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In school, I learned that the Spanish past tenses were called preterite and imperfect in English, and preterito and imperfecto in Spanish. However, in talking to native speakers I've run across other Spanish terms for these two tenses. What are the official RAE terms for the past tenses, and what other terms are in use?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you check RAE you'll find the answer here and in this othe link with more details. Depending on the different grammars published there are different names.

There are 2 simple tenses for past

  • Pretérito imperfecto /Copretérito [de indicativo/ subjuntivo]

(Pretérito imperfecto is the most used)

E.g. En indicativo, amaba, temía, vivía; en subjuntivo, amara o amase, temiera o temiese, viviera o viviese.

  • Pretérito indefinido / Pretérito perfecto simple. / Pretérito

(Pretérito indefinido and Pretérito perfecto simple are more common)

E.g. Tuve, temió, actuaron

And another 3 compound tenses

  • Pretérito perfecto / Pretérito perfecto compuesto / Antepresente [de indicativo/subjuntivo}

(Pretérito perfecto and Pretérito perfecto compuesto are more common)

E.g. En indicativo, ha amado, ha temido, ha vivido; en subjuntivo, haya amado, haya temido, haya vivido).

  • Pretérito pluscuamperfecto / Antecopretérito [de indicativo/subjuntivo]

(Pretérito pluscuamperfecto is more common)

E.g. En indicativo, había amado, había temido, había vivido; en subjuntivo, hubiera o hubiese amado, hubiera o hubiese temido, hubiera o hubiese vivido.

  • Pretérito anterior/ Antepretérito.

(Pretérito anterior is more common)

E.g. hubo amado, hubo temido, hubo. vivido**.

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Very helpful, I think that covers all the variations I've heard. Thanks! – jrdioko Dec 21 '11 at 23:22

Pretérito simply means past. RAE has an excellent explanation of all of them, but here's a very simplified summary.

There are 3 different forms:

  1. Pretérito Perfecto (preterite perfect)
  2. Pretérito Imperfecto (preterite imperfect)
  3. Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto (pluperfect)

In turn, preterite perfect subdivides in:

a. Preterite [perfect] simple - Ex: Bailé (Danced), Amé (Loved)
b. Preterite [perfect] compound - Ex: He bailado (I have danced ), He amado (I have loved).

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