:"This article is about the grammatical term. To see the article relating to eschatology and the Book of Revelation, see Preterism."

The preterite (also praeterite, in American English also preterit, simple past, or past historic) is the grammatical tense expressing actions that took place in the past. It is similar to the aorist in languages such as Greek.

Preterites in Germanic languages


English's preterite — usually called its "simple past" or, somewhat loosely, its "past-tense form" — is generally formed by adding "-ed" or "-d" to the verb's plain form (bare infinitive), sometimes with some spelling modifications:

* He planted corn and oats.
* They studied grammar.

A number of verbs form their preterites irregularly, often by changing an interior vowel:

* She went to the cinema. (Uses a completely different verb - the Anglo-Saxon 'wendan') from where we get 'to wend'
* I ate breakfast late this morning.
* He ran to the store.

Interrogative and negative clauses do not use their main verb's preterites; rather, if their declarative or positive counterpart does not use any auxiliary or modal verb, then the auxiliary verb "did" (the preterite of "do") is inserted and the main verb appears in its plain form:

* Did he plant corn and oats?
* She did not go to the cinema.


In German, the Präteritum is used for past actions. (Older grammar books sometimes call it the "imperfect", an unsuitable borrowing from Latin terminology.) In South Germany, Austria and Switzerland, it is mostly used solely in writing, for example in stories. Use in speech is regarded as snobbish and thus very uncommon. South German dialects, such as the Bavarian dialect, as well as Yiddish, and Swiss German have no preterite, but only perfect constructs.

In certain regions, a few specific verbs are used in the preterite, for instance the modal verbs and the verbs "haben" (have) and "sein" (be).
* Es gab einmal ein kleines Mädchen, das Rotkäppchen hieß. (There "was" once a small girl who "was called" Little Red Riding Hood.)

In speech and informal writing, the Perfekt is used (e.g., Ich "habe" dies und das "gesagt". (I said this and that)).

However, in the colloquial language of North Germany, there is still a very important difference between the preterite and the perfect, and both tenses are consequently very common. The preterite is used for past actions when the focus is on the action, whilst the present perfect is used for past actions when the focus is on the present state of the subject because of a previous action. This corresponds to the English usage of the preterite and the present perfect.
* Preterite: "Heute früh "kam" mein Freund." (My friend came early in the morning, and he is being talked about strictly in the past)
* Perfect: "Heute früh "ist" mein Freund "gekommen"." (My friend came early in the morning, but he is being talked about in the present)

Preterites in Romance languages


In Latin, the perfect tense most commonly functions as the preterite, and refers to an action "completed" in the past. If the past action were not completed, one would use the imperfect tense. The perfect tense in Latin also functions in other circumstances as a present perfect tense.

Typical conjugation:


In Italian, the preterite is usually called "Passato Remoto" (simple past or past absolute, literally "remote past"). Like in Spanish and French, it is a past tense that indicates an action taken once in the past that was completed at some point in the past ("mangiai", "I ate"). This is as opposed to the "imperfetto" tense, which refers to any repeated, continuous, or habitual past action ("mangiavo", "I ate" or "I was eating" or "I used to eat"). In the spoken language of most of Italy (a notable exception is in Sicily), the "passato remoto" is not normally used, the compound "passato prossimo" tense taking its place ("ho mangiato", "I have eaten" but also "I ate"). An exception to this is when there is emphasis on the remoteness of an action (i.e. "Marco Polo andò in Cina nel 1264" (Marco Polo went to China in 1264) would be more proper than "Marco Polo è andato in Cina nel 1264").

Typical conjugations:

ee also

*Grammatical tense
*Grammatical aspect


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Preterite — Pret er*ite, a. & n. Same as {Preterit}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • preterite — (adj.) mid 14c., having to do with the past, from O.Fr. preterit (13c.), from L. praeteritum (as in tempus praeteritum time past ), pp. of praeterire to go by, go past, from praeter beyond, before, above, more than (comparative of prae before;… …   Etymology dictionary

  • preterite — Preterit Pret er*it (?; 277), a. [L. praeteritus, p. p. of praeterire to go or pass by; praeter beyond, by + ire to go: cf. F. pr[ e]t[ e]rit. See {Issue}.] [Written also {preterite} and {pr[ae]terite}.] 1. (Gram.) Past; applied to a tense which… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • preterite — pret|er|ite also preterit AmE [ˈpretərıt] n [Date: 1300 1400; : French; Origin: prétérit, from Latin praeteritus, past participle of praeterire to go past ] the preterite technical the tense or verb form that expresses a past action or condition… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • preterite — also preterit AmE noun the preterite technical the tense or verb form that expresses a past action or condition preterite adjective …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • preterite — /ˈprɛtərət / (say pretuhruht), /ˈprɛtrət / (say pretruht) adjective 1. Grammar designating a tense usually denoting an action or state which was completed in the past. For example, in the sentence John hit Jack, hit could be said to be in the… …  

  • preterite — adj. & n. (US preterit) Gram. adj. expressing a past action or state. n. a preterite tense or form. Etymology: ME f. OF preterite or L praeteritus past part. of praeterire pass (as PRETER , ire it go) …   Useful english dictionary

  • Preterite — Die Englische Grammatik ist die Grammatik der englischen Sprache. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Satzbau 2 Wortarten 2.1 Substantive (Nouns) 2.1.1 Numerus 2.1.2 Genera …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • preterite — 1. adjective showing an action at a determined moment in the past. 2. noun The preterite tense, simple past tense: the grammatical tense that determines the specific initiation or termination of an action in the past. See Also …   Wiktionary

  • Preterite-present verb — Following the convention in historical linguistics, this article marks unattested reconstructed words with an asterisk. The so called preterite present verbs are a small group of anomalous verbs in the Germanic languages in which the present… …   Wikipedia

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