugated precisely to each person, since there is an -o at the end of tengo, we already know I am referring to myself and what is in my possession.
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The root infinitive of “tengo” which means “I have” is “tener” which means “to have.”
Let’s look at haber with different verbs’ past participles:
To have eaten
To have asked
To have known
To have picked up
Here is the conjugation of haber:
Yo he, I have
Tú has, You have
Usted ha, You (polite) have
Él ha, He has
Ella ha, She has
Remember, this translation of have is not used to express possession. This translation is only used with the past participle.
Yo he comido.
I have eaten.
Tú has comido.
You have eaten.
Nosotros hemos recogido a los niños.
We have picked up the kids.
Nunca le han preguntado a ella.
They never asked her.
Remember, “To have” when expressing that you own something is expressed with “tener.”
Tengo dos hijos.
I have two kids.
We have three cars.
Tenemos tres carros.
Had + Past Participle
Now, what about I HAD eaten, you HAD asked, and so on…
Here is the conjugation of haber in the form of “had”:
Yo había I had
I had eaten
Yo había comido
They had asked her.
Ellos sí le habían preguntado a ella.
She had picked up the food.
Ella había recogido la comida.
Here are some more past participles so you can practice using conjugated forms of haber in a sentence.
Past Participle: Terminado
Yo había terminado el plan.
I had ended the plan.
Past Participle: Hablado
Ellos habían hablado con el doctor.
They had spoken with the doctor.
The simple way to put together the past participle is by looking at the ending to the verb. Verbs that end in -ir or-er become -ido, and verbs that end in -ar become -ado.
Sentir (to feel), sentido
So you can see that some forms of the past are expressed with “haber,” when you are translating something you have or had done.
There is a thorough list of past tense Spanish verbs in the previous post, but let’s break down the basic idea of how preterite or direct past tense works.
To go, Ir
“I go” is the present tense which is translated as “yo voy.”
“I went” is the direct past or preterite tense and this is translated as “yo fuí.”
Yo fuí, I went
Tú fuiste, You went
Usted fué, You (polite) went
Ella fué, She went
Él fué, He went
Nosotros/nosotras fuímos, We went
Ustedes fueron, You all went
Ellos fueron, They (m) went
Ellas fueron, They (f) went
Verbs that end in -er and -ir follow the following pattern in past tense:
Let’s use the infinitive “to eat.”
To eat, comer
The past tense of “I eat” is “I ate.” “I ate” is translated as “yo comí.”
Notice that since comer ends in -er the verb ending changes to -í as explained above.
Fingir, to pretend
Yo finjí, I pretended
Tú fingiste, You pretended
Él fingió, He pretended
Ella fingió, She pretended
Usted fingió, You (polite) pretended
Nosotros fingimos, We pretended
Nosotras fingimos, We pretended
Ustedes fingieron, You all pretended
Ellos fingieron, They pretended
Ellas fingieron, They pretended
Verbs that end in -ar follow this pattern:
Hablar (To speak)
Yo hablé, I spoke
Tú hablaste, You spoke
Usted habló, You (polite) spoke
Él habló, He spoke
Ella habló, She spoke
Nosotros hablamos, We spoke
Nosotras hablamos, We spoke
Ustedes hablaron, You all spoke
Ellos hablaron, they (m) spoke
Ellas hablaron, they (f) spoke
Cocinar (To Cook)
Yo cociné, I cooked
Tú cocinaste, You cooked
Usted cocinó, You (polite) cooked
Él cocinó, He cooked
Ella cocinó, She cooked
Nosotros/nosotras cocinamos, We cooked
Ustedes cocinaron, You all cooked
Ellos cocinaron, They (m) cooked
Ellas cocinaron, They (f) cooked
Another way to express the past is with the term “used to.” For example, I used to speak.
We know that “hablar” is to speak.
I used to speak is yo hablaba
This is how the verb is conjugated:
Yo hablaba, I used to speak
Tú hablabas, You used to speak
Usted hablaba, You (polite) used to speak
Él hablaba, He used to speak
Ella hablaba, She used to speak
Nosotros/nosotras hablabamos, We used to speak
Ustedes hablaban, You all used to speak
Ellos hablaban, They (m) used to speak
Ellas hablaban, They (f) used to speak.
This is the same pattern for all -ar verbs.
Cocinar (To cook) = cocinaba, cocinabas, cocinaba, cocinabamos, cocinaban
(Used to cook)
You used to cook beans.
Tú cocinabas frijoles.
We used to speak.
This is the pattern for -ir and -er verbs in the form of “used to.”
I used to eat.
Comer- to eat
Yo comía, I used to eat
Tú comías, You used to eat
Usted comía, You (polite) used to eat
Él comía, He used to eat
Ella comía, She used to eat
Nosotros comíamos, We used to eat
Nosotras comíamos, We used to eat
Ustedes comían, You all used to eat
Ellos comían, They (m) used to eat
Ellas comían, They (f) used to eat
This same pattern is followed on all Spanish verbs ending in -ir or-er
Querer (to want) – quería, querías, quería, queríamos, querían
They used to want that car.
Ellos querían ése carro.
Sentir (to feel) – sentía, sentías, sentía, sentíamos, sentían
We used to feel the pain.
Sentíamos el dolor.
I hope this article has helped you learn some Spanish past tense verb endings so that you feel more comfortable conjugating verbs.