Now that you have mastered conjugating verbs in the preterite tense, you must learn when the preterite tense is appropriate.
There are certain situations in the past that will be stated using the preterite tense. Usually preterite situations have something to do with completed actions that can be placed at a specific point in time. The acronym SAFE will help you remember the types of situations in the past that require you to use the preterite tense. In the English examples below, the verbs in bold would be conjugated in the preterite in Spanish because of the way they are used in the sentence.
Use the preterite tense of the verb when the sentence indicates:
- Specific instance or number of instances
Le llamó tres veces. El me llamó ayer.
I called him three times. He called me yesterday.
- Action that interrupts ongoing events
Ella llamó mientras yo trabajaba.
She called while I was working.
- Focus on beginning or ending of action
Llovió a las seis y media en punto.
It rained at exactly 6:30.
- Enclosed amount of time, or limited and completed time frame
Los árabes controlaron la mayoría de España por más de 700 años.
The Arabs controlled much of Spain for over 700 years.