Irregular Preterite Verbs in Spanish – A Complete Guide

The preterite tense in Spanish is one of the more difficult past tenses to master, even with regular verbs. Today, we take you through the list of irregular verbs in the preterite tense.

In this post, we cover the following:

👍 A recap of the past tense in Spanish
👍 How to conjugate irregular preterite verbs in Spanish
👍 Spanish stem changing verbs in the preterite tense

image of blog author with book on 501 Spanish verbsOh, by the way, this is me! My name is James, I’m a Spanish tutor and the author of most of the language material on this site.

The book I’m holding, Barron’s 501 Spanish Verbs, is the book I used to learn over 500 regular, irregular and reflexive verbs in multiple tenses. I highly recommend it! You can get your copy below 🙂

One thing before we get started: If you’re serious about learning to speak Spanish then be sure to check out our list of Spanish Language Resources. We have tested and rated dozens of online Spanish courses and language apps. Tap this link to find out more.

How to Conjugate Irregular Preterite Verbs in Spanish

All verbs listed in this post are irregular in one way or another. If you don’t understand how to conjugate these irregular verbs then you’ll find an explanation below.

However, the level of irregularity varies. Some verbs require only slight changes, whilst others undergo drastic changes. There are also several verbs, many of which are the most commonly used, which do not abide by any set of rules.

We have split these groups of irregular verbs into the following categories:

⭐ Verbs that undergo drastic changes: Dar, Ir, Ser, Ver, Hacer
Verbs that require a stem change, but use regular endings
⭐ IR verbs which require a stem change
⭐ Verbs ending in -ucir
⭐ Verbs which are irregular solely in the ‘yo’ form

Verbs that undergo drastic changes

The first irregular preterite verbs in Spanish to learn are those which follow no set of rules or grammar pattern whatsoever. These verbs are the most commonly used verbs in the preterite tense in Spanish. They are as follows:

Ser
Ir
Dar
Hacer
Ver

SubjectVerb: Ser (to be)English Translation
YofuiI was
fuisteYou were
Él / Ella / UstedfueHe / She was
Nosotros / NosotrasfuimosWe were
Vosotros / VosotrasfuisteisYou were
Ellos / Ellas / UstedesfueronThey were

SubjectVerb: Ir (to go)English Translation
YofuiI went
fuisteYou went
Él / Ella / UstedfueHe / She went
Nosotros / NosotrasfuimosWe went
Vosotros / VosotrasfuisteisYou went
Ellos / Ellas / UstedesfueronThey went

⭐ NOTE: You’ll see that the verbs SER and IR are identical when conjugated in the preterite tense.

This may seem strange if you are yet to use these verbs in the past tense. A relatively straightforward way to remember which verb to use in the right context is to note that the verb Ir is used when something moves from one place to another.

When this is the case, it will usually require the use of prepositions such as the “a”, or “para”. However, if a location is already mentioned then the use of a preposition is not necessary.

We’ll take a look at the examples below.

🇪🇸 I went to see my friend –  Fui a ver a mi amigo

🇪🇸 I was his friend for many years – Fui su amigo por muchos años

By using these verbs a few times, or hearing them in conversation, you’ll soon get used to them.

Let’s continue with the other verbs which undergo drastic changes in the preterite tense.

SubjectVerb: Dar (to give)English Translation
YoI gave
disteYou gave
Él / Ella / UsteddioHe / She gave
Nosotros / NosotrasdimosWe gave
Vosotros / VosotrasdisteisYou gave
Ellos / Ellas / UstedesdieronThey gave

SubjectVerb: Hacer (to do / to make)English Translation
YohiceI did / made
hicisteYou did / made
Él / Ella / UstedhizoHe / She did / made
Nosotros / NosotrashicimosWe did / made
Vosotros / VosotrashicisteisYou did / made
Ellos / Ellas / UstedeshicieronThey did / made

SubjectVerb: Ver (to see)English Translation
YoI saw
visteYou saw
Él / Ella / UstedvioHe / She saw
Nosotros / NosotrasvimosWe saw
Vosotros / VosotrasvisteisYou saw
Ellos / Ellas / UstedesvieronThey saw

So, you now have a list of irregular preterite tense verbs in Spanish. In order to learn them, try writing them down and put them into context using everyday scenarios. We will now move on to look at stem changing verbs in the preterite tense.

Whilst these verbs are still irregular, you should notice that they follow fixed patterns. They should, therefore, be easier for you to remember.

Spanish verbs which require a stem change

The following verbs require a stem change (meaning that the middle of the conjugated form changes) but follow the same endings. This may sound complicated, but it actually makes these verbs easier to learn in the preterite tense.

SubjectVerb EndingsEnglish Translation
Yo- éI
- isteYou
Él / Ella / Usted- oHe / She / You
Nosotros / Nosotras- imosWe
Vosotros / Vosotras- isteisYou
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes- ieronThey / You

You’ll notice that these endings are almost identical to regular preterite tense endings. Take a look at the next table below. All you need to do is add the endings to the following relevant stems.

VerbsPreterite StemEnglish Translation
AndarAnduv-To walk
CaberCup-To fit
EstarEstuv-To be
HaberHub-To have (auxiliary verb)
PoderPud-To be able to
PonerPus-To put
QuererQuis-To want
SaberSup-To know
TenerTuv-To have
VenirVin-To come

What is the Past Tense in Spanish?

If you’re studying irregular preterite verbs in Spanish, it’s likely that you are already familiar with the past tense. Nevertheless, we’ll begin with a quick recap, given that it’s so easy to confuse the preterite and imperfect tenses.

