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When conjugating preterite, it seems odd that the -é/í ending is used for the yo form while the -ó/ió is used for the él form.

In the present tense, -o is used for the yo form while -e is (for er/ir verbs) used in the él form.

It seems as though these endings are switched in the preterite tense. Is there any good reason why this is (historically, or something else) or a deeper explanation, or is this just a quirk of the language.

2 Answers 2

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TL;DR: Because Latin.

Spanish endings are derived from Latin endings. In Latin, in most all tenses, the endings were the following:

-o/m  -mus
-s    -tis
-t    -nt

These would have preserved the vowel that came first with an infix for tense. Hence for amare you got:

    pres.                          imp.
    -----                         -----
          o mus   amo  amus              m mus   amabam amabamus
AMA + Ø + s tis = amas atis   AMA + BA + s tis = amabas amabatis
          t nt    amat aman              t nt    amabat amabant

The word-final -m and -t were lost, the -atis became -ades for a while before eventually becoming -ais. The -u- in -amus raised to an -o-.

This worked for almost all conjugations in active voice, except for the perfect aspect. It had its own endings that were

-i    -imus
-isti -istis
-it   -erunt

You can probably see how these relate to the simple preterite endings in Spanish (note all other perfects in Spanish are formed with haber leaving simple preterite as the only one retaining these endings). They also effectively had an infix of -u/v-, such that, returning to the last verb, you get

          i    imus    amavi    amavimus
AMA + V + isti istis = amavisti amavistis
          it   erunt   amavit   amaverunt

Remember that the v here is vocalic so that amavit would have been basically amáuit. Recall the -t got lost, and a standard transformation towards Spanish is au->o (like aurum -> oro). This resulted in (roughly) amavit -> amavi -> amoi -> amó. For one reason or another, the amavi overtime ended up as amé (my guess would be amavi -> amai -> amei -> amé).

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About the imperfect future tense (comeré, cantarás, viviremos): Is formed with the infinitive and the verb "habere" ("have") in latin.

Amare habeo ----> Amar he ------> Amaré

It means "I have to love".

Currently it is again preferring another circumlocution: "Amaré" is rarely used (formal), and instead preferred "Voy a amar", that it means "I am going to love";

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