In the indicative mood (making a statement or asking a question with use of a verb) there are two ways to speak about the past tense. These are the preterite (also known as the simple past) tense and the imperfect tense.

The Spanish preterite tense is used to describe actions which have been carried out or completed at a specific point in the past. For example:

🇪🇸Juan se fue al estadio.‘ – Juan went to the stadium.

The imperfect tense is used to describe habitual or continuous actions in the past with no specific beginning or end. For example:

🇪🇸Juan iba al estadio.’ Juan used to go / was going to the stadium.

It’s important to know the nuances between past tenses, particularly when writing essays in Spanish. Spanish speakers are a little more forgiving with mistakes when speaking.

Make sure you learn the irregular preterite form of both ser and estar when using the past tense.

Irregular Preterite Verbs Ending In -IR which require a stem change

If you have already learned how to use the simple present tense in Spanish then this will become easier for you. Stem changing IR verbs in the simple present tense also require a change in the preterite tense.

The good news is that once the stem changes, you use the same preterite endings for all regular IR verbs.

Before we elaborate on this point, we’ll review the endings for IR verbs in the preterite tense.

SubjectVerb EndingsEnglish Translation
Yo- íI
- isteYou
Él / Ella / Usted- ióHe / She / You
Nosotros / Nosotras- imosWe
Vosotros / Vosotras- isteisYou
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes- ieronThey / You

This should all seem relatively easy.

⭐ NOTE: Remember that Spanish IR verbs which change stem in the simple present tense will also change in the preterite. However, this is only applicable for the personal pronouns: él,ella,usted,ustedes,ellos,ellas.

Changes in Preterite Tense

From (e) – to (i)
From (o) to (u)

We can see some examples of these preterite tense endings below.

Personal PronounRepetir (to repeat)Morir (to die)
e - io - u
Yorepetímorí
repetistemoriste
Él / Ella / Ustedrepitiómurió
Nosotros / Nosotrasrepetimosmorimos
Vosotros / Vosotrasrepetisteismoristeis
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedesrepitieronmurieron

Other Spanish verbs which require this change

🇪🇸 To have fun – Divertirse

🇪🇸 To sleep – Dormir

🇪🇸 To lie – Mentir

🇪🇸 To ask for – Pedir

🇪🇸 To prefer – Preferir

🇪🇸 To feel – Sentir

🇪🇸 To suggest – Sugerir

🇪🇸 To wear/to get dressed – Vestir/se

Note: The stem change is the same even for reflexive verbs.

Irregular Preterite Verbs Ending In -UCIR

You’ll know by now that there are several common Spanish verbs which end in -ucir in the infinitive form.

The verbs below require the following endings in the preterite tense:

🇪🇸 To drive – Conducir

🇪🇸 To produce – Producir

🇪🇸 To translate – Traducir

🇪🇸 To bring – Traer

🇪🇸 To say – Decir  

Personal PronounVerb EndingConducir (to drive)
Yo- jeconduje
- jistecondujiste
Él / Ella / Usted- jocondujo
Nosotros / Nosotras- jimoscondujimos
Vosotros / Vosotras- jisteiscondujisteis
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes- jeroncondujeron

Irregular Preterite Verbs in the ‘Yo’ form

Finally, in order to master your use of the preterite tense in Spanish, you’ll need to learn the verbs which are irregular solely in the first person singular form.

Whilst this requires a change of spelling, the pronunciation remains the same.

There are three categories of verbs affected by this rule:

⭐ Verbs ending in -car change c to qu

⭐ Verbs ending in -gar change g to gu

⭐ Verbs ending in -zar change z to c

Learn Spanish Irregular Preterite Verbs

This post should have provided you with some clarity relating to irregular preterite tense verbs in Spanish. Unlike the imperfect and pluperfect tense, the preterite tense is a little tricky and will require additional practice.

Additionally, the video below should help you; it summarizes the content of this post.

Irregular Preterite Verbs in Spanish – Practice

Hace dos meses mi hermano y yo (ir) ____ a Argentina.

Anoche, mi esposa (cocinar) ____ una cena deliciosa con albóndigas.

Mi hermano (ser) ____ un buen estudiante. Siempre sacaba buenas notas en las pruebas de inglés.

Mi familia (tener) ____ abandonar sus estudios, porque eran muy caros.

Mi familia no (traer) ____ nada de comida a la fiesta.

La película (comenzar) hace una hora. (Llegar) (Tú) ____ muy tarde.

Al fin (encontrar) (yo) ____ mi celuar. Lo había dejado en la cocina.

Mi mujer me (pedir) ____ una casa nueva.

Alejandra no (traducir) el documento completo.

Hace un par de años mi hermano y yo (viajar) a España de vacaciones. (Ser) ___ un viaje genial.

Answers

Hace dos meses mi hermano y yo fuimos a Argentina.

Anoche, mi esposa cocinó una cena deliciosa con albóndigas.

Mi hermano fue un buen estudiante. Siempre sacaba buenas notas en las pruebas de inglés.

Mi familia tuvo que abandonar sus estudios, porque eran muy caros.

Mi familia no trajo nada de comida a la fiesta.

La película comenzó hace una hora. Llegaste muy tarde.

Al fin encontré mi celular. Lo había dejado en la cocina.

Mi mujer me pidió una casa nueva.

Alejandra no tradujo el documento completo.

Hace un par de años mi hermano y yo viajamos a España de vacaciones. Fue un viaje genial.

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